Mary: Today’s interview is going to absolutely rock you to your core! Not only do I have the most amazing guest, but we’re going to talk about a topic that is so close to my heart, Elizabeth’s heart, and so many people out there who are heading into middle age. Our topic today is ”Life Starts at 50.” And who else would I invite to interview except Dr. Elizabeth Lindsey? Now, you may know her. You may have seen her in a TED Talk. You may have heard her on social media. You may have even heard her in the many interviews that she’s had over the course of her lifetime. But her story will not disappoint. Elizabeth is a cultural anthropologist and an award-winning filmmaker who travels to the world’s most remote regions to protect indigenous knowledge.
She’s an advocate for social, environmental, and cultural justice – my sort of lady. Her firsthand accounts from some of the world’s most vulnerable regions are helping reshape global perspectives on leadership and conservation. Elizabeth is the recipient of the United Nations Visionary Award and the prestigious CINE Eagle Award. She has advised UN ambassadors on the crisis of environmental refugees. She also has served on the boards of global organizations, including the Tibet Fund for His Holiness, and the Dalai Lama, and sits on the Global Council for World Pulse. Elizabeth was mentored by renowned Grand Master Navigator Pius ”Mau” Piailug, who was considered one of the greatest way finders of the 21st century. And in 1999, she earned a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology with a specialization in ethno- navigation. She also established scholarships for women and children in the Pacific Asia and Southeast Asia regions. She’s a huge advocate of ageism, something she has absolutely embraced in every aspect of her life. She’s such a brilliant representation of what 50+ represents, and I’m so excited to interview someone I respect immensely and someone who can share her story and her wisdom. Welcome, Elizabeth.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much, Mary. I can’t tell you how excited I was to speak with you.
Mary: Oh, me too! I’m so passionate about the topic we’re going to discuss today because I feel, and I know you do as well, that there is a lot of confusion about what ageism is and what it means. We are living in a youth-obsessed culture, and the mainstream media does a fantastic job showing us what beauty and success look like through the lens of famous actors, music artists, and social media influencers. But that doesn’t leave a lot of hope for anyone over 50. In fact, there is much despair in the 50+ age group, and I think it’s getting worse. Women and men look at themselves in the mirror and think, ”Who will listen to me?” And I think this is the crisis, Elizabeth. You know, vanity metrics have become the ultimate goal and looking hot and buff is the new expert. And I’m starting here because you are such a beautiful example of being unapologetically yourself. You have a large social media following, and you are absolutely stunning inside and out. And on top of that, you’re super smart and successful. And yet we are looking at 22-year-old YouTubers who are now the go-to experts. Why do you think this is happening?
Elizabeth: Well, our modern society has narratives around value and how we value ourselves that are very youth-centric. And one of the things you mentioned in the beautiful introduction you shared of me is that I’ve traveled to these remote parts of the world where it’s very different, where age is equivalent to wisdom and is revered. People want to live with their elders because it means life experience. And one of the places that I lived in for about a month which we can talk about later, was on an island where women had never seen a mirror of themselves. They didn’t know what they looked like, and their beauty was defined by their kindness and their love for one another. Can you imagine if we lived in a society where kindness was prized? It would be a very different world! And I wish for more of this. I wish for these kinds of conversations.
Mary: Elizabeth, you said something very important, and that is something that I try and practice every day, and I call this self-awareness. I don’t think a lot of people place enough emphasis on the power of self-awareness. And I mean asking a very important question that many of us ask at least once in our lifetime: ”Who am I?” Going back to these beautiful women who live in these indigenous cultures where there is no mirror – think about that for a moment. There’s such power in that, and they’re not giving their power away to something and chasing something. The power remains within them. I believe we have to get back to that.
Elizabeth: Yes, it’s absolutely true, because these women didn’t measure their value and their beauty based on the size of their hips or whether their skin was smooth. They knew who they were. And it’s extraordinary when we start to come home to the truth and value of who we are. I didn’t even become an explorer until I was almost 52, which is very late in one’s career. And I didn’t engage on LinkedIn until late last year. So I was well into my mid-60s engaging on a platform for the first time. But that tells me that we have to break the rules here, this narrative that’s written by someone else, rewrite our own narrative, and step into it fully and say, ”This is who I am. I am showing up without excuse.” It’s easy for us to see all the ads selling face creams from photographs of models who are half our age and don’t have a wrinkle. There’s something so utterly disturbing about that. I would rather invest my money and buy products from a company that is straight up with me and honors who and what I am.
