Bernie Borges [00:00:00]:
Heather, welcome to the Midlife Fulfill podcast, a maximum episode.
Heather Nawrocki [00:00:04]:
I’m so glad to be here. Thank you, Bernie.
Bernie Borges [00:00:07]:
Well, thanks for being here, Heather. I am so looking forward to our conversation. I’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while. Let me just give a little brief, background on you. You have been with ARP since 1999, your first job after graduate school. And in 2019, you were named vice president of fun and fulfillment. I absolutely love that title, and I can’t wait to dive into it. I know it’s a big strategic initiative for you at AARP.
Bernie Borges [00:00:39]:
You have a master’s degree in applied anthropology and gerontology and just so much more in your career. You are the 3rd illustrious executive that I have had the privilege of featuring on the Midlife Fulfill podcast. So, again, thank you for being here. Heather, let’s get into it. Tell us about your job as vice president of fun and fulfillment at AARP.
Heather Nawrocki [00:01:01]:
Absolutely. Well, a lot of people think, Don’t you work for Disney or something with that title? But no, at AARP, we like fun too. And and why not? Because Fun is really good for you, and and there’s a lot of reasons why fun is good, Bernie. We can talk about that later, but what I do at fun and fulfillment Is lead a strategy that’s really about social connection? And the idea is what is the best way To help people, like, lean in or can you create social connection or reconnect or connect more deeply with others? Well, it’s super easy when you’re having fun together doing something that’s really fulfilling. I think in relationships, what’s the best way to reconnect? Well, go have a new experience, something that you both enjoy. And that’s really the idea between behind fun and fulfillment.
Bernie Borges [00:01:47]:
How did the job actually come about? I mean, is it something you recommended, or was it somebody else that Recommended and recommended you. How how did it actually get formed as a job?
Heather Nawrocki [00:01:57]:
Well, in about 2017, 2018, our CEO asked me to lead a task Of course. Because she wanted to figure out what should AARP be doing and what we call the self space. It used to be called personal fulfillment, But when we took a look at what the research was saying around personal fulfillment, what are the 3 t’s a personal fulfillment. What is really important to people so that they can live their best lives as they age and choose how they wanna live as they age? Well, around social connection. Social connection is so critical to health, longevity, happiness, sense of contentment, and We thought, you know, we need to figure out how to help people over 50 have those strong connections in their life so that they have the best chance of having the longest, happiest, Healthiest life possible.
Bernie Borges [00:02:47]:
Okay. So, Heather, I say that we have 5 pillars in midlife, And let let me name them, and then I’m the and I’m gonna name them for context for my next question. So the 5 pillars that I say that we have in midlife are health, Fitness, and I do make a distinction between the 2 as separate pillars, career, relationships, and legacy. So what role does fun have across those 5 pillars? Does it touch all of them, or is it more geared toward 1 or 2 of them?
Heather Nawrocki [00:03:17]:
Well, I think it it it it it can touch all of them. I think it depends on the person. When you talk about health, well, there are lots of things we can do that are Fun to support our health. There are things that are less fun, dieting, less fun, exercise, especially in groups, walking together, playing sports, whatever it might be. I would say for most people, that’s fun. When you talk about social connection, like I mentioned, connecting with with each other through fun is a wonderful way to do it. Legacy It’s pretty fun for people to talk about their legacy, to to document their legacy, and I think most importantly, to share their legacy and share what they know. And and it really, I think, ties into sense of purpose, which I think is also very important.
Heather Nawrocki [00:03:59]:
The other 3 2 were again, remind me.
Bernie Borges [00:04:02]:
Relay relationships and career?
Heather Nawrocki [00:04:05]:
Oh, career. Well, you know, when you’re over 50, not everybody these days is gonna retire at Sixty, 65, 75 even. You know, my boss, she is 85 this year, and she’s going strong at AARP. So, You know, I think at work, this can be fun too if you really have a great team and you enjoy what you’re doing. I think it Brings not only fun, but also fulfillment, which is the other half of of what we think is important to connection.
