Two important things to consider are your interests and whether money has to be a consideration. It's also a good idea to research any ideas you have by test driving them and by speaking to others who are already in the field, or who have made transitions of their own. You don't have to re-invent the wheel starting from zero. By using the input you gain, you'll be able to rule things in or out far more easily.
Sometimes our age, or our financial circumstances, are going to circumscribe where you're going to be able to go. I might think it would be a great idea if I could become a dentist or be a power forward in the NBA, but my age of 74, and my height of 5'10'', are obviously going to preclude those options.
With each passing year, more and more options can get ruled out for many reasons, so if you're younger, it's important not to waste time doing your test drives and research. The clock is ticking. As Teddy Roosevelt said to cattle he was herding out West, "Hasten forward quickly now!" (That was surely the first time that the real cowboys he was working with heard a New York City patrician's encouragement for livestock.)
Occasionally someone may be an outlier, so there can even be some hope for those at the outer limits for getting into a field, but for the most part, many options get closed off as we move down the track of life.
One exceptional case was a very bright guy I went to high school with at Gloucester Catholic in Gloucester City, NJ. He was a great person and an outstanding basketball player. He played on a team that won the "NJ Tournament of Champions". He got a full ride to Bucknell and majored in accounting. After graduation, he went to work with one of the "Big Eight" accounting firms, but after working in that industry for about three or four years, he decided he wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon, which meant many more years of schooling. John Murphy ("Murph") became a leading surgeon in Southern California. This certainly isn't a typical path. But if you feel you have a calling, investigate it and see if you think it's sensible to try to make it happen. Sadly, John died in 2015, paddle boarding in San Diego Bay. Active until the end!
Live Your Own Life - Lawrence J. Danks
You don't want to be rocking on a porch when you're seventy-five wishing you had done something that you never did. That can be a great burden to live with. If something is gnawing at you, do what you need to do to make it happen,or if you decide not to, be able to put it to rest for good, so it won't come back to haunt you later.
Sometimes, even though we might be disappointed that we didn't try something, we may realize that the time has passed for it, but that doesn't mean that time has passed for living a satisfying life by doing something else. Sometimes when a door is closed to us, something else opens up down the road that we would never have thought of. In the end, having a door closed might be the best thing that ever happened to you. So don't beat yourself up over it and mess up a promising present. Just move ahead with a positive attitude. Something is waiting to intersect with you. But you have to do your part by moving toward it, whether it's a new career, a new interest or a new life partner.
Larry King tells the story of going down on the field with his father-in-law to watch the Baltimore Orioles take batting practice . The man had been an outstanding baseball player when he was younger, but his father thought playing baseball for a career was too impractical and influenced him to take a steady job in the post office. As King stood there with him, he turned and saw tears coming down his cheeks. King said to him, "What's the matter?" The man said, "I should have tried." If something is important to you, so should you. You don't want to spend the balance of your life with those kind of regrets.
The other lesson is that you're the one that's going to have to live with the choices you make - and also the ones you don't make. Wayne Dyer says in I Can See It Clearly Now: " Be independent of the good opinion of others." (This is one of his standard mantras, that we should take control over our own lives and not restrict ourselves because of the views of others.)..."I couldn't be that self-actualized person, if I was afraid of what someone else might think of me."..."I must ignore the opinions and advice of others, when they interfere with my inner knowing. It is enough for me to know that I have a song, and by God, I intend to sing it." (We need to have a strong belief in ourselves and our vision, and take the actions necessary to fulfill it.)
Another excerpt from Steve Jobs commencement address:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other people's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and your own intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."
Change - Lawrence J. Danks
Sometimes there's no one else, or no other driving circumstances involved, it's just a knowing that you need to make a change. Heraclitus taught that, "The essence of Being is Becoming; an incessant movement of change by which one aspect of a thing is always leading on to another. All things are in flux. You cannot step into the same river twice."
It has always been amazing to me how Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor in the 2nd century, could provide a whole book full of wisdom in Meditations, that is largely as relevant today as it was then. There is a huge, beautiful bronze of him on a horse within view of The Forum in Rome. I have a photo of it in my office. Perhaps coincidently, his back is to The Forum and all its past glories. He looks forward toward a more active part of the city instead, presaging perhaps his being a man of the future, not only a powerful one of his own time.
Marcus Aurelius says in his Meditations: "We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it?...Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change? Do you not see then that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?"
Change can be forced on us by changing circumstances. It can also result from an internal message that just says, "It's time to move on and to do something different", often what we view as being something higher.
