Achieve success by planning for decline
Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Research and experience have shown that becoming more comfortable with the idea of death reduces the negative stress associated with dying. Like death, most of us also are either in denial of or avoid thinking about our professional decline.
It is, however, hard for any of us to argue that we anticipate continuing to excel indefinitely in our current endeavors. Like becoming more comfortable with death reduces our anxiety about it, embracing the idea of the end of our success can help us deal with it.
Here are a few ways to achieve success by planning for our decline.
In this well-researched article for The Atlantic, Arthur C. Brooks explores the idea of professional decline and articulates steps to avoid feeling irrelevant while achieving success into our later years. By following his own journey, Brooks decides to jump, serve, worship and connect.
In other words, he recognizes he will not be on top in his current field forever, so he jumps; read: resigns. Next, he focuses on transitioning from resume qualities to eulogy qualities, concentrating on how to help others instead of just advance himself.
Third, he connects his future contribution with being spiritual; through this alignment, he recognizes work and worship as two sides of the same coin. Finally, by connecting, he is prioritizing his relationships and how his link to others actually enriches and continues his contributions.
Retrace Lewis and Clark’s steps?
In a classic "Frasier" episode, Frasier is mistakenly reported dead and thus is inspired to approach his life with renewed vigor, taking up the common task noted in Brooks’ article: writing his own obituary. Frasier sets massive goals including, among other things: finding lost treasures, learning new languages, working on perpetual motion, changing the world of horse racing and retracing Lewis and Clark’s steps.
While a small setback ends up providing him a big reality check, Frasier’s idea that his life is not over and there is still plenty of time to do even more than what he has done is shared in this article for Forbes by Chris Farrell.
Written as a response to Brooks’ article, Farrell points out that society has and should continue shifting to create more meaningful opportunities to support us. He notes age is not synonymous with decline and that both creative impulse and wisdom improve with age.
(Similarly, both Farrell and Brooks refer to different types of intelligence; a great primer on which can be found here.)
Thus, in addition to reading the two articles mentioned for a more comprehensive look at related research and examples, we can take the following steps today toward success instead of decline.
First, admit and come to grips with any limits on the continuation of our current professional trajectory. Second, identify what kind of knowledge monger we are and either double-down on gaining knowledge or plan for the transition accordingly.
And third, we can revisit our values, at least envisioning the possibility of if not starting to realign our professional values of advancement with personal values of advancement. Through this realignment we can create priorities that recognize the alternative — and perhaps increasingly — positive impacts we can make going forward.
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