You are getting old. You are reaching the nest wave of your life, or what will you do when you grow up? It is a fascinating subject. That might have to do with my age (I am 57), but I also think that the part of your life is coming sooner. I think millennials are much quicker at understanding what is really important in life.
From Strength to Strength, Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life
For genX-ers, “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life” is the perfect book. A book about professional decline, a book about the “striver’s curse”, a book about the agony of irrelevance, a book about reinvention and ultimately, a book about hope. A practical and very light version of Sadguru´s “Inner engineering”.
When you get older, you have to expect a decline. By the time you are fifty, your brain is as crowded with information as the New York Public Library. Meanwhile, your personal research librarian is creaky, slow, and easily distracted. There should be no surprise there—no one expects a serious athlete to remain competitive until age sixty. The probability of producing a major innovation at age seventy is approximately equal to what it was at age twenty—about zero. For writers, decline sets in between about forty and fifty-five. The Harvard Business Review has reported that founders of enterprises backed with $1 billion or more in venture capital tend to cluster in the twenty to thirty-four age range. That is me f..ed. My whole professional career centres around books, my library, innovation, writing and entrepreneurship.
Wisdom as your superpower
It is not all bad. When you get older, you move from fluid intelligence (the ability to reason, think flexibly, and solve novel problems) to crystallised intelligence (the ability to use a stock of knowledge learned in the past). When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom. The message of the book is to repurpose your professional life to rely more on crystallised intelligence. If you do so, your peak will come later, but your decline will happen much, much later, if ever. Our greatest gift later in life is wisdom.
Old is good
If the glass is half full, old is good. What do the young hotshots need? Old people on product teams, old people in marketing, and old people in the C-suite. They need some analogue in a world of distraction, digital and ChatGPT.
From innovation to instruction
The move from innovation to instruction. Mentoring, advising, and teaching others. A recent study in The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that the oldest college professors tended to have the best teaching evaluations within departments. Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom. Get old sharing the things you believe are most important. Excellence is always its own reward, and this is how you can be most excellent as you age. Achieving mastery.
. Jump on the second curve
Slow down, chill out. Kick your success addiction. Get off the hedonic treadmill. Stop being a workaholic. You are not your work. No need to compare anymore. You are you. Embrace humility. Stop accumulating stuff. Go internal. Find you. Strip things away to find our true selves. Release from attachment. Detach. Find the simplicity of your original nature. With the simplicity of true nature, there shall be no desire. Without desire, one’s original nature will be at peace. And the world will naturally be in accord with the right way.
In Hinduism, they think we have three stages in life. The first ashrama is brahmacharya, the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is grihastha, when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and maintains a family. The third stage is called vanaprastha, which comes from two Sanskrit words meaning “retiring” and “into the forest.” This is the stage totally dedicated to the fruits of enlightenment.
Tips and questions
The book gives you some tips and questions
- Ask why not what. What is your why?”
- Do up the reverse bucket list. Most things on a “normal” bucket list will not bring you the happiness and peace you seek. Go back to the list of things that will bring you real happiness.
- Get smaller. Satisfaction comes not from chasing bigger and bigger things but from paying attention to smaller and smaller things.
- To be mindful, therefore, is to be truly alive.
- Ponder your death. Forget legacy (nobody cares). Write your desired eulogy. Eulogy virtues are ethical and spiritual and require no comparison. Your eulogy virtues are what you really would want. How do you want people to talk about you at your funeral?
- If you had one year left in your career and your life, how would you structure this coming month?
- How will you measure your life?
Become a tree
A tree is a perfect metaphor for a truly successful person. Trees are strong, durable, reliable, and solid. The aspen is the largest living organism in the world; one stand of aspens in Utah called “Pando” spans 106 acres and weighs 6 million kilograms. The aspen and the redwood are almost perfect metaphors for the Buddhist belief that the “self” is actually an illusion. We are all intertwined. Humans are naturally interconnected—biologically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and spiritually. We may look solitary, but we form a vast root system of families, friends, communities, nations, and indeed the entire world.
Be happy and well
- Focus on love. Greek, for example, there are several distinct words for love: philia (the love between friends), eros (romantic love), storge (the love by parents of children), philautia (selflove), and xenia (hospitality, or love of the stranger). But the most transcendent of all the Greek concepts of love is agape: the love of man for the divine.
- The secret to happiness isn’t falling in love; it’s staying in love, which depends on what psychologists call “companionate love”. Love based less on passionate highs and lows and more on stable affection, mutual understanding, and commitment.
- Focus on stable, long-term relationships. For most, this is a steady marriage, but there are other relationships that can fit here. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age fifty were the healthiest at age eighty. Your romantic partnership is the most important relationship in your life.
- You need strong human connections to help you get on the second curve and flourish. No matter how introverted you are, you cannot expect to thrive into old age without healthy, intimate relationships. Friendship is a skill that requires practice, time, and commitment. You will need to reawaken your dormant relationship skills.
- To practice spirituality requires time and effort; there’s no getting around this. Any advanced practitioner of faith or spirituality spends as much time on this as a fitness buff does at the gym because that’s what it takes to make progress. The solution here is to stop seeing your spiritual development as a side interest but rather to put it front and centre. You must make the time by scheduling your meditation, prayer, reading, and practice. Every day.
- Confront problems directly, appraising them honestly, and deal with them directly without excessive rumination, unhealthy emotional reactions, or avoidance behaviour.
- Keep learning. More education leads to a more active mind later on, and that means a longer, happier life.
- Be grateful.
- Be vulnerable. Stop worrying about being exposed as less than people think you are. Share your weakness without caring what others think is a kind of superpower.
- Ask all the time. Is this work deeply interesting to me?
Transitioning to the third state can be a bit of a “life quake,” The word I from the book learned is liminality. Liminality refers to the ambivalence, confusion, or disorientation experienced in the middle stage of a rite of passage between the phases of adult life. That is a good thing. Research on how people derive meaning has uncovered that we need periods of pain and struggle that make us temporarily unhappy. It is great. Time to reflect, consider and change tac.
Seven words to remember
Use things. Love people. Worship the divine. If you remember only one lesson from this book, it should be that love is at the epicentre of our happiness. And love is reserved for people, not things.
In Tibetan Buddhism, there is a concept called “bardo,” which is a state of existence between death and rebirth. In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Buddhist monk Sogyal Rinpoche describes bardo as “like a moment when you step toward the edge of a precipice.” But you know what you have to do. Don’t think, dude. Just jump. Embrace going old.