British actress Kristin Scott Thomas quit films after becoming bored of working onscreen for 30 years in both English-speaking and French-speaking roles. The 53-year-old star, who has garnered acclaim for roles in films such as "The English Patient" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral," had been juggling a dual career in English and French language movies for several decades, and now she's finally had enough of being in front of the camera. She came to the realization she wanted to focus on stage work. (Her film credits don't seem to indicate this though. She has made many movies, even fairly recently, so she may have simply been expressing how she felt. I would highly recommend the film "My Old Lady" that she appears in. Few people probably have heard of it, but it's funny and touching and has some qualities of "The Notebook" in it.)
The bottom line though is that it's ok to make changes, even if you wind up going back to something you thought you were finished with, e.g., Richard Nixon saying after he lost the California gubernatorial race to Edmund "Pat" Brown (former Governor Jerry Brown's father) that "You won't have Nixon to kick around any more." Yet later, he came back and won two terms in the Presidency.
Marcus Aurelius sees change as good and inevitable. One who responds to change, and makes his own, exemplifies what we should be: "Now your remaining years are few. Give men the chance to see and to know a true man, living by nature's law." (No matter how old anyone is, their years are few. Some just fewer than others.) "Soon enough, remember, you yourself must become a vagrant of nothingness; soon enough everything that now meets your eye, together with all those in whom is now breath of life, must be no more. For all things are born to change and pass away and perish, that others in their turn may come to be. Change, in this life, can bring new and better things to our lives, if we attempt to predict it, prepare for it, observe it and work to direct it for the better. That is the best way to prepare for the ultimate change that faces us all someday. To do our best, so we limit any regrets.
Starting Late - Lawrence J. Danks
When someone is older, they might feel humiliation or embarrassment about "being a beginner", often much younger than others engaged in the same pursuit. That shouldn't be. Those who are wise enough to know what they need to do should congratulate themselves. Some know what they should do, but never do it.
I've seen returning students many times as a teacher. The sad part is that some who should return never do. It's not uncommon for some returning students to feel out of place, to the point that they question their ability to succeed. But motivation wins the day. Those students want to be there and are focused. That makes the difference in anything. If something is important to you, do it. You may think you'll be the worst one in accounting class, nursing school or art class. Trust me. You absolutely won't be. You'll do just fine. Conscientiousness always wins out.
Anyone who succeeds has failed previously. That's how we learn to do better. Failure is not easy to deal with, but rather than thinking of it in a negative way, look at it as a potential road sign that will lead you to where you're supposed to be. Arianna Huffington says, "Failure is not the opposite of success. It's a stepping stone to it."
Naturally, a balance has to struck between failing, and staying persistent in trying to accomplish a goal. An accumulation of failures can suggest that maybe we'd be more successful and fulfilled using our talents on something else. How many times do you have to fail before you make the change to something else? Only you are going to know that. But don't hesitate to get advice to help you make that decision.
Sometimes making a change may involve quitting what we happen to be doing now. Even before I cover some of the points mentioned here, this is an area in which caution should be exercised. I wouldn't want anyone reading this to decide, in a knee-jerk fashion, that "I guess I should quit my job today". Maybe you should some day, maybe you should see if there is an acceptable middle ground, or maybe you should just stay where you are and try to improve things there. In any case, it shouldn't be a decision made rashly. I did it once, not exactly rashly, but more quickly than I should have, and it cost me many consequences.
Think Like A Freak says, "It's easy to see that things aren't working out. So why haven't you quit?:
- Quitting is a sign of failure (It doesn't have to be. It might just be the sensible thing to do.)
- Sunk costs (It is tempting to believe, that once you've invested heavily in something, that it's counterproductive to quit. This can be true, but it doesn't make sense if the option being considered is clearly better. This is analogous to the sunk cost fallacy in investing. Investors sometimes hold on to stocks whose prices have dropped, hoping that they might recover. So they hang on to the bad stocks and sell off the good ones, when they should be doing just the opposite. The logic sometimes is, "How much worse can it get?" The problem is if we hang on, we might find out. It can sometimes be better to cut your losses.)
- Opportunity costs (For every hour you spend doing what you're doing now, you may preclude yourself from doing something else that is far better. I point this out to students.
"Reinvent Yourself" by Rebecca Webber - Psychology Today
Anyone interested in reinventing themselves should access this outstanding article. I've summarized some of the highlights below:
"It's our nature to spend our energy primarily on today's immediate concerns...To often we give up just when we need to push harder, and persist when we actually should quit...so what's a dreamer to do...It's never too late to reinvent yourself. Even at 60. (Hey, I resent that :) I'm almost seventy and I'm still trying to do it. It's never too late - no matter how old you are!)
Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of Smart Change says, 'You have to give yourself enough time to actually accomplish your goal.' (You also have to be patient with yourself.) He says 'you run the risk of doing lots of little things every day...without making a contribution to your future.'
'People need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, their passions, and their own story... Then they can look at what's going on in the world and try to match themselves up with opportunities.'says Robert Kaplan, author of What You're Really Meant To Do.
Researchers from the University of Rochester found that people who are intrinsically motivated - working toward things they find personally fulfilling - are less depressed and more satisfied with their lives than those striving primarily to impress the outside world with a big paycheck or a lofty job title.
Ken Sheldon, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, found that people who had self-concordant goals were the most likely to make steady progress because they were more likely than others to devote sustained effort despite the obstacles and distractions.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the future - as much as one hour out of eight - and yet we do a poor job of acting to achieve the future we desire...Not only do we overestimate our ability to achieve change, we underestimate the effort it requires and the toll it will take...'To ward off these pitfalls, seek out those who have already achieved the dream to which you aspire' says Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert in his book, Stumbling on Happiness.
Hal Herschfield, an NYU marketing professor, conducted studies showing that people who could identify more closely with their future selves made decisions that were better for them. (This can be aided not only by speaking with others who have had the experience you are facing, as Dr. Gilbert has said, but by gaining some experience in the area you aspire to.)
As you're planning your reinvention, be as coldly realistic as possible. 'You don't want to be overly optimistic in he deliberative phase, because you might pick the wrong goal', says Peter Gollwitzer, an NYU psychology professor. (As Joseph Campbell said, you want to be careful that when climbing the ladder, you don't find later that it was leaning against the wrong wall.) Gollwitzer says that learning goals are more realistic and achievable, than performance goals: 'I'm going to learn to cook well', rather than, 'I'm going to be a Michelin-star chef.'
Dr. Markman suggest just going after just one goal at a time because you're changing your behavior and it takes a lot of mental energy, planning and playing around with your schedule, to achieve what you want.
"Infinity Man" - Ray Kurzweil - Prevention
"Infinity Man" is about superinventor Ray Kuzweil. It includes some of his thoughts about living far out into the future and also the regimen he follows. If you find that of interest, check out the article. My purpose is to pass on other points from the article related to accomplishing your goals.
Kurzweil designed the first machine capable of reading books to the blind (Stevie Wonder was a first customer). He's MIT educated and is Director of Engineering at Google, helping them build smart robots. He's a borderless thinker and obviously a very bright man. Here are a few of his insights:
- "If I'm well rested, I find that very few problems bother me."
- Death Doesn't Give Life Meaning: "The things we can do with life - have relationships, be creative, create knowledge - are what give life meaning. We don't need death to give time a purpose."
- Dreams Carry Answers: "I assign myself a problem as I go to sleep, and if I wake up in the middle of the night, I will often find myself dreaming about it in the kind of unstraightforward way in which dreams are typically composed...The next morning, when you're in that in-between stage, you have enough consciousness to be able to rationally evaluate your ideas. And if I can do this for fifteen or twenty minutes, I invariably have some new insight. Sometimes I feel I'm just kind of carrying on my dream's decisions throughout the day."
- Do What You Want: "In some ways, I consider that I was retired when I was 5, because I focused on doing only what I wanted to do. And that is what people should do. They should seek to make their careers something they love and have a passion for. But not everyone can do that, and to the extent that they haven't been able to do that, then retirement can be a great opportunity to start."
You Don't Have To Be An Expert To Be Excellent - Brunelleschi's Dome - Ross King
The jewel of Florence’s architectural landscape is the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. Ross King’s excellent book Brunelleschi’s Dome details its creation by Filippo Brunelleschi. No masonry dome larger than this has ever been constructed.
He was not an architect, as one might expect, but a goldsmith and clockmaker. One doesn’t always have to be a renowned expert in a field to make serious contributions. That should also serve as a model for increased openness to the contribution to fields that can be made by non-experts. The results of deliberations might also be able to be markedly improved by trying to include less experienced insights, including those from other disciplines. A good thing to keep in mind when planning your next decision making session.
Since he lived nearby, Filippo had observed the cathedral being built in his youth. The Wardens of the Opera developed the concept of what the completed project should look like, including that it was expected to have wooden “centraling” – supports to hold it in place, until the bracing could be removed and the brick and stone could stand on their own. Brunelleschi’s revolutionary proposal was to have the dome built without that support, using a system he devised. Many previous domes that tried to stretch too far had collapsed, including two in France at Beauvais and Troyes. Skepticism was naturally increased because of Filippo’s relative inexperience in architecture.