Bernie Borges [00:04:31]:
Exactly. I couldn’t agree more. I think having fun at work is Specifically, because we do we are working into much later, ages these days. I think the the fun factor is very important. So Tell me a little bit about how people are having fun these days, you know, in this this age demographic.
Heather Nawrocki [00:04:51]:
Well, I think Fun is there’s so many different ways to have fun, and I think the way that works for you is the answer. Right? So I’m not Sure. I can say that there’s one way to do it. I think it’s really about what what excites you, what interests you. And and ERP, one of the things that we’re doing is creating events around all sorts of different topics That might appeal to lots of different people. We focus on some that might appeal to larger groups, such as movies or theater, exercise, But also, every once in a while, we have some things like around gardening or home improvement. And the idea is that to attract an audience, who is interested in those Who thinks they’re fun, thinks they’re interesting, wants to learn something. But what we try to do is design the experience so that they have an opportunity.
Heather Nawrocki [00:05:38]:
If they’d like, there’s an opportunity to connect with others. And at minimum, you know, you’re there with other people. You hopefully are feeling a sense that community, because you know, if this is not on demand content. This is this is a community experience where you’re learning or enjoying together.
Bernie Borges [00:05:54]:
And are you seeing people have more fun now than, say, 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 years ago? Go back as far as you wanna go back. But yeah. So yes. A resounding yes.
Heather Nawrocki [00:06:06]:
Well, I think that may I I don’t know. I mean, I’m 48, So I can’t really speak from personal experience to well, I was a you know, when I was a child, we always think that fun is some a lot of people think fun is for children or that’s The idea that we think that, oh, you’re not you don’t have you have to be more serious and and more, I don’t know, more practical or something as you get older. But what we know from research and, you know, AARP research actually shows that people think that Play is really important to their health and will benefit their health. About 65% of in a recent AARP survey are saying that A people 50 plus. So I don’t have, a survey to ever really you know, to go back in time, but I do know that a lot of people are seeing, yeah, fun is good for us. It why not? It feels good. You get some more friends. You know, you can be with other people.
Heather Nawrocki [00:06:59]:
That really feels great. And I think what we’re seeing too is one of the number One concerns that the people 50 plus have is brain health. Well, guess what? Fun is good for your brain too.
Bernie Borges [00:07:10]:
So it touches a lot of, benefits in our life. Now this is the Midlife Fulfilled podcast. You have fulfillment in your title
Heather Nawrocki [00:07:20]:
Bernie Borges [00:07:21]:
But it’s part of It’s tied to fun, so maybe you can connect those dots. Heather, what’s the connection between fun and fulfillment?
Heather Nawrocki [00:07:28]:
Well, I think that when you’re talking about social connection, Sure. Fun is a great way to connect with with with each other, but it’s also fulfillment is there, recognizing how fulfilling it can be to have those social connections. And There are activities that sometimes you do for fun, and sometimes they’re fun and fulfilling such as volunteering. Volunteering at AARP is a big Part of our social mission as well, we have lots of opportunities for people to volunteer, and we know that, you know, volunteering, you have an opportunity in many cases To volunteer with others, but I think you also many people feel very fulfilled by that experience as well of helping others. So I think that they really can go hand in hand.
Bernie Borges [00:08:08]:
K. Have you seen any kind of a connection between fun and longevity?
Heather Nawrocki [00:08:13]:
Yeah. Well, I think that the Connection between fun and longevity is really that health piece. Because when you are feeling happier because you’re more connected And fun being away to that connection. When you are feeling a sense of purpose and fulfillment through a connection with others, Then that also leads to a better mental health, but also science shows that that physical health improves. And with greater physical health and mental health comes longevity. So I really think that there is a connection between all of these things that most of I would say everybody wants, and I think that Really drawing attention to the importance of social connection is important because I don’t know that everybody thinks of it. And so what we do is using fun As the the way to attract people to the idea, we try to present in such a way and say, hey. This is also you it’s fun to connect Others, whether it’s new people and and breaking the ice or establish relationships with your grandchildren, your children, your your neighbors, even your best
Bernie Borges [00:09:15]:
You actually you must have read my mind, Heather, because that’s where I wanted to go next. Relationships is one of those 5 pillars that I mentioned, And I wanted to come back to that because, you know, anecdotally, I can certainly think of how fun has contributed to relationship building in general.
