The last time I interviewed Ken Dychtwald, psychologist, gerontologist and founder and chief executive of Age Wave , a consulting and research company, he said : “When some people retire, they struggle with their identity, relationships and activity. Many feel unsettled, anxious or even bored, but eventually they realize that relationships, wellness and purpose really matter — perhaps more than ever.”
Ken Dychtwald is now 71 and is not retiring, but he has already realized what really matters. And that’s the spine of his new book, his 18, “ Radical Curiosity : One Man’s Search for Cosmic Magic and a Purposeful Life.”
His book is personal. It’s gritty and wise. It’s a jumble of human foibles and shiny successes. It’s about loss and love and pride and the weaving together of a wild adventure of a life. And it’s about the importance of extracting lessons from a life fully lived.
I’ve known and admired Dychtwald for many years, sought his counsel, laughed with him, and sat alongside him at star-powered events, as he and his wife, Maddy, worked to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s via nonprofits UsAgainstAlzheimer’s and the BrightFocus Foundation .
For more than 40 years, he has dedicated his career “to investigating how people, especially boomers, relate to becoming elders,” he writes at the start of his book. And “it turns out I have become an elder myself.”
I spoke with Dychtwald recently about the book, and all kinds of other things. Some highlights of our conversation are below and have been edited and condensed.
I also recommend taking the time to check-out this terrific video from his official book launch filmed at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
Kerry Hannon: What scares you the most about growing old?
Ken Dychtwald: Being in gerontology now for 45 plus years, I’ve seen a lot of suffering. We’ve done a reasonably good job of causing people to live longer lives, but we’ve done a questionable job of causing our health spans to that match our lifespans. Watching my mom, for example, spend 12 years being decimated by Alzheimer’s was terrifying. Watching my dad go blind and mad from the combination of losing his vision — and his sanity — due to macular degeneration and the struggles of his beloved wife was unnerving. Achieving longevity without health can be a hurting proposition.
What also scares me is that I’ve seen a lot of older people either be rendered irrelevant or render themselves as irrelevant. The idea that I somehow get sent off to senior playpen is unacceptable to me.
What do people get wrong about aging?
I think we should primarily seek to be useful, not just youthful , and not only useful, like let me watch the grandkids — but to do something helpful, even important in my elder years. We need a whole new framing of the value and purpose of longevity. As odd as it sounds, I think elders should be society’s futurists
What does radical curiosity mean to you?
Vitality and open-mindedness comes from curiosity. Radical curiosity comes from being inquisitive. It comes from continually wanting to learn, to reach out from your own viewpoint, cohort or neighborhood and better understand others. Radical curiosity is to be curious about life and death, to be curious about the rise of women in this incredible new era, to be curious about relationships within the younger generations, to be empathic about the potentials and plights of people who may have a different racial or ethnic background than you.
You don’t hear curiosity talked about much. There’s a bit too much of “all the answers can be found on Google.” We need to raise kids to be curious.