Competitions were traditionally held for this and similar projects. Preceding this one was one for the design of bronze doors on The Baptistry, an octagonal building next to the Cathedral. One of Brunelleschi’s competitors for this project was Lorenzo Ghiberti. Ghiberti’s Doors are considered masterpieces in bronze. (34,000 pounds of bronze were melted in his foundry to create them.) They also competed against each other, not only for the creation of the doors and for the construction of the Dome, but further, in writing derogatory sonnets about each other. The Dome’s competition was announced on August 19, 1418. While Ghiberti played some, ever decreasing role in the Dome’s creation, it was Brunelleschi who was the driving force behind the project. ( A good question in this effort, and in other organizations too, might be to ask how much more might have been accomplished had competitors fully cooperated with each other.)
I’ve been in front of, and inside of, both of these structures. Unfortunately, it was long ago, so my memory of them is vague. One of the reasons I’m writing this to encourage you to read this book before you visit Florence, which is otherwise beautiful and enchanting in its own right, and also the home of many excellent restaurants. Additionally, the book contains other pieces of fascinating information, some of which I’ve mentioned below.
The book would be a great gift for any engineer, architect, bricklayer or mason, who clearly would understand many of the concepts far better than most of us. One of the benefit of King's’book, however, is that it is well-written and reasonably intelligible for any reader.
It was far from a straight run from the start of the Dome to its completion. It was slowed by the “Black Death”, wars between Italian cities, the inability to obtain needed materials including specific marble, and other factors – the type of “outside events” that plague organizations from achieving their objectives in the timely fashion first envisioned.
There were several critical items that led to Brunelleschi’s success in creating his unparalleled Dome:
- bricks were arranged in a “herringbone” or “fishbone” pattern, with a longer longitudinal brick being placed between every five bricks, that helped to reduce the outward pushing forces that a dome creates. The bricks were laid on the inside of the wall working outward. About three hundred men were working on the dome at a time, fewer later as the Dome rose. “Various safety measures seem to have worked. There were only three deaths recorded during the entire period of construction.
- iron buried inside nine sets of concentric rings helped to belt the Dome together
- the Dome was octagonal and featured exterior, longitudinal ribs that further held things in place. Each section of the octagon was constructed by a different team of masons, who had to converge at the same point on the top of the Dome.
- properly controlling the angle of ascent of the Dome appears to have been accomplished by using a cord “which could be swept 360 degrees around the cupola, which would have been raised and then progressively shortened as more courses of bricks were added, as the Dome’s radius shrank from 70 feet at its foot to only 10 feet at the top. The inclination of the bricks, as well as their radial positioning, could therefore have been carefully monitored.”
- Brunelleschi invented various devices to hoist the brick and stone up over two hundred feet, including one powered by oxen. The construction would not have been possible without his “Leonardo DaVinci type” of inventions.
It took 140 years of construction to the time for the consecration of Santa Maria del Fiore by Pope Eugenius IV. The cupola was consecrated five months later, sixteen years and two months after construction on it began. In 1446, the dome’s lantern was consecrated. Brunelleschi died a month later on April 15th at the age of 69. He was laid to rest in the Cathedral in on May 15, 1446. Tourists today can climb 446 steps up to the dome for an unparalleled view of Florence.
-“Pardoners sold indulgences from stalls in the street and churches advertised confessions that were supposedly good for remission of infernal torture for a grand total of 8,000 years.”
-“Stone, brick and concrete all possess such enormous compression strength that buildings can be raised to colossal heights without the blocks of stone crushing at the base. The tallest spire in England, that of the Salisbury Cathedral, stands at 404 feet high, and the two towers of the Cologne Cathedral each rise to 511 feet, the equivalent of a fifty-story building…not even these soaring structures come close to exhausting the compressive strength of stone: a column of limestone could be built to a height of 12,000 feet, or over two miles high, before starting to crush under its own weight. (This was never the problem with the building of cathedrals. It was instead the problem of outward pressures forcing domes, walls and arches to collapse. Flying buttresses, such as those found at Notre Dame in Paris, were one of the methods used to counteract this.)
-Brunelleschi’s Dome, and others such as The Pantheon in Rome, use lighter materials at the top to reduce some of the structure’s top weight.
-Brunelleschi is credited for re-introducing the concept of “perspective”, the method of representing three-dimensional objects in recession on a two-dimensional surface, in order to give the same impression of relative position, size or distance as the actual objects do when viewed from a particular point… He worked out the principle of “the vanishing point” which was known to the Greeks and Romans, but like so much other knowledge had long since been lost.
-Compared to other famous domes, the cupola of St. Peter’s in Rome is almost ten feet narrower than Brunelleschi’s Dome, St.Paul’s in London is thirty feet narrower, and the Capitol dome in Washington DC is only two-thirds the size of the one in Florence.