Mary: Absolutely. I think that there’s a real deep sense of embracing self-love, and self-care, and understanding what that truly means. I was reading the work of Greg Braden and Dr. Bruce Lipton, and they were talking about epigenetics, and how we actually store memories from 14 generations before, something that’s been studied in a university. They actually did it with some animals, and they found that the DNA carries memories of
14 generations back. So let’s think about this for a moment. If I’m feeling despair because I’ve hit middle age, and I believe my life is over, what is really going on at a cellular level or maybe even a DNA level? Am I actually believing something that I’m carrying with me from past generations that I haven’t opened up and explored?
This is like opening up Pandora’s box and asking myself that beautiful question, ”Who am I?” But it’s also realizing that maybe there is more to me than meets the eye, even more than this great American and Australian dream that I’ve been following for the last 30 years. I was promised that if I went to school and then to university and got a degree, I would be guaranteed a great job with a lot of money. I would own one home, or maybe two or three homes. But instead, I own one home, which is mortgaged to the hilt. I could only go on a holiday once a year.
here’s a fundamental problem with that. I think that society has pulled people away from their core. To me, there are two sides to a human being, the true self, and the false self. The false self will tell you that you’re not good enough. There’s something wrong with you. You’re fat, you’re old, you’re invisible. The true self is saying, no, no, no, you’re perfect. You’ve got all this wisdom. You can do something with it. Just trust. Just go out there and see what happens. And if you fail, it’s okay. You try again.
But God forbid if we fail, because then of course we’ve got this societal pressure that says, ”I told you it wouldn’t work.” So you just go back to your normal job and do what you’ve been brainwashed to do because this is what society has made us believe is normal.
And following the heart and the true self and self-exploring who we truly are is somehow not normal. How do we get back to that, Elizabeth?
“I BELIEVE THAT WE ACTUALLY HAVE TO BECOME THE CHANGE THAT WE ARE SEEKING.”
And as we do, we’re laying a track down and creating a path for people and helping to light the way, because I’m always looking for role models. I want to see women who are in their 70s and 80s and 90s who dare to disrupt this entire societal narrative. And Mary, I so love your work and your voice, because you are standing up strong and brave. And it requires us to be courageous and be those voices that say, ”I may not have all of the answers at this moment. I may not have it all perfectly laid down.” I’m speaking for myself as I’m saying this, but I know there’s a part of me that knows who I am, and I will not desert her. I will be fiercely protective of this part of me that is finding her way and is brave and strong and imperfect, or sometimes scared. I will continue to be her greatest ally and care for her well.
Mary: I think you’re absolutely right. You know, I speak to a lot of 50+ industry experts, and by that, I mean people that are experienced in their area of specialization. They’ve been in that industry or that area for 10, 20, 30 years.
This is my tribe. And I can tell you, Elizabeth, that 8 out of 10 don’t fear investing in and developing their business. They fear how they will be perceived in the outside world. Will their peers laugh at them? They have massive insecurities about how they look, and yet they have enormous intellectual currency. They have deep wisdom, they can solve a complex problem, and yet they worry more about judgment than converting their wisdom into a business or a solution that can solve a world problem. Why do you think this fear has become so deeply ingrained in this age group? Once people hit middle age and beyond, there seems to be some switch that turns on and suddenly people go into more fear mode than creative mode.
Elizabeth: Well, I think that we’ve seen enough bullying on social media and enough virulent criticism of people that it causes us some worry. I know that before I came onto LinkedIn last winter, I was worried because I am in my mid-60s and maybe it’s too late for me. Maybe I really don’t have anything valuable to contribute. Or what if I’m criticized publicly, humiliated, or shamed in some way? And these, of course, were things that just came up because it’s quite common to hear people say that. And I also heard from friends who wondered why I am doing this at my age. And I really had to sit with myself and think very deeply about your question, Mary.
