Finding an ARTful Later Life.

Often if you are open to it, messages from the world of the arts, arts in any form, that arrive seemingly in a singular way can actually deliver simultaneous swells of self-awareness that converge into one moment without force, but more with unexpected flourish. So it has been for me, these last number of months, an encounter with messages about what I would call an Artful later life.

Perhaps this has been gathering in a subliminal way, triggered last year by a flash memory of seeing and hearing Arthur Rubenstein at 78, play piano on stage at Massey Hall in Toronto. I was 13 at that time and he went on to live until shy of age 96. Only today, I was reminded again of this, reading an Economist Feb.18th article, “Why so many artists do their most interesting work in their final years”. Of course, in some cases artists may not have known if it was their final years – yet; but it turned out to be abruptly so.


One other recent read, underscores this notion of the Artful later life. Mad Enchantment by Ross King (2016) is the story of Claude Monet in his later life, working on his Grande Décoration, the painting of the waterlily murals for the Orangerie des Tuileries in Paris. Against the historical backdrop and unfolding drama of the early 1900’s, this is a great relating of Monet’s determined creative powers while fighting cataracts to complete his final vision from his mind’s eye.



At the same time as all this, in one my encounters in the world of the arts since last June as a Board Member for the Oakville Galleries, I have attended a number of our contemporary art exhibitions, which include until March 12, the art work of internationally known 92 year-old Etel Adnan – writer and visual artist. Over twelve of her pieces shown here are from the last three years or so.

Our most interesting work in later life?

These are only a few prominent examples of people who represent the possibilities of an ARTful later life. Today in an age of greater longevity, you can witness more people in their later years, experiencing various aspects of the arts in countless ways – renewing the hidden talent, taking it up for the first time in community centres or teaching it to others. And not by any small measure has it been recognized that engagement in the arts encourages well-being; physiologically and cognitively.

On my doorstep, in a January 2017 announcement, the Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging (RIA) and the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research appointed Dr. Kate Dupuis as the Schlegel Innovation Leader in Arts and Aging. Sheridan College has a strong program in animation, arts and design, which has great synergy with the elder research centre’s projects related to the arts. It’s been a great opportunity for me to connect with and observe Sheridan in this direction over the last few years.

Curious how we say what an artist creates is – their work; and if they do it until they die, we consider it their life’s work or a body of work.  If our life’s work has not been directly in the world of the arts (musician, writer, painter, dancer, graphic designer, animator); or we haven’t been fulfilled through our amateur hours running in parallel to earning a living in the business world; you have to wonder how much of our self-expression is lost or hidden over the journey of our lives.

Is our most interesting work in later life, to be of an ARTful nature?


As it happens through our childhood upbringing, my brother and I were gifted by our parents, with an appreciation of the arts – exposed to literature, paintings and music, every day.

My natural early gravitation was to music, though I cannot play an instrument nor read a musical score, it is however always in my head, and I did conduct a forty-piece brass band to an audience of over 200 people when I was 45. Let me see what I can orchestrate next. It might be through writing more than the strokes of a brush or the tap of a musical baton, but who knows what of the simultaneous swells of the ARTful way.


Mark Venning

Redirection: Later Life Career Project Completed!

A year in the making, Dr. Suzanne Cook, one of our Planet Longevity thought leaders, has completed her research project – Redirection: Work and Later Life Career Development, funded by the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC). As mentioned in our blog post last September, “Redirection” is Suzanne’s operative word that frames her endeavour to help shift the mind-set of individuals in later life career, as well as those who are in a professional position to help them better articulate their options.

Now you can see here the first step is the public launch in this project – the trailer, for the short documentary titled Redirection: Movers, Shakers and Shifters. On October 22nd, 2016, the first full showing of the documentary will be in Montreal at the 45th annual Canadian Association of Gerontology conference. Further plans to showcase this film through CERIC and other channels will follow.

Redirection: Movers, Shakers and Shifters follows the stories of several men and women over the age of 50, and the challenges they faced in their process of career redirection. The film is but one component of the overall CERIC funded project. The manuscript with the specific research findings from this project will be completed over the next few months, and this should provide great content for further discussion within the career development field and beyond.