Your Life Calling - Jane Pauley
Jane Pauley is the former host of NBC's "Today Show", "Dateline and "The Jane Pauley Show". Her book provides some excellent thoughts on reinvention and her own journey to reinvent herself.
Misconceptions about reinvention:
- You have to get it right the first time
- There is some authentic you waiting to be revealed
- Reinvention is a total makeover
- Everyone has a passion to follow
Counterintuitive ideas that can help:
- Trial and error are the keys to growth and self-knowledge
- Reinvention may require being reintroduced to yourself
- Self discovery may not be the requirement for reinvention, but the payoff
"The shortest distance between two points can be a crooked line." - Berthold Brecht (You may even circle back.)
Find your passion and do it because you're going to be good at it. Develop a little marketing plan for yourself. Go out and create the opportunity you want.
Self-discovery is the reward for taking a step toward reinvention. Even a false step may give you a fresh perspective on yourself.
What motivates you? If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?
Convergence - when everything you've ever done and learned before, meets up in some entirely new way. And you are renewed. Try to be a kid again with that same outlook on life and the future.
If someone is really dissatisfied, just find something that is therapy to them - something that feeds your soul and gets you excited...And don't quit your job, but just try to make that a bigger part of your life because that's going to give you the balance you need.
You can't get high enough to see the future, so pack for the unforeseen. You're talking about a planned arrival in a strange land, so pack carefully.
Put up your periscope. Just look around, over the fence, over the hedge. Things are going to grab your attention; pay attention when they do. Go a little further. Take it another step. Listen to that small, quiet voice. When sometime intrigues you, pay attention. (and try to find out more about it)
Modern society equates lying fallow with wasting time. The purpose of letting land lie fallow is to let the land replenish itself. Sometimes the best thing to do is to let an idea incubate and not rush into the next step.
Decisions can be quickly narrowed down to a couple of competing choices. Don't waste time parsing the one or two degrees of difference between them, but pick one or the other and focus 100% of your energy on making it the right decision. - John Sununu
The biggest mistake people make when trying to change careers is to delay taking the first step until they have settled on a destination. Doing first, knowing second. Test and plan. - Professor Herminia Ibarra, Harvard Business Review issue on reinvention.
"Purposeful wandering" - being actively available to connections and patterns. Not too much think and not enough do.
Everything you want most in the world is just beyond the range of your comfort zone. - Jennifer Anniston (Taking risks)
"The work that is really a man's own work is play and not work at all." - Mark Twain
Alignment - "There is no difference between who I am, and what I am doing, at last."
You have to have the desire and the courage to learn. (There should be no embarrassment that, no matter how old or inexperienced you are. Everyone was inexperienced once.)
How reinvention worked for a well driller: Working with his skilled hands, drilling wells in underdeveloped countries, he'd saved more lives than if he'd gone to medical school and become a doctor. It's a nice change of pace to do physical work. It's freeing for the mind and it was different. Less responsibility, less hassle.
You've got to take that first step, and then in many cases, the next step will be revealed to you, and you take that step, and the next step will be revealed. You have to have faith that those next steps will be revealed. Just having a goal - even a really long term goal - is transformational.
If you are going to do this, you must do something different. You can't go about it the same old way. You can't just keep beating your head against the wall, working on the same things. You need a different approach.
Change no more than one-eighth of your life at a time. When you are certain that it is the time to become that novelist, sculptor or watercolorist... See how it fits. Don't overdo it. Just do it a little different ( a little at a time) - Rules for Aging - Roger Rosenblatt
Inside each and every one of us is that potential, that ability, that gift that needs to be unwrapped and developed.
Life is a process of trial and error. First steps may be missteps. A successful career path can be one step forward and two back. Success is rarely found lying in the open; it takes some groping around in the dark.
- You never stop growing until you stop trying. -
"Reinvent Yourself "- Peter Drucker
From The Daily Drucker:
"If you talk of fifty years of working life, and this, I think is going to be increasingly the norm - you have to reinvent yourself. You have to make something different out of yourself, rather than just find a new supply of energy."
Action Point: Ask those ahead of you in age how they went about "re-potting themselves." What steps should you take now? (In another writing, Drucker suggested that we should take preliminary steps to prepare for a new act in life, rather than trying to make it happen on command later.
Reinvention Using A Parallel Career - David Rogers
Peter Drucker in his pithy volume Managing Oneself says that one of the best ways to reinvent yourself is to start working part-time in a parallel career well in advance of deciding to leave a full time job. David Rogers mirrors this advice in his blog below inspired by his book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers:
Finding a Creative Second Life: Parallel Careers
This post is about realizing what marvelous talents and gifts you may possess and may not yet be fully using, but may wish to. It tells the stories of people who felt the same.
