My Journey from Newark to Big Sur to Davos to Elderhood

By Ken Dychtwald

In the late 1960s, I discovered my passion for human potential and our enormous untapped reservoirs of humanity, creativity, intelligence, and physical abilities. As I relocated from Newark to Big Sur and switched my studies from physics to psychology, I was also captivated by a body-mind relationship that was for more interconnected and engaged than what was accepted by modern medicine and psychology at the time.

By my mid-twenties, I was finishing my doctorate on the psychology of the body and completing my first book, Bodymind, which to my surprise, is still in print in numerous languages nearly 50 years later. Around the same time, I had a truly lucky break when I was asked to move to Berkeley to co-found, with Gay Luce and Eugenia Gerrard, the Holistic Health Council and launch what would become a series of yearlong curricula focused on exploring whether alternative therapies such yoga, meditation, biofeedback, nutrition, and tai chi could improve the well-being of older adults. In 1974, we named this initiative the SAGE Project. It was eventually funded by the NIMH and rose to become the model for hundreds of other wellness and aging-oriented programs worldwide.

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place in 1982, when I was asked to become an advisor to the non-partisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Over two years, I worked with a team of sociologists, demographers, urban planners, gerontologists, and engineers, studying how changing demography was about to transform the world. I learned that as birth rates were declining, Baby Boomers were aging and longevity was elevating. However, nearly every aspect of modern life – from the design of our homes to our attitudes about aging – were inherently designed for youth, not longevity. It seemed to me that the world was unprepared for the huge increase in older adults and the needs and desires of what I called an “age wave.”

Age Wave and Beyond

Out of this notable gap in the preparation for the changes in technology, healthcare, economics, family dynamics, politics, business marketing, media, employment, and product/service development, I jumped from the non-profit sector to business—and Age Wave LLC was born.

Originally founded in 1986 by my wife Maddy and me, over the past 36 years, Age Wave has grown and morphed. We’ve had many successes as well as our share of failures, and we’ve had the incredible opportunity to serve more than half the Fortune 500. It’s also afforded me the wonderful opportunity to provide keynote speeches to more than two million people at gatherings including the World Economic Forum in Davos, two White House Conferences on Aging and countless fascinating conferences. At Age Wave, we’re so proud of being recognized as the world’s leading think tank and consultancy that studies the diverse implications of a global aging population and uses the knowledge to help world leaders and businesses to better understand—and meet the needs of—our increasingly long-lived population. Central to our work is the belief that whatever age we’re at, there are potentials to be tapped, and that lifelong curiosity should be a key element in helping all generations have a more fulfilling, engaging, and healthy life.

Now in my early seventies, as I add years to my life, I also strive to add life to my years. I remain committed to stretching our understanding of this demography-driven universe of business opportunities and social challenges and possibilities. As a psychologist, gerontologist, filmmaker, author and CEO, I strive to help companies and governments envision and catalyze a long-lived, diverse, and multi-generational population rich with better health and financial well-being, expanded time affluence, greater purpose, productivity, and respect.

Radical Curiosity: Stories and Lessons from the Inside Out

In my recent book Radical Curiosity: One Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life, I share many of the previously private lessons, trials, tribulations, heartaches, and occasional triumphs I grappled with along the way. I’ve had the benefit of extraordinary mentors and teachers, including Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, luminaries like Betty Friedan, Bucky Fuller, Maggie Kuhn, and Joseph Campbell. In this deeply personal book, different than anything I’ve ever written, I share some fun, some unsettling and some outrageous stories and interactions that weave together into my legacy lessons about personal and professional success—lessons I continue to hone.

Since releasing this book, I’ve also had a terrific time creating new presentations that highlight the key topics covered in Radical Curiosity, including:

  • The importance of perpetual openness to self-discovery, self-improvement, re-invention, and untapping one’s potentials
  • How serendipity and coincidence can play just as big a role in your life as good intentions and high-minded plans
  • How to juggle the roles of love, marriage, parenthood, caregiving, and work in today’s high-tech, high-pressure world
  • Perceiving not only youth—but adulthood, middlescence, late adulthood and elderhood—as respected and important parts of life’s journey
  • The importance of lifelong curiosity, courage, and resilience if one is hoping to change the world

If you’re interested in learning what mentors, challenges, flops, and triumphs have emerged as my key life lessons, I hope you’ll enjoy reading my memoir, Radical Curiosity: One Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life. And if you’d like to learn more about how you can bring my new presentations on this subject to your group, click here!