“Acceptance is fundamental” – Conversation with Ludmila Marcote

They say that when you are already aged and look back, you can tell how worth your life is by the experiences you have had. That’s what we can take along with us. It’s about that which remains inside. Material things vanished behind our path. So, why not making sure of having beneficial experiences and emotions until the very last moment?

          That’s precisely what Ludmila Marcote came up with. She –together with her partner Lucía Rebagliati- decided to start up En Compañía. A company which promotes the well-being of <<those above 60>> through integration, fun and other activities. It takes into account the quality of life of the elderly in our society.

          Moreover, Ludmila and Lucía were awarded with Buenos Aires Emprende 2010. Evidence of a very particular talent to integrate vocation with a sustainable solution. Model for the aspiration of many young people, Ludmila -29 years old- is already her own boss and works on what she loves.

          This convergence is not minor, and that’s why we treated matters such as: the fear of admitting oneself as aged (age-denial), the effort of entrepreneurship, empathy and emotional contagion, loneliness, the need of being useful. And a brain which is still active and neuroplastic even when old.

          Ludmila has the exactly balanced character to promote the bond that conciliates two different generations… separated by two generations of age.


- Your role is observed by two very different clusters, evidence of the two fundamental aspects of your job. One cluster is the elderly. And the other one is the niche of young people willing to be entrepreneurs or already on their way to it. Those who don’t want to be employees; instead, their own bosses. Where do you place your largest effort? In entrepreneurship or in the aged?

[Ludmila] – It’s a balance of both. I weigh them constantly. It’s important to pay attention to the age group you are working for, because if you do something they don’t need, the project gets stuck. Anyway, if I had the group but lacked the momentum that an entrepreneur must bear, it would also fall apart. The thing must be sustainable and so you must stay aware, since not everything happens in the time and way you want. You must be ready for frustration. If you don’t have the strength that anyone who takes charge of their own company must have, it gets diluted in “just an attempt”.


- That’s the challenge you’ve been overcoming very well with your product, with your company. It’s obvious there’s a passion within you: precisely, taking care of adults above 60. But at the same time you cannot leave out of sight the fact that your business must be profitable.

[Ludmila] – And there comes the balance. As a matter of fact, when we started to work we found it very hard to see “how to make money out of this…”. We felt weird. We perceived they barely make ends meet, they are just living on their retirement funds, and so we wondered “how are they gonna pay for all this …?”.


- You mean some sort of ‘guilt’, in the beginning?

[Ludmila] – Exactly. Guilt because there were people that maybe didn’t participate since they had no money, not because they were uninterested. Even today we come and go with the issue between us partners: Whenever we start an activity we think on what the price should be and thus how many people might unfortunately be left aside. How to ensure those people can do it some other way?

Besides, it takes time to find that balance point. We started with some workshops that are not our core today. Because we discovered services that are more profitable for us, though it took us 2 years to realize it. We keep doing them anyway, delegating most sub-tasks. It’s about that balance between what we love doing and what’s most profitable from it.


- Your customers, adults above 60, must perceive your passion about what you do, right?

[Ludmila] – Every one of them. Everyone tells you they are surprised by our young age and by the fact that our love for what we do is noticeable, by the treat they receive from us all who work in En Compañía.


- You started up with your partner; and if this goes on successfully you’ll expand more and more. How to keep that personal trademark of yours of passion when collaborators joining your company might not be as tolerant or caring, rather work mechanically?

[Ludmila] – I believe that’s catching. I mean, passion and caring… In spite of this being an age group that cannot pay high salaries, we observe that people working for us do their best. And in the weekly meetings we influence one another. That’s the spirit we look for: someone who does what has to be done. The fundamental thing is doing. If anyone gives a suggestion, we go right to asking how, when, where.

And it’s essential that each person joining our team have affection towards the elderly. That feature stands before knowledge. Because, if you don’t have any knowledge, you can be trained. But if you lack patience, if you don’t like aged people, you cannot.


- To spread enthusiasm, the objective of your company as declared at its website; can that be done by clients of yours?

[Ludmila] – Exactly. And it’s the best way. As they support one another, they become more enthusiastic and comfortable. I always tell the story of Elba. She arrived one day at Belgrano branch… around September 2009, being winter and really cold. She was wearing this white wool cap, this short, skinny woman… She started to talk, however, and became the leader of the meeting. Such a diva. Elba, 91 years old, told that she had rowed in Tigre until being 87 and had driven until her 90s. She kept herself super active, since her whole life had been that way. She had lived in many places all around the world. Her previous holidays had been in Brazil, in a cruise, with her sister… And that’s how she had all the rest planning trips… Punta del Este… even Canada!


