January 14, 2012 First Defined
March 23, 2015 Revision

I have been developing a synthesis of a wide range of influences which have brought me to the point of acting to found the Aging Artfully Initiative and to express my intentions as a leader. This could be called a ‘unifying leadership vision’.

Recently, one of my most powerful allies and mentors, Roger Anunsen of MindRamp, encouraged me to critically examine my thinking that each of my inspirational resources was much beyond my own inner power. For instance, in our conversations I referred to various aspects of Stephen Covey’s large repertoire of transformational writing to illustrate my own observations. Still, after twenty or more years of study these powerful influences, I understand that they still exist, and continue to inform my work (most notably the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’).

Roger encouraged me to honor my own unique and original contribution, which has only recently come into focus as I continue to develop the Aging Artfully Initiative, and articulate my vision more closely.

I am very committed to being a catalyst for others to become truly effective in exploring their own gifts. I see this as a central part of my life and identity now. To develop the skills necessary to do this well requires that I become as effective as possible myself. I have identified the beginning of a system of what could be considered a sequential set of competencies.


It seems to me that each person has certain native abilities, which become a foundation for expression throughout their life and allow full personal engagement with life. As social animals, these gifts come into play in a ‘concert’ with the abilities and actions of others. In the family setting, this is commonly referred to as a ‘family system’, and many of us are familiar with the dynamics of that realm. This is true at every stage of life and in every arena of human action, and in all communities. The most obvious and easily accepted concept is the idea that when one child in a family expresses a certain competency, say in music, the next child must choose another way of being in order to exert her or his individuality.

My conviction is that the gifts of each person are present for a purpose, and that the fullest expression of these gifts is required in order to enhance the well being of that person and for society to reach its potential. I often find myself saying, ‘We need everybody’. No-one is dispensable. This perception and preference may easily be dismissed as hopelessly idealistic, but I have seen great harm done when a person is considered by others to be insignificant, or are disrespected, alienated and ignored. So, I have arrived at a first step in my ‘Unifying Vision’, the concept of Leadership. Of course there are a variety of styles of leadership, but I am referring to the need of a person to find an activity which allows them to achieve a level of mastery, and become a leader in it. My brother Gary says that we need followers, too. But I think we need to honor the authenticity of each person, and that we are all the best at being ourselves, understanding that we are ‘works in progress’.

Once we achieve a level of competence, we invest our passion into our chosen activity and reach a familiarity with it so others may benefit from our skill. This allows us to teach others. It has often been said that if you really want to learn something you must teach it. This leads us to the second vehicle of self expression, the second ‘Ship’, Mentorship.

In Mentorship, our understanding of our own gift becomes much more clear. We can see ourselves in connection with others, and understand our usefulness to society. The satisfaction one derives from helping another person to see their own capability is very rewarding. It is not necessary to become an excellent educator to serve another as a mentor. All that is required is that one must allow their ‘mentee’ to develop his or her own self worth through meaningful self expression and application to their gifts. Modeling or setting an example of personal excellence as applied to the one area of life one has developed will serve best. If you only believe in the person, that is plenty. There is a common tendency to look for a way to dominate others, and misuse of power can easily undermine the benefits of mentorship. It must be an overtly stated goal, as I see it, to create a mutually respectful arena between the mentor and the mentee.

The setting of almost all personal development is our social context. If we agree that we hope to apply as much of the personal power we have available to help society progress and address the many challenges we face together, we must then foster a willingness to engage in these imperatives. This requires a widening of identification with the whole of human society. There is a trap which is hard to escape, which limits the sphere of activity to one interest group over another, the ‘us vs. them’ mode. I have long lamented this distracting human frailty. We often see where a power struggle blunts the force of a community which could achieve great things.

In my training as a mediator I learned to explore the realm of the possible when supposed opposite sides of an issue create a third alternative which meets everyone’s needs and delivers an outcome well beyond what either separate solution might have offered. So I see that collaboration, synthesis, and respect may unveil a whole range of unanticipated options and beneficial outcomes, or futures. The field of activity between people as they progress as leaders and mentors quickly widens and empowers one to participate in society in life enhancing ways. This may be seen as a healing force for positive social change. The evidence of this resulting social health feeds continued personal investment and commitment, once it is experienced. If one does not take leadership, it is difficult to share in this bounty. One hears of the adage, that ‘no good deed will go un-punished’. And there are risks one takes to step up. This reality is roughly akin to the idea that there is no reward without risk. The psychological strength required to walk in the world, knowing the risks, is only won by boldness and the exercise of personal power. This boldness in the face of risk, is a skill to be practiced, and in it we see the strength in kindness. This is the realm of the ‘new man’ and that of social progress for all, which many have experienced.

The next vehicle for my AAI ‘Unifying Leadership Vision’ is ‘Stewardship’. Once we have taken leadership in our own realm of activity and have developed the ability to serve and then mentor others, then we can participate fully in the healing of the world.

In Stewardship we have a chance to fully experience the healing power mentioned above. Stephen Covey called this type of personal mastery being ‘Pro-active’. We certainly cannot hope to change the world singlehandedly, or overnight, nor do we blindly hope to eliminate every evil of society. However, we can together influence positively the progress we collectively make, and gain some poise and what I would, in mechanical terms, call traction. I see actual evidence daily of very satisfying results deriving from the concerted efforts of positive people in a wide range of human enterprises. My particular interest and application over the last several years has been in the overlap between three circles of activity, that of Aging, Creativity, and Community. Since I chose to become involved in these arenas, I can now witness and participate in powerful action elevating human life in each circle. I choose to integrate these realms, and in the process I have found a home for myself, and have staked a small claim to the three separate communities and have become a point of connection between them.

So, I do see myself as a Leader and a Mentor and a Steward. I have also seen that as I grow older and find myself surrounded by peers and fellow leaders who are much older than me, that I am on a path to becoming an Elder. I am very fond of this title, and will try my best to deserve it. For now I consider myself to be an ‘Elder in Training’. (ET, but not the extraterrestrial!) I see Eldership as the final step in personal development for myself and maybe others, and the final vehicle or ‘Ship’ of Aging Artfully. I have observed Eldership for many years now, and I think I can describe it.


Lao Tzu, the perhaps mythical founder of Taoism is reported to have said, ‘A man who thinks of other people as members of his own body is a sound man to lead them.’ One who is capable of thinking first of others must have a high level of self regard, of personal power, and a great understanding of life. I see the proper role of an Elder as one which allows the voice of experience and the active intent to lead and guide, if quietly, when needed. We are familiar with the role of ‘Elders’ in religious practice and in native societies. We often hear people proclaim how highly they respect seniors and their guidance, while at the same time ignoring and neglecting the sick and weak. This is something that we can correct, and it is our rightful task to address these things as we assume the ‘mantle’ of Eldership. (I would also note that the Elder is not a static ‘rock’ of wisdom, but rather a sensitive, alive and responsive member of society. In another saying from Lao Tzu, we see anther quality of the wise. ‘Down goes the tough and big, up comes the tender sprig.’)

So, the integration of these stages of human growth, these ‘Ships of Aging Artfully’, allows us to become more true to our own gifts, more useful to others, and more connected to the healing of the world. Leadership, Mentorship, Stewardship and Eldership.

If we are doing our own job, becoming ourselves and living in community, I believe we will have access to the many benefits mentioned above and live fully, robustly, and artfully. It can be a very simple matter. When you see it in action, it is inspiring. I have found it to be a lot of fun, too!

Blessings to You,

Jim Corcoran
The Aging Artfully Initiative

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