People from many countries will read this post and there is no doubt in my mind that they will think of similar examples from their own countries. I’d be interested in learning about them.
George Bernard Shaw
Before settling down to a playwright’s life and eventually being awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, Irishman George Bernard Shaw drifted aimlessly and unhappily from one occupation to another, including selling men’s clothes in a shop. He thought of becoming a novelist, so dutifully while selling real estate, he wrote one novel each year for five years and submitted the manuscripts to a publisher. Each was rejected, and he was discouraged.
Finally a sympathetic editor accompanied a rejected manuscript with a note stating that while the publishing house would have to turn down this manuscript too, the dialogue was superb. The editor asked, “Did you ever think of writing plays?” Shaw had written little plays as a boy that he and his friends would perform to entertain his family, but he hadn’t written one since.
Encouraged now, immediately he turned to using his strength–writing dialogue. He wasn’t meant to sell men’s shirts or real estate. He wasn’t even meant to write novels. He wasn’t meant for a thousand things. He was meant to write plays. (In my language, that was his intended destiny.) That’s what he was best equipped to do, just as you are best equipped for certain undertakings.
An important way to find fulfillment in life and perhaps stumble upon a new identity is by making regular use of your principal strengths–your main aptitudes, talents, gifts, personal qualities, and capabilities, and doing so freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, without being interfered with.
Your strengths are what, in particular, out of all you’re capable of, you do better than anything else, and perhaps are happier doing than anything else. They are whatever you’re doing when you feel deep down, “Now, at this moment, I’m doing what I do especially well. I love it. It makes me happy.”
You have many strengths, but one is dominant. It is your main strength, your core strength. You’re at your best when you’re making use of your core strength in an occupation, or while pursuing a purpose that is important to you, or in an abiding interest, all of which bring fulfillment.
From your earliest years you have gravitated toward activities that enabled you to make use of your core strength. As a child you enjoyed building bridges with blocks. You never forgot the joy you felt. You became an engineer so that you could feel that the rest of your life. Or you liked to paint; or liked sports; or liked to sing; you liked to play in the garden; you enjoyed being with friends and showing them your poems. You were particularly good at math.
The life pursuits of people who excel were often foreshadowed by what deeply interested them as children. A chord was struck; something crystalized; a future was laid out. At times, like Shaw, they drift from one field, one occupation, to another, experiencing dead-ends and false starts, and only later return to that earlier interest, and then feel, “This is what I should have been doing all along.” So it is a good idea to never forget what your heart was once drawn to, but to keep it in mind whatever else you might be doing in your life.
In a previous blog I described the Zeigarnik Effect (named after Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik, the first person to study it): you don’t forget important things you started even long ago, but did not complete. They linger in your mind, reappearing from time to time, and in fact you remember them better than you do completed tasks. You have a strong desire to finally complete them, and you may do so many years later. That people have a need to finish what they start is true especially of the most highly motivated people.
As a boy, my friend loved to listen to his father tell stories of significant events in history and great people who did great things. He would then tell his friends the stories his father had told him. He worked hard and became a top executive with one of the world’s largest retailers. But he found that something was missing–the stories his father had told him and that he had loved. So while working at his job during the day, he earned a PhD in history at night, a subject which he now teaches at a university after work. Now he can tell his father’s stories again.
Putting yourself in a position to return to your past interests and make use of your core strength, if you aren’t already, is a strategy for bringing about positive change in your life and lifting up your spirits to new heights.
A Parallel Career
The majority of people across the world are bursting with talents and gifts they are longing to make use of. Most people are far greater than their jobs no matter how excellent that job is. They usually have valuable qualities that are never called upon. They possess more intelligence, energy, motivation, imagination, and creativity than their jobs will ever require of them, and their core strength may go unused. So while working their entire career in one occupation that is otherwise perfectly fine and brings them satisfaction, they find more creative outlets to express themselves further and to make use of their core strength and find still more satisfaction. And sometimes the parallel career consumes them and they achieve extraordinary accomplishments and make names for themselves.
Robert Ardrey was a Hollywood screenwriter in high demand and a playwright who had two plays on Broadway at the same time. But he loved anthropology and the behavioral sciences and studied them on the side. He popularized the concept of “the territorial imperative” which asserts that living creatures, including human beings, instinctively protect their territory. (The farther away from the center of it you stay, the less interested in you they are. But step into their territory and the more aggressive they become.) Ardrey became a renowned paleoanthropologist and wrote the best seller African Genesis.
