As I celebrated yet another birthday in April, I notice that I am less able to multitask. Tasks that I could once do quickly take me just a bit longer to complete. I also need more recovery time after multi-day meetings. If you are over 45, you may have encountered similar limitations.

It’s a reality most of us prefer not to think about and many work overtime to deny – our decline. The science is clear that some time between our late 30s and early 50s we become less agile physically and mentally. Studies show that innovation peaks in most professions by our mid-40s. IQ and professional peaks occur about 20 years into one’s career. The bad news: We cannot escape decline.

But it gets worse. For those of us who are “strivers” – our identities are overly invested in our capacity to achieve, to win accolades, to reap the rewards of our talents – decline hits us right in the ego. We are addicted to success, material possessions, and social status. As such we are prone to work harder in order to keep up and get the same results. The really bad news: Working harder in the second half of life is an exhausting and deeply flawed strategy.

So what’s a striver to do? This is the question Arthur Brooks seeks to answer in From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. Brooks’ extensive research into aging and performance uncovers some valuable insights and recommendations. Without spoiling the book, here are just a few I found most compelling.

Accept the truth of your decline. Our culture actually encourages us to live in denial of our death. Brooks counters this societal norm with a variation of a Buddhist meditation that he recites regularly:

I feel my competence declining.
Those close to me begin to notice that I am not as sharp as I used to be.
Other people receive the social and professional attention I used to receive.
I have to decrease my workload and step back from daily activities I once completed with ease.
I am no longer able to work.
Many people I meet do not recognize me or know me for my previous work.
I am still alive, but professionally I am no one.
I lose the ability to communicate my thoughts and ideas to those around me.

Understand, develop, and practice a new kind of strength. As we age there are certain ways in which we are actually becoming smarter and more skillful. While we may not be as good at coming up with the “shiny new idea”, we are much better at combining, interpreting, and explaining the complex ideas we already know. Brooks asserts that the key to aging is transitioning from a reliance on “fluid intelligence” (e.g., the ability to learn quickly, focus hard on what matters, devise creative solutions) to “crystallized intelligence” (e.g., leveraging knowledge gained through a lifetime of learning). In other words, when we are young we rely on raw smarts. As we age we must rely on wisdom. Those who can make this jump extend their peak and reduce their suffering. Finally, good news!

You may not be ready to examine your addictions to achievement, material gain, and social status. You also may not be ready to accept the inevitability of your decline (and death), or to make the jump from agile innovator and problem-solver to wise elder and mentor. I get it. But this book might still provide you with an opportunity to take stock and ask: How do I make the most of the next chapter?

Image Credit: Jean-Daniel Calame on Unsplash

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