- There’s a lot of empathy going on there… The perception the other one has of our intentions and emotions. Which is the most difficult emotion to handle in people above 60?

[Ludmila] – There’s some sort of taboo with the expression <<old age>>. We’ve been told “I don’t feel <<in the old age >>; neither <<above 60>>. Don’t tag me like that”. I compare the age span of our services to college years: you are 18 and go to college. Here you’re 60 and you retired. In fact, we categorized the age group as “above 60” because it’s the time you stop working. And it’s fun to have an offer of new things to do. Not to see it as something negative but as something positive.

But that’s in each one of us. There are people who don’t come to our activities because they are afraid that they are meant “for the old”. Concept which makes them feel bad. We’ve even received feedback such as: “I loved the activity. But seeing that the others are all aged people… discourages me from going on. I somehow look at myself in a mirror that I don’t like”.


- If they deny they are above 60, they avoid feeling “old”. But they also stay away from the feeling of belonging. Again, empathy. How to transform denial into something positive?

[Ludmila] – People who come to our activities have a particular ‘pro’ in common. Not only accepting age, but being open to have fun and, besides, to feel belonging. These people have been losing their friends –they even die-, most of them have their sons working –as everyone, at their vertiginous pace-, their husband or wife also passed away… They end up all alone. It’s really a hard time, which happens sooner or later. The ones who overcome it are those who accept: They do things and meet people. Those are in great shape.


- Loneliness is such a hard emotion in human beings. I read a book by John Cacioppo, [<<Loneliness>>], a pioneer in social neuroscience. The guy analyses the experience: As social beings, loneliness drives our brain into a critical status. It’s noticeable in the elderly…

[Ludmila] – There’s a group in Caballito that once performed an activity in which you had to read a piece of text in loud voice, at a certain point someone else went on, and so on. This other lady wanted to read the whole text herself, generating some sort of an argument with the others. She later confessed: “Girls, I need to reed because when I go back home I am all by myself… and I only speak to the TV! I need to bring my voice outwards”. If that’s not speaking of loneliness… what then? And that lady is only one of several people who are not fine emotionally speaking. She gets angry so often.


- The more pain you have inside, the more short-tempered you get.

[Ludmila nods] – Indeed. It’s obvious when these people come in. They don’t even need to say a word. Loneliness really harms them.


- Not so long ago it was assumed that we were born with a brain equipped with a certain amount of neurons. They wore out with time and that was it. There was nothing we could do. But neuroscience discovered adult neurogenesis: new neurons still appear when we are grownups. And we even have neural plasticity at any age: we can stimulate their re-connections. How can we make the most of this?

[Ludmila] – We take advantage of this neural plasticity -happening in the synapses even at the oldest age- by covering three types of interests: having fun, relating and learning further. We stimulate cognitive functions by allowing people to keep on learning general issues. And we’re adding the physical part now.


- Is swimming a key exercise or is that a myth?

[Ludmila] – It’s key. Most of them do AquaGym. Also Yoga. Both, together with walking, are the most recommended activities.


- Ever seen that self-efficacy we all need to fulfill? That feeling that we can achieve, that we are able, that we can control our environment. When you are young or middle-aged you can develop it. But I bet that finishing your working age must erode that self-efficacy. Is this shown somehow?

[Ludmila] – We began to offer workshops after six p.m. because there are people under 60 who are aware they will retire soon; and they start getting involved in activities in advance in order to keep feeling useful afterwards. We contribute in their getting ready to face their next stage. They gather several activities and thus, when they turn 65, they already have a solid life.

There’re even people attending our workshops who have new working projects. Free-lance. They worked all their lives as employees in companies and when they turn 60 they do all those things they couldn’t do before. And they organize it beforehand. Life expectancy has extended. People are older but still healthy both physically and mentally; they can keep on working. You can easily live till your 80s, and good.


- We uncovered a bothering issue. Life expectancy. Aged people, at some point, begin to worry about the term for planning. Can that be mitigated? Can anybody be motivated not to think negatively?

[Ludmila] – People coming to our workshops handle the matter so well. We joke telling them there’s this special offer <<pay-the-full-year-in-advance-and-you-get-xx%-off>>. And they answer: “Forget it, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it to next month!”. [She laughs]. That’s the attitude of the person who accepts: they get along with it. Acceptance is fundamental. There’re people who really have a good time their last years of life. It’s said to be the golden age. People who stay in our activities have such profile.

If you have certain economic backup, you can have a very nice life because you have time you didn’t have before. No social pressure either. I find people making the most of it, and they go: “I have 10 more years to bother you here, in En Compañía”. I love that.  □


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