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About Exceeding Expectations

Average life expectancy in New York City is 81. And yet, our societal expectations of people in later life are low, acceptable roles are limited and images of aging are often one-dimensional.


In 2015, we searched far and wide for 20 New Yorkers from all different circumstances and backgrounds who have both exceeded life expectancy and who are disrupting commonly-held expectations of what it means to grow old.

For the past two years, we have introduced you to a woman who cares for her 1-year-old great-granchild in a country unfamiliar to her, a man who was in prison for 30+ years and is trying to make up for lost time and an optometrist who has retired four times but keeps returning to work.

The project, through writing, photography and video, explores how people find purpose in later life and how their environment and circumstances make it easier or more challenging to do so. Their stories are filled with mystery, drama, wisdom and search for meaning.

Exceeding Expectations is a project of the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health. It is led by Dorian Block, a journalist, and Ruth Finkelstein, an anthropologist and health policy expert. It is funded by the New York Community Trust. We have partnered with more than a dozen media outlets to disseminate these stories.

We encourage you to share any story or photo you find interesting. Please also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.


To reach the Exceeding Expectations team, write to: Thank you!

Watch a 2 minute preview

Exceeding Expectations reaches thousands

Exceeding Expectations star Sandy shares her story on a recent panel in Manhattan.

Sandy joined the panel with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Ruth Finkelstein of the Columbia Aging Center.

Sandy, Hank and Jacquie's stories ran as a six-week series in four Manhattan newspapers.

Cyrille's story of survival was celebrated on First for Women, a magazine with hundreds of thousands of readers.

Luis's story ran on Narratively, an award-winning storytelling website.

300,000+ students, staff and alumni who receive Columbia Magazine read an excerpt about Hank.

A popular Dutch blog about aging run out of the Leyden Academy featured Exceeding Expectations.

Exceeding Expectations gets wheels - and travels around the city as a sign on Luis's bike.

About Our Team

Following 20 people over the past three years has been a journey around New York City. The following team spent thousands of hours and hundreds of days with our subjects to bring you the stories and photos on this site.



Dorian Block



Ruth Finkelstein



Heather Clayton Colangelo

Floor Flurij



Noa Appleton

Amarilys Bernacet

Othanya Garcia

Lauren Isaacs

Myra Iqbal

Yichen Lee

Parvati Ragoobeer

Claire Solomon


The Exceeding Expectations team

Dorian Block following Hank.

Heather Clayton Colangelo following Jacquie.

Amarilys Bernacet interviewing Rosa.

Lauren Isaacs sitting on Luis's bike.

Othanya Garcia interviewing Maria.

Dorian Block following Ali and Parween.

Yichen Lee with Jin-Fu Lu.

Floor Flurij photographing Florence

Dorian Block with Luis on parade day.

Heather Clayton Colangelo photographing Cyrille.

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Congrats! One year. One city. 20 lives. You've joined us.

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