Heather Nawrocki [00:09:31]:
Yeah. It can
Bernie Borges [00:09:31]:
be in a work environment or outside of work environment. When you’re doing something that’s fun with people, it just fosters relationship building. So Maybe you can speak to that aspect of it as it relates to that social connection.
Heather Nawrocki [00:09:43]:
Well, I think gosh. We’ve looked at Specifically, different kinds of fun. So one of the things we just recently did at ERP is some research on board games, and I know it seems Strange is like, really board games? Is that so retro? Well, guess what? Lots of people are still playing board games, and that is such a great way To connect with others. And in fact, half of the grandparents we surveyed we surveyed in April, half of them are using Board games to connect with their grandchildren. So Yeah. What’s really cool is the opportunity for fun and play to have It create intergenerational, connections as well as, of course, you know, have a little fun at work, have a little fun with your partner. And, of course, you know, I think the tried and true is having fun with your closest friends. So fun is, I think, just a kind of a a secret Sauce to unlock the potential of deeper social relationships.
Bernie Borges [00:10:36]:
Yeah. What about balancing fun with Just other demands in life, you know, whether it’s family demands or work demands or health demands, what whatever it may be.
Heather Nawrocki [00:10:47]:
Well, I think that At AARP, we, in our social mission, focus a lot on health and helping people, support their health needs, whether it’s learning about social Security Medicare, health insurance, but, you know, all of those topics and then also financial security, so important. Financial security and health Could be fun, sometimes not. And you might have a a a need in that moment and we’re here for that, but I think it’s important to remember that Social connections is something we need all the time. It’s not just every once in a while when you have, you need to work on your resume or you’ve You’ve decided to sign to sign up for social security or you need to change jobs and you or something like that. Fun is something we, You know, if we can try to to build in to every day something small, it doesn’t necessarily have to be hours and hours and hours of fun. Of course, that’s great. But I think, you know, really, getting people more aware of making time in their and prioritizing fun and play and connection in their lives Makes you feel good, so I think it’s kind of an easy sell. But remember that it is important.
Heather Nawrocki [00:11:53]:
Just because it’s easy and fun doesn’t mean it’s less important than all the serious things that we have to do every day.
Bernie Borges [00:12:00]:
Right. Right. Now as I mentioned in the introduction, you’ve been in this role of vice president of fun and fulfillment since 2019. So let’s call it roughly 4 years, give or take. Any surprises along the way? Meaning, you know, events or are things that you planned that either were really well received or any any kind of surprises you can share.
Heather Nawrocki [00:12:18]:
Well, how about corona 19 coronavirus 19, you know, COVID nineteen, excuse me. When I started creating the 2020 strategy, it was 2023 to or 2020 to 2023. What we were planning was all in person. We thought, what’s the best way? What’s the only way really to con we’ll feel really connected well in person. Duh. Right? Well, The the pandemic came and it made everybody at ARP and everyone in this country and around the world rethink, well, wait a minute. Holy cow. Connection is super important, and how can, digital tools and the Internet and the wonders that of technology today Help bridge the gap when we can’t be in person.