And what I came to was this: What do I believe is my purpose in life? And my purpose in life is to bear witness and love this world and serve it as best I can until my final days. And I do not do that from a safe and comfortable place. And so that means that we take risks and fear failure and criticism, and do it anyway. And when more and more of us do this, more and more of us will feel braver in doing this, and it will continue to create momentum around us.
Mary: I love that. I always say to the people I work with that the key to their success is to understand what the legacy they want to leave is. And we work back from there. And I think this is a very important question, not just for entrepreneurs or business owners, but even those in corporate senior roles. What is the legacy that you want to leave behind? Not for your children, just the world at large, the people that get to touch you. That’s a very deep question, but not enough emphasis is placed on that. So if we start from the end, then we can plan how we get to that point.
Elizabeth: That’s right. And in the end, one of our most fundamental needs is to know that our lives matter. That we didn’t pass through this world invisibly. So the question of legacy is also a part of that and a part of how we contribute back to a world that has given us so much – this whole law of reciprocity.
Mary: Absolutely. I remember you sent me a link when we first were discussing this interview about a special edition of British Vogue for the month of May 2019. I loved that. I watched that clip so many times on YouTube, Elizabeth, and they focused on featuring women over the age of 50. It was just so extraordinary, so beautifully created. I thought that you were in the promo video, but it turns out that you weren’t, although there was someone there that looked exactly like you. This issue was more successful than one with Rihanna on the front cover. And this just validates what you and I are talking about: Gender-based age discrimination is a real issue. And yet, this blew me away. Forty percent of the global population are women over the age of 50. So why is the media pushing youth when we have a massive population that is not in their youth?
Elizabeth: I don’t know the answer to that, because part of that is we also are in a position of buying power. And so one wonders why, with the wealth of this segment of our population, why the emphasis continues to be on youth. They may believe that it sells more copies, but that, to your point, disproved that. So I don’t know the answer. I simply know that we have to continue to write narratives. They’re so utterly compelling and inspiring because everyone is growing older each year. And we are getting better in many ways; I know I feel braver now at 66 than I have ever felt in my life. Part of it is because I care less about people’s opinions of me than I’ve ever cared about before. And part of it is because I don’t feel that I have all of the time that I had before. So I want to make these decades count.
Mary: That is such wonderful wisdom that you’ve just provided. And I think that time is so important to consider in one’s fulfillment of their destiny. Now I want to jump gears here a little bit, because in 2006, your husband passed away, and I think you wrote in one of your posts that you thought you would never find love again. And after a decade, you did find true love again, which is just extraordinary. Relationships are another area that men and women over the age of 50 find very challenging. And I’m sure someone is reading this featured article today who is over 50 and would love to fall in love. What is the secret to relationships, especially when you find yourself starting over again at 50+?
Elizabeth: In my experience, it was really coming to terms with how rich and full my life was. Clearly, between 50 and 60, I wasn’t in a romantic relationship, but I was surrounded by family and friends and really cultivated those relationships. So I wasn’t coming from a place of lack. And I think it’s really important that we remember that, because as James Allen said,
“WE DO NOT ATTRACT THAT WHICH WE WANT. WE ATTRACT THAT WHICH WE ARE.”
So the fuller and more robust and vibrant our lives are, the more we attract that to us.
Mary: I love that, Elizabeth. And it goes back to exactly what we were talking about before. We have to come back to the heart. The heart has all the intelligence and the answers, and it’s expansive. And there’s so much to learn about. The Heartmath Institute is doing an amazing job at that, and I am a massive supporter of it. I have their device, and I use it
every day. And it really does matter in my life. It makes a profound difference because I place a lot of emphasis on nurturing that part of myself. I call my heart my true self. It’s where all my answers are. It’s where I ask all my questions. It’s where I can sit with myself in complete and utter silence and know that I’m okay, that I am surrounded with this abundance of love and intelligence.
