Emilio Pardo: Re-Imagining Boomers at AARP
Emilio Pardo has been a visionary communicator and branding executive for most of his professional life. While many Boomers find themselves forced to pivot to a new career, Pardo found himself called to upgrade his life path, driven by a sense of purpose that he could not ignore. We discussed his journey over the phone from his office in Washington D.C.
As Chief Brand Officer for AARP , Pardo was responsible for one of the nation’s most influential and recognizable brands. As a Boomer, though, he was finding new questions emerging from within his consciousness about his career, and at the same time learning more about new ways of looking at the aging process through the eyes of many of the thought leaders in AARP’s orbit.
One evening, Richard Leider, the renowned author, educator and executive coach, introduced him to Calling Cards, a deck of cards Leider and his colleagues at The Inventure Group developed to help people discover their gifts and their passions. Pardo drew Advancing Ideas, which resonated deeply with him. He thought “How do I bring tools like this to millions of people to help them find their path, [and] find their own ‘what’s next’ moment?”
Pardo understood that he had a great opportunity to do something with this awareness: “This is an entire life phase that people are entering in and navigating, and the more tools that I can bring to the average person, the more tools that I can simplify (and create new ones) — that was what I needed to do. That was my purpose.”
This epiphany became the genesis of AARP’s Life Reimagined project, a thought leadership center within AARP that includes the Life Reimagined website, containing many of the kinds of tools that Pardo was inspired to collect and provide; the Life Reimagined Institute, a think tank of thought leaders including Richard Leider and other prominent visionaries across a range of relevant fields; and additional community-based activities based on the Life Reimagined mission.
Central to the Life Reimagined proposition is the concept of Living vs. Aging — a concept advanced by gerontologist Bill Thomas (also a Life Reimagined Institute fellow). For Pardo, this dilemma is best described by remembering how we and our families thought about life and career when we were just starting out. For young adults, traditionally, society supplies directives and support for them to take their first steps, make career decisions, evaluate their predilections, make course corrections, and generally lend a hand in getting out of the “nest.” While not everyone gets as much support as they want or need, I think we can all agree that this is the way the world is supposed to work: there is this expectation that there will be or should be support for this transition.
Such is not the case later in life for people beyond age 50, when the transition has been from work to retirement — traditionally a disengagement from society. That transition is now being deferred to a much later date, and we Boomers are arguably the first generation to need a different transition to a previously undefined life experience. Some are calling it a Third Act or a Third Stage.
Life Reimagined has proposed a set of six Phases to describe this process of exploring, defining, planning and deciding through this transition to a “re-imagined” life. Pardo encapsulates this overall process as Moment, Mindset and Movement — first, the trigger point that brings the need to change into sharp focus; then the internal adjustments and re-working that we need to do to set up the change, and finally the actions that we do to turn it into a reality. One perhaps counter-intuitive notion in this multi-step process is the idea of “Repacking.” Like a trapeze artist flying from bar to bar, we have to let go of the old before we grab onto the new. We may find that in making a transition from one phase to the next that there are things that we have to let go of – a process some will identify as the “downsizing” they are doing to lighten their loads as they shift into their next incarnation.
The binding element in the overall Life Reimagined future strategy for AARP, and the area that is most exciting for Pardo, is what he describes as the “online/offline” dynamic. The website provides ideas and tools from a wide range of sources, hence the wide variety of thought leaders working with the Life Reimagined Institute. Each side of the project feeds the other, with the power of digital and social media helping to feed user experiences and opinions back to the thought leaders – and vice versa. But what goes on with the website and the Institute will only work if the learning and its application can be translated into action and relationships built in the real world (offline) community. That is the area where Pardo feels the project will be most influential and provide the most value – and where the organization is reaching out by creating local events to bring people together to engage with these ideas.
The AARP has always been focused on the concept of transition — traditionally in the transition from work to retirement. Life Reimagined is extending this core competency to the new transition that many Boomers are experiencing in mid-life.
Pardo is also looking at this from an age-less perspective, reaching out across generational lines to offer the Life Reimagined resources to anyone at any age in any generation. Life is no longer a fixed set of sequential “stages,” as Pardo so insightfully indicates, but a continual series of pivots, adaptations and adjustments as we navigate our way through a continually changing professional landscape, but also through a more reflective, insightful and evolving personal growth landscape.
For Pardo, the most important question we have to ask ourselves is “why?” This key question needs to be at the inception of any personal or professional transition. Why am I making this change? Why do I want to go in this particular direction?
In our conversation, we had a delightful sidebar about our millennial children, and agreed that the Millennials have much to contribute to the Boomers on the question of life direction. While many Boomers decry Millennials for a supposed sense of entitlement, Pardo’s and my experience of them is that they are legitimately asking the “why” question. After all, in a continually changing world, one of the best tactics is to make sure we get the right feedback in order to make the best decisions. There is a lot of inherent wisdom in young people questioning everything, and in wanting to participate actively in order to gain the experience they will need down the road.
Pardo’s original epiphany ignited not only a “life reimagined” for him as the founder (now President) of the Life Reimagined project, but a profound sense of personal fulfillment and a renewed sense of purpose. It is a great example of how a new and powerful vision can inspire us at any age, and, when the timing is right, fuel a veritable movement of like-minded people to create something meaningful and transformational with global impact.
For the Year of the Boomer – 2014 is the year the youngest Boomers turn 50 – Huffington Post’s “Post-50” section is running my career reinvention series profiling 50 Boomers who have reinvented themselves within the last 10 years.