Pondering the way the mindset changes later in a career.
I’m at a point in my career, some 30 years in, when I occasionally (on the most grueling days) contemplate an exit strategy. Not a complete departure from the professional world, but an escape from the frenetic pace of the daily grind. That may explain why I recently found myself absorbed in an article in the July issue of The Atlantic with the depressing headline “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think.”
Yikes. I hadn’t thought about it that way—that aging inevitably affects how we think and perform on the job, and it’s not the same at 55, or even 35, as at 25. But the message from Arthur C. Brooks, who, in his mid-fifties, is resigning this summer as president of the American Enterprise Institute, was distinctly not a bummer. His point: Our intellectual assets change from early to mid- to late career, and we find the most satisfaction when we play to the right strengths at the right times.
At mid-career and beyond, it’s all about what British psychologist Raymond Cattell termed crystallized intelligence, “the ability to use knowledge gained in the past,” Brooks writes. “Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom.” When you align that knowledge with a shift toward valuing service over accomplishment, he argues, you have a formula for long-term professional fulfillment.
Brooks would likely be interested in how the associations we feature in this issue are nurturing mentoring relationships among their members. “People whose work focuses on teaching or mentorship, broadly defined, peak later in life,” he writes. In other words, mentoring benefits not only the person receiving it, but also the one offering it. The organizations in our story share that philosophy and have found ways to actively support this work.
There’s much more in Brooks’ thoughtful piece, and I’ll be pondering it for some time. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching how associations are helping their members share their crystallized intelligence.