But this is a choice, Elizabeth. This is not something that I do because I have to do it. This is something that I choose to do because it is an utmost priority in my life. If my cup is not full, how can I give to others? So I think that there needs to be a whole education around this because to me, too many people are placing emphasis outside of themselves. What can I buy? What can I have? How can I look, blah, blah, blah, rather than, how can I feel? How can I receive it? And this to me is the lesson that we need to learn as humans. What are your thoughts on that?
Elizabeth: First, something that I don’t talk about in public is that my Hawaiian name was given to me in a dream. For many children who are born in Hawaii, the elders have dreams prior to their being born. And so it comes almost as a form of destiny. And my Hawaiian name is Kapu’uwailani, and it means The Heart of Heaven.
And it means so much to me because you mentioned earlier, the way to navigate is by the longitude of the mind and the latitude of the heart. And right in that intersection is a still point. And that is our heart. We bring our reasoning and our logic together with our instinct and our intuition. That is the compass. And when we allow ourselves to let all the noise fall away, it becomes so clear and it is the most accurate compass of all. So thank you for mentioning that. I love Heartmath Institute’s work.
Mary: Me too. And one of my goals for 2023 is to get somebody there for an interview because I think that there’s so much education that’s required around that topic. Now, I want to move into another question, Elizabeth, about wisdom, something that you and I have spoken about quite a bit. Wisdom to me is so sacred. I don’t think we place any emphasis on this at all. We’re not taught this at school. The corporate masculine system does not celebrate wisdom, and neither does society. However, in my opinion, the only way to change the world is through wisdom based on lived experience, not something you read. This is something that’s lived, yet we are destroying wisdom, and instead, we’re celebrating narcissism as our normal, our default.
How do we start educating men and women who have spent 20, 30, and 40 years in their careers, that they have so much to contribute to the world? These people can solve massive problems, Elizabeth, not only large problems in the world but in the largest corporations or even just for an individual who is trying to achieve something in their life. The collective wisdom in this universe is exponential. Now, with all your experience with many ancient indigenous cultures through the work that you do, how do indigenous cultures honor wisdom?
“WE BRING OUR REASONING AND OUR LOGIC TOGETHER WITH OUR INSTINCT AND OUR INTUITION. THAT IS THE COMPASS.”
Elizabeth: It’s such a magnificent question that you’re discerning immediately. You really need to be with a person, look into their eyes, and spend time even in stillness to see if they are worthy of the wisdom that you give them. Because for these cultures, their wisdom is their ultimate treasure. And in our culture, we marginalize, if not altogether dismiss it as being invaluable, as not being valuable. We prize knowledge, and we prize the mind, but we often dismiss the heart and wisdom. And I say it requires both to be truly wealthy and to have truly lived a rich life.
Mary: I absolutely agree with you. And for me, my absolute mission, if you will, is to convert my knowledge into lived experience. I would asking. I often say we live in a world that’s bloated with information and data, but starved for wisdom. And part of what these elders do is listen deeply. It really requires a kind of wholeness and groundedness. It doesn’t come and go and swing like a door off its hinges. We live in a society that doesn’t even understand what real wisdom is. We live in a very fast-moving world where we want everything now. But wisdom is earned over time. And you can’t buy it. You can’t insist that it show up immediately. It just comes because we have taken the time to really instill it in us and come to it by way of living it.
Many elders I have seen throughout the world are wise, like the one who sat with me for three days before he ever spoke to me. I never asked him a question because I knew the entire time he was reading me, like weather conditions. And that is wise because he knew what he would offer me if he found that this would be a place to instill this wisdom and share it. He had to be that discerning. And you don’t become that never just read something and recite it and then share it with people if I haven’t actually experienced it. And when I started my inner journey, I really started not from a self-help standpoint; I started to work with a professor in philosophy from Oxford University who had 30 years behind him. And what was so profound about that experience is that I was working with somebody who honored wisdom and not just their wisdom, but also had significant study and commitment and focus into many other ancient cultures and religions. He was somebody who had spent time in the Vatican vaults in Jerusalem.
