From Strength to Strength

I’m… of a certain age. That bit smack dab in the middle, assuming all things go well. I’ll turn 47 soon, and that means I’m middle aged. GASP. While I don’t plan to have a mid-life crisis (I can’t really afford it), I have been considering what the second half of life will look like. It’s an exciting and scary topic to ponder. Thankfully, I’m far from the first to ponder such things, and others are better ponder-ers than me. So I can learn from their mental gymnastics. One of the particularly good ponder-ers on the topic is Arthur Brooks. His latest book, “From Strength to Strength” is on that very topic.

First off, the book is incredible. I start with that not because I’m afraid of burying the lede, but because at first I did NOT like it. The first chapter or so is incredibly depressing. And unfortunately I let my emotions get the better of me, and I gave Mr. Brooks a piece of my mind…

Not my finest moment…

I think part of what made the beginning so difficult for me, is that the book is written to the successful professional who is starting to “decline” in the aspects of their abilities that have gotten them where they are today. For me, whether due to undiagnosed ADHD, poverty, difficult childhood, traumatic brain injury — I haven’t actually found my professional success. And so the notion that it’s all downhill from here was a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, the book doesn’t just try to comfort us as we get older, but rather focuses on NEW strengths. (thus the title, duh, Shawn, keep reading…) So the latter parts of the book were relevant, encouraging, and actually quite helpful even for those of us who have floundered a bit more than the author and the professionals he seems to be addressing.

The main push of the book is describing that while the traditional skills we lean on for success (the author calls it fluid intelligence, which is sorta the “smart-ness” we think of with really smart folks) tend to decline as we approach middle age, there’s another aspect of intelligence that sticks around. That “crystallized intelligence” is more akin to wisdom, and allows us to make connections and decisions that are only possible after a lot of experience. To be clear, there is very real, very inevitable decline with a very significant part of our intelligence and ability. This book helps us learn to accept that, and thrive in spite of it.

If you haven’t already noticed a decline in your mental prowess, you will. But whether you’re like me and worry it means you’ll never be a success, or you are already quite successful and worry you’ll fade away into irrelevance, the author helps steer our mental ships to calmer, but still bountiful waters.

That first chapter will kick your butt though.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0 stars

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