Second Acts and Sage Advice

Victoria’s great untapped natural resource for companies? Those who’ve been there before and aren’t ready to hang ’em up.

Second Acts and Sage Advice - Douglas Magazine Aug/Sept 2023

Recently, an old high school friend visited me in Victoria. Both of us had moved away from Toronto nearly 20 years ago — me to Victoria and he to the U.K., then Silicon Valley — so our conversation invariably settled into:

How are you doing?

How are our old friends doing?

What does it mean to be at this particular stage of our personal and professional lives?

In so many words, we were asking each other, “What does your next chapter look like? And how do we make it as exciting and meaningful as the first?”

It wasn’t lost to me that we were having this conversation on Vancouver Island, a region attractive to both retirees and entrepreneurs. With neither of us considering another startup or putting our feet up permanently, he reminded me of the huge opportunity somewhere in the middle — especially here in Victoria.

The Sage Stage

In remarks to supporters of Pearson College UWC some years ago, philanthropist and investor Shelby Davis explained what prompted him to give back.

“My parents told me there are three stages of life,” he said. “Learning, earning and returning. First get educated, then make money, then give back.”

While I disagreed with Mr. Davis’s rigid order (I believe in exercising generosity early, even when you think there’s nothing to offer), I loved the concept in general. Not just because it feels good to us “to be useful at a certain age,” but because it’s most valuable to others at that time.

I call this the “Sage Stage,” the point at which we have developed insights, skills and perspectives that come naturally to us and are simultaneously helpful to those at the beginning of their journey.

In his most recent book, Strength to Strength, Harvard University professor Arthur C. Brooks describes two types of intelligence: fluid (the ability to accumulate knowledge while young) and crystallized (the edited wisdom of age), as well as the importance of finding roles that use the latter to create purpose, meaning and, ultimately, happiness.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t a new concept. What might be new, though, is just how perfectly this city — and this time — are positioned for us to be our best. For, in addition to our “unearned benefits of place” (weather, natural beauty and a West Coast time zone), it seems we have slowly but surely built up other assets.

Victoria’s Unfair Advantages

1. Youth and experience: Combine ingredients and shake vigorously.

More and more university students are “staying to start” — launching companies and careers in Victoria because they love this place. What they soon find are older entrepreneurs, investors and advisers willing to help out. 

Moreover, as hiring gets more challenging, companies see value in mixing and matching employee age groups to build demographic resilience and intergenerational learning.

2. Proximity and connective tissue: Keep sharing.

Let’s be honest: This is not a big city. So when someone is launching a new business, nonprofit or career it doesn’t take long to meet key people who’ve been down that road before. But it’s not just our size — it’s our nature. Twenty years ago, I heard all about the various cliques and perceived walls in Victoria’s business community. But it just isn’t true. As an investment banker recently told me after meeting many of our tech startups and investors, “It’s like you’re post-competition here. The old guard isn’t guarding anything. It’s weird. But kind of great.”

3. The place to be: So let’s roll out Victoria’s new Welcome Wagon.

The “silver tsunami” is coming. People living longer and healthier, seeking intellectual purpose and return, and looking for opportunities to be part of exciting businesses. In the old days, when you moved to a new town, the Welcome Wagon would show up at your door and give you the lay of the land. Let’s do the same for our new arrivals, whether young or old. In order to stand out among the great places they may choose to live, or remain in, let’s match our best and brightest with … our best and brightest. 

Jim Hayhurst is a trusted adviser to purpose-driven organizations and leaders. He is currently active in six companies and social impact projects that elevate Victoria’s reputation as a hub of innovation, collaboration and big thinking.