These are experiences that I can’t buy in a book. You know the exchange of wisdom between the mentor and the student is phenomenal because you take on that energy and just through very few words, you start to experience what they’re trying to teach you without them actually telling you what to do. Suddenly it just happens organically. And then you start to unfold the layers yourself. And I think that wisdom doesn’t end, and it doesn’t start; it’s just that we as a human being need to open the door and walk in. But I don’t think you ever close the door. I think there’s another door that keeps opening. It’s kind of like a never-ending loop, and for me, it’s like being a kid in a toy store. There’s always this awe, this curiosity, and this excitement when we go down that path. It’s such an important path to take as we’re unfolding who we are, because we’re also bringing to light the magic and the genius that resides inside of us. But I think there’s a real resistance to do that. What is your view on that?
Elizabeth: I’m very much like you, and I also recognize that for you to have had a mentor like that, for him to have shared what he did, you were ready for that. Sometimes, especially in this society, we don’t even know how to prepare to receive that kind of wisdom and then allow it to evolve and blossom within us. And I wish that we had the kinds of practices and ceremonies that prepared young people to become wise. You know, even those who are in their fifties don’t often feel wise, because they haven’t had anyone in their lives who said, ”Sit under a blanket of stars and listen. Listen to elders that are just making their transition. Breathe into life and allow it to carry you.”
I remember going into communities where they would surround someone who was really in a great deal of pain. And they would simply love that person without judgment, without needing to fix them, because they believed that the person’s entire system had all of the capacity to heal. What they needed to do was simply love without condition. We have forgotten those kinds of practices. And, Mary, I know the depth of what you do. I remember watching all of your videos before we ever met, and you do this, and you are so generous to share it with people, and I’m grateful to know you.
Mary: Thank you, Elizabeth. This is a journey and a half, and it just doesn’t end. But it’s the most important aspect of me. But I want to touch on something you just said, and it’s this word fixing, and I’m fixated on that word because we have the self-help industry, which is exploding. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry. It’s not dying down; if anything, it’s actually growing at an exponential rate. Now, the question I ask myself all the time is: ”If this industry is growing exponentially, why are so many people not fixed?” This is a real paradox because the industry teaches people how to fix themselves. But there’s nothing to fix. The ironic thing is that so many people think their business is not working, so they need to fix it themselves.
There’s something wrong with me. My relationship’s not working. I have to go and fix it. I’ll go and see a psychologist, because something outside of me is not working. I have to fix it. So we are in this fix-it mindset because we’ve been brainwashed to believe that if something doesn’t work, we must fix it. But there’s nothing to fix. What we really need to understand is how to use that aspect of ourselves that is not pulling us toward our goal and toward the life that we want. We need to use that energy of what doesn’t feel good and convert that into what does make us feel good.
Elizabeth: For me, I know that all the elders I have lived and studied with will always say the same thing: We need to remember who we are. Remember, because parts of ourselves have been so separated and fragmented that as we remember ourselves and come home to the wholeness of who we are, all of the potential and capacity that we need and that we seek is already there. We are not broken.
Mary: True. We are absolutely not broken. I think that where we are as a society, especially in this midlife bracket, the midlife crisis is actually the real pandemic. And we are going to see a lot of this. If 40% of the world population are women over 50 and many of them are having massive self-doubts, they’re not actually moving towards their legacy, their goal, or their mission. We are going to have some serious problems as a society because suddenly wisdom will be completely lost. Many men and women are self-realizing that they have a deeper yearning to be and do more in the world. They already know that. But they will remain in their comfortable world seduced by the corporate hamster wheel.
And it’s hard to give up a life that’s safe. When I work with senior executives, my advice always is to develop their contingency plan in parallel to their corporate life, so that they stay motivated. They know that they have an exit plan, but they don’t have to leave their corporate career and just have this massive explosion of uncertainty until they are ready to take radical action. And I’ve successfully been able to shift people out of their comfort zone of a senior executive role into their own coaching or consultancy. But it has to be strategic and deliberate. There’s a huge increase in the number of people who have had very long corporate careers, but they want more. It’s not money they want actually. I think it’s a combination of acknowledgement and service. And as we said before, in one of your posts, you actually did write something along those lines and you said, ”There is no greater path than to follow your destiny. No higher calling than to realize our potential and no greater gift than the one we bear.” I loved that so much, I copied and pasted it. And I knew I needed to talk to you about that. What would you say the three actions are that people can take right now to move toward their sole mission?