Busy housewife and mother Anne Sexton watched a PBS show on “How to Write a Sonnet” and sat down and wrote one. That first exposure to creative writing ignited an interest, revealed a core strength, and started her on the path to a parallel career. She never attended college. Her only formal education consisted of sporadic adult education classes at a handful of Boston-area colleges. Yet her poems won immediate attention through their appearance in literary magazines and newspapers. A stream of awards and grants followed the release of each of her first three books. Her fourth, Live or Die, won the Pulitzer Prize. She said, “Until I was twenty-eight I had a kind of buried self who didn’t know she could do anything but make white sauce and diaper babies. I didn’t know I had any creative depths.”
Charles Ives—“an American original,” was one of the first American composers to receive renown internationally. He worked during the day as an insurance company executive, as did poet Wallace Stevens, who received the Pulitzer Prize and twice won the National Book Award. American influential and innovative poet William Carlos Williams and Anton Chekov, Russia’s finest playwright and the world’s best short story writer ever, were both practicing physicians. Franz Kafka was a government bureaucrat during the day. Twentieth century English novelist Henry Green, called “the most original…the best writer of his time,” was born into a wealthy family and was the managing director of its bottling business.
Henri Rousseau, a self-taught French post-impressionistic, though busy at work and with a family, started drawing and painting seriously in his forties. Although untutored, he influenced many painters, especially Pablo Picasso. Rousseau worked as a customs official, and was known as Le Douanier, “the customs officer.” Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick and Billy Budd, was also a customs official– at the New York Port Authority.
Englishman Anthony Trollope was one of the most prolific, respected, and successful writers of the Victorian Era. Not much of a believer in art-for-arts-sake, he wrote that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.,” and stated that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” He was a career post office employee who wrote his 47 novels and dozens of short stories and travel books while on trains to and from assignments. He claimed that he wasn’t extraordinary, but that any writer could be as prolific if he just budgeted his time efficiently.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, one of history’s foremost linguists, was by profession a chemical engineer and fire prevention inspector. He studied linguistics as a hobby. Truly a towering figure in sociology, Herbert Spencer was also an anthropologist and political theorist, and made a separate reputation in biology.
William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus; in fact it was called Herschel until Uranus was universally accepted. By profession he was an orchestra conductor and a composer known for his twenty-four symphonies.
Colorful novelist and art critic Andre Malraux, called by Jacqueline Kennedy, “the most fascinating man I ever talked to,” was a statesman, the French Minister for Cultural Affairs. Popular novelist Tom Clancy worked as an insurance salesman. Another Nobel Laureate, poet and literary critic T.S Eliot, worked full-time as a banker and then as a chief executive in a publishing company. The author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, was a professional mathematician, and noted photographer.
Samuel F.B. Morse was a prominent American portrait painter. He received a message that his wife Susan, age 25, was seriously ill. He rushed from Washington to his home in New Haven to find that she had died while he was returning. Devastated by his failure to reach her in time and the inability of the current message technology to get the news to him faster, he set out to develop a more effective system of long-distance communication. He then invented the telegraph and the Morse code that achieved that goal, connecting all four corners of the globe.
Follow Where Your Core Strength Leads You
Which of your many strengths is your core strength, not your second strength, or third, or fourth? What do you do especially well and continually gravitate toward? What are you doing when you don’t want to quit? What are you doing when you feel most fulfilled and can say, “This is me at my best. There is nothing else like this.”
The goal is to be able to make full use of your core strength freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, without being interfered with.
Possibly in a parallel career.
But It's Too Late For Me - (It Isn't. Read This.)
I was standing by a fence next to a track watching one of my daughters run for Shawnee High School. Carl Lewis' mother was the track coach of Willingboro, the opposing team. She and her husband were both outstanding coaches and athletes. By chance, I struck up a conversation with a very nice gentleman who was standing next to me. It was Carl Lewis' late father. Anyone can certainly imagine all the world class runners he had seen in his lifetime, including his Olympian son Carl and Olympian daughter Carol.
We got talking about running. I said that I was thinking about running in a 400 meter race. I was 42 then. He just turned and looked at me, smiled and said, "Think you still have something left?" I still laugh about it. I never saw Mr. Lewis after that, but I will always remember the day that he treated me so kindly - like I was actually a "real runner".
When race day came, they didn't have an other runners in the 40-50 year old class, so they put me in with a young guy in his thirties. Considering that I had only "trained" very modestly about three times previously, I took off and had a good lead on my only opponent - for about the first 220 yards. Then I died and he won handily. I hadn't run in a race since high school, where I was a runner of very modest note. But I thought I did have "something" left and I tried. I just wanted to see if I could do it. Now that I'm just waiting for my next birthday at 72, I want to be the "young guy" who smokes the older guys in the 70-80 category! (I may have to give that more thought.)
