The #elderproject – what I learned

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For the past 10 years I’ve always spent the first few quiet days of the year thinking about the past 365 days and planning for the next. This year, my introspection also turned out to be a good opportunity go through all my #elderproject interviews and gather the learnings.

My experiment succeeded and failed at the same time. It succeeded because I found answers to a number of questions I’ve been ruminating over, but it failed because I interviewed substantially less people than planned. However, I am happy with the outcome and would like to share the results with you. Here are the #elderproject questions and my summary for each question.

What makes you happy?

Three things surfaced as the main drivers for happiness: a happy family, close friends, and achieving one’s career goals. Not a single person from the ones I interviewed mentioned money as a driver for happiness. This doesn’t mean money is not important (as you will see in a question below), but it is not a prerequisite for happiness.

If you could go back in time, what would you change?

The answers to this question varied a lot and when grouping them into buckets, I discovered three different themes of “regret”: love (either not pursuing one’s true love, or not being careful enough in choosing one’s partner), education (mainly wishing they had spent more time on their education) and balance (mainly finding balance between the time spent at work vs. time with their families).

What was the most important thing for you when you were young?

No surprises here. Making money & building a career was perceived as the top priority for most of my interviewees. For a small number of people, however, the desire to build a career was only a way to achieve the level of financial stability necessary to sustain a family.

What’s the most important thing for you now?

Health, balance between work & family (or friends), and recognition from one’s peers. Dave Moore from Xaxis had one of my favourite quotes from all the interviews: “Family is very, very important in my life. To succeed in business and fail at home is to fail completely.”

Work & Family, what is more important?

Not a single person said they wish they had spent more time at work. With one exception, all of them said that work & family are equally important but that if they were to choose between them, they would choose family. Dave Moore had a wonderful quote, again: “The most important thing is to leave a family legacy so strong that generations within your family will remember you.”

How important has money been in your life?

Everyone said money is very important because it offers independence and stability. Among all the people I interviewed, I noticed a love-hate attitude towards money because they acknowledge that it can sometimes change people for the worse. My dad said: “Money is important, but not the most important. One should rather have no money if it changes his character.” And I feel the need to quote Dave Moore again, because as a proper ad-man, he gave an insanely quotable interview: “Money is a materialistic ambition, and the only way to make it immaterial is to make so much of it that it doesn’t matter.”

Is there a moment that has completely changed your life?

Out of the ones that could identify a seminal moment, two threads emerged: either moving to another country, or the death / illness of a close one (friend or family). No one mentioned a work-related event. Work is work and as it turns out changes in one’s career, losing their job, etc does not influence people long-term.

Have you had any role models in your life?

The biggest surprise for me was that almost all the people I spoke with said that their parents or partner were their role models. For those who named public figures, the most prevalent were heads of state or entrepreneurs.

What do you want to leave behind?

I would do this section no justice if I summarized it, so I’m just going to share some of their responses. They are all beautiful. “Leave a happy memory.” “A good name.”  “Be remembered by a lot of people that I’ve done something for that they’ll never forget.” “Happiness to all my family. That’s it.” “My only modest goal is that the people around me will have good things to say about me.” “I hope they would say I was a kind person. I would like for someone to say that I really made a difference for some people. That I righted some wrongs.” As you can see, all the responses are about people. All about being kind & generous. All about family.

Do you have any fears in growing old?

Without exception, health. Elderly people are afraid, for good reason, to become physically or intellectually incapacitated. Their fear springs from a desire to be able to enjoy time with their families without being “a bloody nuisance”, as Jeff Hutchinson said.

If you could live forever but keep just one of the things you currently have, what would you want to keep (work, family, health, money)?

Family & health were winners on this front. A few people said they wouldn’t be able to make this decision and would rather not live forever than having to choose.

If I were your grandchild, what would be the once piece of advice you would give me?

Be generous, kind and respectful. Go to school, educate yourself, never stop learning. And never give up.

What’s the meaning of life?

Graham Perolls summarized the views of pretty much everyone who answered this question: “Life is a struggle. There are no easy answers. I have an anchor in my faith, and feel that we are all on this earth for a purpose, and we need to find what that purpose is.” I also really liked what Princess Marina Sturdza said: “[the meaning of life is all about] living life with a certain amount of humility. Staying humble. Finding balance.” And lastly, Ewan summarized everything, for me, on this topic, by saying “What’s the meaning of life? I don’t know – perhaps, love.”

Happy New Year and I hope you enjoyed listening to my interviews and reading this summary as much as I enjoyed making these wonderful new friends and learning from them.

The #elderproject #10 – Princess Marina Sturdza

A week ago in New York, I had the great pleasure to interview Princess Marina Sturdza. She is a member of the old, aristocratic Sturdza family, who were exiled by the communist regime in Romania when she was just three years old.

Princess Marina is best known for the charitable work she has done in Romania over the past two decades, but aside from the #elderproject questions the interview covers much more: her journey to Canada when she was three years old, her brief stint as Vice President of Oscar De La Renta and her work at the UN. It was wonderful interviewing her because she truly embodies all the qualities I’ve ever thought a princess would. And then some. 

The #elderproject #9 – Andrew

Smart, modest and wise are the first attributes that spring to mind when I think of Andrew, my 9th interviewee for the #elderproject.

A Romanian 71 year old that fled to the US during the communist regime, he lived in the US for 20 years and is now living in the UK. This was one of my favourite interviews so far, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

The #elderproject #7: Franco the tailor

Yes, I know it’s been a while and no, I haven’t given up on the #elderproject. I’ve just been busy and as it turns out it’s not that easy finding, interviewing and writing about people. That being said, I believe the wait will be worth it. 

Today’s elder is my London tailor of many years, Franco Santoro. Every few months, I enter the little door at 26 Kingly Street in Soho to adjust some trousers or a suit, knowing that no matter what time of day I’ll go or whether it’s a weekend or not, Franco will be there. At 72, he’s the hardest working man I know and this was the most intense and emotional interview I’ve taken so far for the #elderproject. I hope you enjoy it.

The #elderproject #6: David Moore

My 6th interview was with David J. Moore of 24/7 Real Media fame. Dave has been an ad man for longer than I’ve been alive, sold 24/7 Real Media to WPP in 2007 and is currently the Chairman of Xaxis. He is one of the most successful and at the same time one of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure to interview. 

Our discussion was a bit longer than the others but it’s totally worth it, with lots of stories, gems, quotes and a pretty awesome response to my question about money. Enjoy! 

The #elderproject #5: Jeff Hutchinson

This week’s elder is the oldest one I’ve interviewed so far, and yet one of the happiest. Jeff is 83, British and has more charisma than Obama & Clooney put together. He had a wonderful, wonderful story about love which was perfectly timed as I interviewed him on Valentine’s day. 

Apologies for the pick hammer sounds in the background, I haven’t had time to remove them but will try to do so at one point.