Heather Nawrocki [00:12:58]:
And so I think that was the the biggest surprise and a huge pivot, for all of our work and All and at AARP and all of the the areas that we focus on, but especially for fun and fulfillment because we weren’t planning on doing anything virtual, but we did. And we created, you know, certainly the things that we were doing in person around movies and some lectures, things like that, went online and we always had chat. So you always had a chance to Shout out where you’re from or comment on what you’re hearing or comment on other people’s comments. But one of the coolest things we did that I never imagined we do As we work for the company called Daybreaker, and their idea was in person. They had dance parties at early more to start your day. You broke your day With breakfast, maybe breakfast first, but then you had a dance party. And I thought, oh my gosh, I wouldn’t do that early in the morning. Well, we brought it online, And what we were able to do working with that is to have a a virtual dance party where using Zoom, hundreds of peep we actually had 30,000 people participate in one.
Heather Nawrocki [00:14:00]:
It was in January 2021, and it was a Motown themed dance party, and we had Some celebrity talent to kinda make it exciting, but what was really cool and I think what really touched people’s hearts was Seeing on the screen, Pieces of America, families dancing, because they would zoom in and show, people in their in their living rooms dancing to the music and Families dancing, couples dancing, people dancing alone, people in outfit, and and it was it was just so powerful. And then we ended Each dance party with a little bit it was very touching. We asked people to bring a photo and show the audience a photo of someone that they are missing, Whether they were still with us or had passed. And it was so touching and beautiful, and people just felt that emotional connection To thousands of strangers, and it was beautiful. And that was really a big surprise for me, how powerful virtual Could be, and and really helping people feel a sense of community, belonging, and connection.
Bernie Borges [00:15:03]:
Wow. That’s that’s a great example. It’s a great story. I’m curious, Heather. Did that experience
Heather Nawrocki [00:15:09]:
Bernie Borges [00:15:10]:
Give you cause, give you reason to do more activities virtually like that?
Heather Nawrocki [00:15:15]:
Well, we’re maintaining our virtual presence. You know, money doesn’t grow on trees, so as they say. So we have to figure out how to balance The the in person activity that we wanna do around the country with the virtual, because ARP is just not in every community. We’re in a lot of the big metro areas and in some suburban areas, but there are a lot of places where we’re not. So what we try to do is have a robust offering of virtual activity And then supplement that with in person. And if anyone is really interested in checking out what AARP is doing in the virtual space, Go check out the AARP virtual community center. We have between 30 70 new events every week, and Our schedule goes out about 3 weeks in advance, so you could go check it out and and see what’s, available. It’s free for everyone.
Heather Nawrocki [00:16:00]:
There’s no membership required. And, it’s a great opportunity to feel some connection, but also learn, have fun, all of the things that we just talked
Bernie Borges [00:16:10]:
So you don’t have to be an AARP member to participate then?
Heather Nawrocki [00:16:13]:
No. Absolutely not. This is part of our social mission. What we do, we do for all, and you don’t have to be 50 either. You you know, we welcome everyone of every age, and we have, lots of movies, lots of entertainment, lots of exercise But then again, you know, lectures on history, discussions about nature, craft activities, it it’s pretty great. And if you wanna check it out, it’s aarp.org/vcc for virtual community center.
Bernie Borges [00:16:39]:
Fantastic. We will link that up in the show notes. Thank you for sharing that. And and I’m curious, do you have AARP, either members or nonmembers, that volunteer to kinda help you with these programs?
Heather Nawrocki [00:16:51]:
Well, you know, We do have both digital and, you know, online volunteers as well as in person volunteers. Our Movies for Grown Ups screenings, which is a Screen program that I started about 11 years ago, bringing free movies to communities across America, many of those in person screenings are Run by volunteers, ARP volunteers on the ground. Our state offices also do a lot of work in community that involves ARP volunteering and ARP volunteers. So, if you’re interested in volunteering in person, go to Google, aerp.org and your state, and you’ll be able to To see or I think it’s actually arp.org/local is where you can then choose, put your ZIP code in, and then see what your state office is doing. As far as virtual goes, we are, doing a bit of virtual volunteering, and I’m actually starting a really cool new program that’s Right now, I’m gonna be focused on older women, but I’m hoping to be able to bring it to to other groups as well. And it’s really on it’s on Facebook, so you do need to be on Facebook, but we’re really using Facebook virtual to help facilitate in person gatherings so that If people wanna find other women wanna find other women that are that kind of are in the same sort of life stage and the same sort of In the same community, we wanna give them tools to find each other so that they can get together and have deeper connection.