Elizabeth: I believe that the first action is self-inquiry, because a lot of people fail to even ask the question. They just feel discontent, but they don’t look more deeply. And it behooves us to do that because our lives are not a dress rehearsal. This is what we’ve been given, and this is the privilege and the gift. So that’s the first action.
The second action is to be willing to be uncomfortable, because we will find through that inquiry that we are not living the life that we were born to live. I believe that people are yearning for meaning, but oftentimes they’re willing to forego meaning in their lives for comfort.
And then the last action is – once they’re willing to make the journey – to be willing to have the courage to follow it through, because it’s courage that will carry them through the times of self-doubt and wanting to retreat and recoil from what they’ve found. Courage is such an interesting and beautiful thing, and it doesn’t have to come in huge demonstrations of our having it. Courage sometimes is just the courage to get out of bed and move forward step by single step. It doesn’t always have to be in these huge leaps and bounds.
Mary: I’m going to add three more things that I think you also wrote in one of your posts. And you said: ”Listen to the voice within you. Trust that it is enough. Know what the world is waiting for.” I love those three points, Elizabeth. They’re so profound.
Elizabeth: Thank you. When we really remember who we are, every shred of doubt starts to fall away, even in these glimpses. And if we can glimpse it longer and stay there longer, it’s like building muscle. Then we get braver and braver. Because I have to tell you, at 50, I didn’t feel brave at all. I felt shattered and grieving, and I didn’t know if truly there would ever be a time that I would be happy again after having lost my husband. And I thought if I could just get out of bed today because the grief was so overwhelming. And then once you do and start to move through your life, even tenderly because we must be tender with ourselves, it begins to be better. Glennon Doyle Melton said a beautiful thing: ”I have met myself and I will care for her fiercely.”
If we can know ourselves, meet ourselves, and care for ourselves fiercely, then every step is a step forward, even if it doesn’t feel like we’re moving. So gradually, I began to get stronger and started to feel brave. Even in my vulnerabilities, I would acknowledge the moments when I felt brave enough to pick up the phone and make a call. Even though I was reaching out to National Geographic and thought, how audacious is it that a 52-year-old woman would make a call like this? That was really beyond my comfort zone.
“WE PRIZE KNOWLEDGE, AND WE PRIZE THE MIND, BUT WE OFTEN DISMISS THE HEART AND WISDOM.”
Mary: You see, this is a very important point you just brought up. It’s getting out of your comfort zone. That’s the key. It’s to be comfortable being uncomfortable. So if we could just do one little thing, even once a week that’s uncomfortable, suddenly that muscle starts to get stronger and stronger. And we want more of that because it suddenly starts to feel exciting and liberating. Is that how you would describe that?
Elizabeth: It absolutely is. You know, I had no frame of reference. I just knew that I had to put one foot in front of the other, and I would figure it out. I couldn’t see the long term; I could only see the short term. But that was enough for me. And then as you mentioned, at 60, I met my husband, and I fell in love again. And it also requires the courage to open your heart again and throw it over the fence and say, at this age, I want to live. Yes. I choose to live again.
Mary: You’re amazing. Now, I always ask all my guests one very last question, which is very important. And that is if you could meet someone who is no longer living, who would it be? And what would you ask or what would you want to know?
Elizabeth: Oh, that answer always stays in my heart. It would be Christ. And it would be, how can I live most fully and completely in this lifetime? And how can I be a vessel? And, there are, like you said earlier, the spaces between those words because I want to make sure that I stay out of my own way, that I’m able to be an instrument, whatever that means. I just know that I want my life to be completely spent when I leave.
Mary: You’re amazing. Elizabeth, thank you so much for saying yes to this interview. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you, how important this interview is. And, it’s important because it’s the January 2023 issue, starting the year off on a big bang where we are going to celebrate fulfilling your destiny, being seen, being heard, being courageous, and getting out there and doing what you’re meant to do and meant to be. So thank you so much for being an advocate for all of us men and women who are really trying to find our pathway and really trying to make a difference.
Elizabeth: Oh, Mary, honestly, I am deeply honored and so grateful to know you. You have no idea!