Sadly, Mr. Lewis died at sixty, not too long after we spoke. William Lewis was an outstanding athlete at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and a former nationally ranked long-jumper and sprinter.
Trust me when I tell you that you have a whole lot more left in you to do, and the ability to do it far better than I did. It wasn't too late for me to give it another shot though. It's never too late for you either:
Never Too Late To Be Great: The Power of Thinking Long - Tom Butler-Bowdon
"There's no sense trying. I'll never make it." No one could ever believe that about themselves, after reading all the wisdom and inspirational stories in Tom Butler-Bowdon's book: Never Too Late To Be Great: The Power of Thinking Long:
"Emily Kame Kngwarreye was born in the remote Australian outback in 1910...For the first ten years of her life, Emily did not see a white man, or a horse...Close to 80 when she began painting, in her brief career, she produced 3,000 works....Once you enter your sixties, you may well have another 30 years of productive life before you." You can be productive, as long as you're breathing.
Never To Late To Be Great rests on two simple observations:
1. All great accomplishments may take longer than we first imagined
2. It's rarely too late to begin something great
In reminding us that we have to be patient with ourselves, the author cites Warren Buffett :
"No matter how great the talent or effort, some things just take time: you can't produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant."
"Just as the human eye and brain cannot see plants growing in real time, but only notice the growth in hindsight, so we often cannot appreciate the progress we have made....Each of us has foundations that we can build on to create something remarkable."
Don't think you have enough time? The author puts a whole new slant on that with a "Productive Lifespan Chart". Calculating that it is not uncommon today for someone to live until they're 80:
- if you're 35, you have 45 productive years left
- if you're 50, you have 30 productive years left years
- if you're 60, you have 20 productive years left
Of course, if you live longer, you could have even more :) "Increasing longevity should make us think again. You realize that, "Yes, I do have more time." So don't push it and don't pressure yourself and cause stress. That could give you less time! "Long-term success depends on something quite intangible - how you perceive time."
We often hear about people getting "second chances" in life but, "the good news is that across a longish lifespan, most of us are not just given a second chance, but possibly a third or even fourth chance to succeed at what we really want to do." Encouraging, isn't it? "If at first you don't succeed, try something different."
Never Too Late To Be Great provides dozens and dozens of examples of people who accomplished meaningful and fascinating things later in life, so you're very far from hopeless in terms of accomplishing something worthwhile. We don't have to be world famous to be happy. Most of us never will be. We just need to find fulfillment. That's available to all of us, but we have to put belief and effort into it, and realize that it's going to take some time.
That being said, take the time to investigate options that are available to you trough your local community college or through other avenues.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, in trying to evaluate whether he should start his internet business, "came up with a 'regret minimization framework', which involved casting himself into the future, aged 80, and looking back over his life. As an 80 year old, would he regret taking the leap and starting the online business, even if it failed? The answer was a clear 'no'. What he would regret was not having thrown himself into the internet, which he knew was going to be really big." Ask yourself the same question about some things you've been thinking about. You already know that you're going to have enough time.
Henry Ford, and others, are cited as being able to be calmer about life because they took the long view, which is what we should try to do too. "With a clear, long-term view of what you do and what you are about, decisions in the short term become easier because you know whether something does or does not fit into you vision...In business, as in life, seeing further ahead makes all the difference...Take the long view of your life, career, or business, and much worry and angst is removed from the equation."
From this, you can actually make up a list of guides to assist in deciding what you want to do. These can be combined with what your "signature strengths" are to help you steer your course.
Career coach Brendon Burchard asks three questions of people considering what to do next in life:
- Did I live?
- Did I love?
- Did I matter?
If you feel unfulfilled in answering any of these questions, what can you do to do something about it? "Imagining yourself at 80, looking back, provides a powerful context that blows away confusion of the present." And that includes how busy someone might be doing things that won't matter much later. We might not be able to do all the things that could make a difference, but we can certainly do some of them.
The author makes a strong point by showing that among very successful people that there are really very few "overnight successes". It often takes at least ten years. Among others, who we might think of as "instant successes", he indicates that Mozart started when he was about four, so he had about ten years experience before he did his greatest work. Celine Dion, who to most of us "burst on to the scene" had been performing at her parents bar in Montreal since she was a child. "Freud and Martin Luther both had 'ten years of silence' before doing something unique." So did Bill Gates and Paul Allen and many others he cites. More ammunition for having patience in building your future.