Bernie Borges [00:18:16]:
Okay. Heather, my next question May sound like a rhetorical question.
Heather Nawrocki [00:18:20]:
Bernie Borges [00:18:21]:
But I’m gonna ask it anyway. Okay. And that is, do you have fun in this job?
Heather Nawrocki [00:18:26]:
Oh, yeah. For sure. For sure. I mean, what I think that some of my colleagues in fact, I know some of my colleagues are jealous cause they’re like, first of all, you get to be the b VP of Fund and Fulfillment, and your job is to, you know, program movies, set up classes, and then we get all sorts of love. You know? Like, it’s fun. People love it, and and they want more. And so it’s very rewarding for me and my staff when we get those emails or just even in the chats, You know, at the end of an event when people are like, oh my god. Thank you so much, AARP.
Heather Nawrocki [00:18:58]:
This is so awesome. It’s really quite rewarding.
Bernie Borges [00:19:01]:
I’m not surprised.
Heather Nawrocki [00:19:02]:
I would say I would say it’s fulfilling.
Bernie Borges [00:19:04]:
Yeah. I’m not surprised. Not at all surprised. What about you know, we in the business community, when we budget for any kind of a program, We always do a look back and try to measure how it went and try to measure results. Yep. How do you measure what’s working and not working?
Heather Nawrocki [00:19:19]:
Well, we have a survey after every single event that ARP does, and we ask, would you recommend this event? How satisfied were you with this event? Did you, Was the content good? How was the technology? But we also ask, do you feel more connected to others as a result of participating in this, event? And depending on the event and if it was in person or virtual, it’s anywhere from, like, 30% over It depends. We have a virtual, trivia actually that where you break out into small groups and and Zoom rooms and Those folks, I mean, 80% of them are saying they feel more connected. So, you know, we do wanna measure that how we’re making an impact both from a value perspective, But also, are we making a difference in how people feel in that moment and after that moment? And, so it’s really very important to us, and we measured our impact the very beginning.
Bernie Borges [00:20:13]:
Fantastic. Yeah. I would think people give you suggestions on other types of activities. Do you get a lot of input, a lot of suggestions from your community?
Heather Nawrocki [00:20:22]:
Oh, we do. And I wish that we could make all their dreams come true. We have, we try to choose things where we think that it’s not too niche, That we that, there might be at least a decent sized segment out there that would be interested because we do need, you know, in order to continue something and make the numbers work, we need a certain level participation. And so what we’ve learned is, you know, not surprising, maybe. The the most popular activities that we’ve offered are in the exercise exercise and wellness area. And I think that reflects how important health and wellness isn’t to this this demo, people over 50, But also entertainment. So we have a category called movies, music, and more, which you can find music, movies, and more, And that is super popular, and, again, because it’s it’s all free. And what’s really surprising is even though Vast numbers vast percentage of America has streaming, you know, subscriptions and lots of television options.
Heather Nawrocki [00:21:19]:
We get thousands and thousands of people who sign up and watch movies with us or come to a concert that is not even necessarily live. It might be a taped concert. There’s always a chat so you can talk about what you’re seeing. But people, I think, really appreciate curation. Right? So we are Previewing everything, we’re not gonna put anything out there that’s bad. And I think it, you know, I find for me, like the The paradox of choice is like, oh my gosh. What do I pick? Well, AARP is showing a certain movie tonight. Here you go.
Heather Nawrocki [00:21:49]:
It’s free. Go ahead. Get in there. And and I I think that’s really appealing to people.
