Learn to Turn Your Expertise Into Expert Profits
I‘m right smack in the middle of half-time, I‘m turning fifty.  I do not have the answers, but I have the right question: Why capitulate to irrelevance after we have spent decades accumulating empirical wisdom? 

In the fifty years of the twentieth century, people largely looked at their work as a necessary evil, a way to provide security and comfort for their families.  Then, in the mid 1960s, people began to demand more from their careers, they now wanted meaning and a greater sense of purpose.  And now Bob Buford comes along with the next challenge: to think beyond the narrow bounds of making a satisfying and successful career to architecting a meaningful and useful entire life.  He asserts that the old model of arduous career followed by a relaxing retirement should be tossed out, and be replaced by the idea that the second half can, and should, be way more creative, way more impactful, way more meaningful, way more adventurous, filled with way more learning and personal contribution than the first half.  A successful first fifty years should only be viewed as nothing more than a good start to your life. 

Most who read Buford‘s works have already attained much success, and find it wanting.  And when we reach half-time, and when we know we have fewer days ahead than behind, when our mentors and teachers and moms and dads begin to die and leave us to lead the charge, the idea of just “more success” does not really answer the question “What‘s the point?”  Have you answered the question, “What‘s the ONE thing, not two or three or four, but the ONE big thing?”  Have you sat down and written your own epitaph yet?  Have you articulated a believable strategy for multiplying your personal contribution by 100X?  Have you answered the question “How much is enough?” Have you done “feedback testing” to discover where you can best be of service?  Have you organized your remaining time around two essential elements of a complete life: self-realization and community?   

In puzzling on these questions, I have come to see two distinct approaches to self-renewal, and I encourage you consider both.  The first lies in the late John Gardner‘s idea of re-potting ourselves into entirely new activities as we shift from success to significance, changing our activities from career to contribution.  Gardner, former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, once told me that he planned to learn and keep growing as much between seventy and eighty-eight as between zero and eighteen.  When challenged on this point, Gardner said that he knew a lot more about learning at seventy than when he was a baby.  Gardner pushed many people to think about “re-potting” themselves every ten to fifteen years, by throwing themselves into new challenges that extract hidden personal strengths.   Buford now challenges us to see that some of our most significant and meaningful contributions should come in the second half, defying the view that creativity drops off with age.  By re-potting, you can once again recreate the deep sense of excitement and imagination experienced in your teens or twenties, again and again and again.  Repotting also has that wonderful side benefit of slowing down your time.  Think about how vivid your personal experiences were of the first few weeks of moving to a new school, new city, or new company -  the very newness and novelty heightened your senses and deepened your memories of them - compared with how you experienced the fiftieth or one hundredth week there, when life had become routine. 

The second path to self-renewal lies in seeing your primary activity, the same activity you have pursued for your first half, as the primary means to find renewal.  For some, the best choice lies in the second path, by choosing to renew within a chosen expertise or field, much as an artist develops within their craft.  Beethoven did not reach half time and then give up music to renew; instead he stayed focused and created some of his most radical and exquisite music.  Would Beethoven been of more use giving up music to find significance? 

There remains one huge difference between a sport and life: in football (or in a marathon) you know exactly when you‘ve crossed the halfway mark.  In life, you might think you‘ve reached halftime, but in fact you may still be at mile twenty-five of the twenty-six-mile marathon, or in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, or perhaps, if less fortunate, still only a third of the way up the mountain.  The truth is: we only get one life, and the urgency of getting on with what we‘re meant to do increases every day.  The clock is ticking. 

JIM COLLINS
Boulder, Colorado

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