Suzanne Cook is a social gerontologist and an Research Associate with York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education. She has a deep shared interest in this subject area, joining many of us who have been working directly in the field of career development and seen first-hand, how this theme of later life careers has become more prominent over the last decade.

Career professionals work in different venues, from college, university and community based career centres, to private sector career & talent management firms and individual coaching practices with private clients. Ideally, this Redirection film will serve as a great storytelling vehicle, which could be used as part of a tool kit for career professionals in the direct work they do with clients.

One issue for career professionals, who work with clients in their later life stages, is to find the right way to position relevant language around careers. In a modern world of work, even the definition of a “labour market” is somewhat an anachronism; and a term like “older workers” still tends to feed a stigma from an old narrative. The margins have shifted in terms of how long and in what way people will choose to work in the future.

Fresh off the learning from working on this project, Suzanne comments:

“The film reflects the experiences of the current generation of people age 50 and older who need and want to work … it validates their experiences. It will provide insight into issues surrounding later life work and inspire people who are struggling to find later life employment. Some individuals feel stuck regarding employment and the labour market; they are confused about what type of work to explore. These individuals need support and assistance.”
Mark Venning & Suzanne Cook

Knowledge Transfer & Looming Retirements

What happens to knowledge and know-how when one of your employees retires?  How does knowledge loss affect your organization?

When one of your employees retires, it is expected that the successor will be up and running immediately. Often, the person steps into the new role with the organization’s assumption, ‘she’ll figure it out’. Yet, common wisdom says that it takes at least 6 months to settle into a new role. 

Estimates of successor failure within the first 18 months ranges from 40-50% at the executive level.  And the cost of losing an employee in the first year is estimated to be at least 3x salary. The impact of turnover on the leader, successor and organization ranges from lost productivity, missed deadlines, poor communication, unhappy customers, retention issues and higher turnover. With such huge, potential costs, it is in everyone’s best interest to help the successor settle in as quickly as possible.

What can you do to assist? Grab the knowledge before it walks out the door!

Rather than viewing retirees as ‘past their best before date’, or already in retirement mode, one obvious but underutilized option is to set up a process for the successor to tap into the rich knowledge base of the retiree.

Planning ahead and being intentional about creating opportunities for retirees to spend time with the successor enables the transfer of not only explicit knowledge and procedures but also tacit knowledge, the way we do things around here.

It is relatively easy and for the retiree to transfer explicit knowledge including how-to manuals, procedures and facts. It is far more complex and absolutely essential for them to describe and transfer tacit knowledge, the vast storehouse of wisdom inside her head, gathered through experiences, insight and intuition.  Tacit knowledge, the 2/3 of the knowledge iceberg underwater includes best practices, tribal knowledge and contextual information. 

Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact, regular interaction and trust. Each of your retirees has a depth of knowledge that will shorten the getting-to-know-the-job phase, help the successor get up to speed and become more productive and effective more quickly leading to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover.

Jill Jukes

Active and Working. A Healthier Longevity

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of research indicates that most people live healthier lives if they are active and working. Recently both a client and a friend illustrated the challenge of this. The client was a man – mid-60s, with a rich and successful work history , who has been looking for employment for a couple of years. The friend was a woman – early 60s, still employed but wondering what to do with her career once she retires from full time work.

The risk for the client is – never getting engaged again in a way he can contribute his skills. He needs to explore how and where the core of what he has to offer is relevant to the challenges of today’s organizations, and use his rich network to either consult or find contracts that will help them. It may look different than if he was 40 and searching for a “job”.

The risk for the friend is – delaying leaving something that she is wanting to move on from, because she doesn’t know what is realistic for her to move towards. She needs to get clear on the criteria for her future venture and do some research and reality checking to see if and where opportunities may occur.

From my experience as a career counsellor I’d suggest the following for individuals exploring  later life careers :

  • Get clear on personal criteria for desired work activity in this stage of your life
  • Be realistic about which of your skills are most relevant going forward for today’s challenges
  • Network to test your ideas and ask open questions to explore possibilities not considered
  • Start considerations early so your networking activities and resultant marketing materials  are most relevant to meet today’s needs

The good news is that by mid-life we know ourselves better than when we were younger. If you listen at a deep level  to what you already know about yourself and what you want, and attend as carefully during your research gathering and networking, you have the best chance of creating your best “what next” to support  your healthier  longevity.

Lorraine Clemes