Bernie Borges [00:21:55]:
Yeah. I can only imagine how have again, having all those options, all those choices just makes it so much More. So easier as well as just enjoyable.
Heather Nawrocki [00:22:04]:
Bernie Borges [00:22:05]:
What about is do you see any difference between men and women on in this whole roller coaster of fun?
Heather Nawrocki [00:22:10]:
Well, I think at least, especially in the virtual space, at least in our experience, the the ladies are there. The ladies want it. You know, we see a a breakout of about 75% or more women compared to men who wanna participate in virtual activities. I think when we start to talk about, like, some of our in person activities, like the movies and whatnot, you get a lot of couples to get groups, you know, women coming together with a girlfriend. My theory is that maybe their wives are saying, come on, you know, let’s get out and go see a movie, which is awesome because, again, right, fun begets Connection. This is good. And I don’t know really what that’s about, but we’ve seen it in research too when we were talking about board games, for instance. The the women are more interested in board gaming with others than men, and I’m working on that now because I wanna support men too.
Heather Nawrocki [00:23:02]:
And if you have any ideas, Bernie, or your audience has any ideas of what ARSP should do for men over 50 to help them feel more connected to others, Please bring it on. I would love some ideas.
Bernie Borges [00:23:13]:
Yeah. No. It it gets a little complicated because I know that, generally speaking, men can be a little bit more Inhibited when it comes to things like fun activities. So I can understand why it’s a bit of a challenge and something that there’s no one size fits all. You know? Whether it’s a board game or pickleball or a movie night or whatever, I don’t think there’s 1 fight one size that fits all for, for men or for women, of course. Right. Heather, just to bring things to a wrap on this episode, I wanna invite you for to give a closing thought, and please, you know, give any promote anything that AARP is working on in this Whole endeavor of of fun. I just love, love, love your role and what you’re doing and the whole mission of social connection, And so give us a closing thought and promote anything you wanna promote.
Heather Nawrocki [00:23:58]:
Sure. Sure. Well, I wanna remind you again about the AARP Virtual Community Center. I I really invite you to go check out, our 11 categories of events and opportunities to learn and have fun and connect with others, atarp.org Slash the v c c. In there, you’ll also see our movies for run up screenings. Check it out. We are showing some great theater and great movies there that Also, it’s available for everyone and always free. And I thought to I I do wanna point out our new relationship with the American With Sprint’s sale around pickleball.
Heather Nawrocki [00:24:31]:
And ARP recognizes that, you know, if you can have fun and be physically active And, you know, that’s us it’s a great way also to, you know, connect with others. And so AARP is very excited to be Working on a pickleball strategy and recognizing how popular that is and how fun that is. And bottom line, Prioritize relationships, prioritize connecting with others, not just your your best friends and your family, but also say hello to the barista. Say hello to the person that passes you on the sidewalk because we know from research, just saying hello and smiling will give you a little burst of dopamine and make that person feel good You. And that is super important that you what doctors are calling social fitness. You need those deep ties, but also those, They call it weak ties, but I think they’re kinda casual. They’re important as well. So just smile to people around you, say hello, and it’ll do the body good and make you feel good too.
Bernie Borges [00:25:29]:
Fantastic. I I could not agree more with everything that you said really from the beginning of our conversation, but that closing thought really tied it up so Beautifully, Heather, though, the connection to fitness and just the social connection and relationships and how it’s just it’s just good for our health and, you know, it’s just good for the world. Right? Everybody just, you know, being more socially connected. It’s just good for the world. Heather, thank you so much. I love what you’re doing at ARP, vice president of fun and fulfillment. I may come after your job one day. I just think what you’re doing is fantastic, and I just really appreciate you joining me for A maximum episode here on the Midlife of Phil podcast to share everything you’re doing.
Bernie Borges [00:26:07]:
Thank you so much, Heather.
Heather Nawrocki [00:26:08]:
You’re so welcome. Glad to be here.