16 votes

Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think

3 comments

  1. [3]
    patience_limited Link
    While I would consider Arthur C. Brooks my ideological antithesis, it seems we've independently reached for similar learning at the same age. I'd dispute, though, the value and "usefulness" of...

    While I would consider Arthur C. Brooks my ideological antithesis, it seems we've independently reached for similar learning at the same age.

    I'd dispute, though, the value and "usefulness" of Brooks' very privileged position in the lofty reaches of Ivy League economics and think tank-ville.

    For most of us ordinary 50+ plebeans who still have to work, who were never performing at the peaks of Olympic medals, international fame, or Nobel-winning research, the decline of age is far less significant than Brooks would have you believe. We're still useful, creative to the extent our jobs will permit, and often far wiser and more efficient in the application of our skills.

    This story is, for most of you younger folk, an evil capitalist memetic to get you to work to the point of burnout and early sudden death, when you can't keep cranking out the 12+ hour days (too many at $8/hr.) anymore.

    That little anti rant aside, there is wisdom in the notions of reducing your primary career commitments, bending your life back towards service to others, reconnecting with family and community, and diversifying your skills. But you shouldn't have to wait for the passing of an arbitrary "peak" in a professional career to accomplish those things.

    My addenda are:

    1. If you've forgotten what "fun" is, you're never too young or old to rediscover that. Brooks never used this word once. The ability to play with ideas and experiment for the sheer joy of it kept a chemical engineering professor of my acquaintance going past age 100, with a couple of patents awarded in his 90's.

    2. If you stop worrying about whether you're "good" at something in an absolute sense, it's much easier to progress at it. [Brooks' mentioned early decline as a professional French horn player was much more likely due to performance anxiety and inner boredom with the rigors of practice than loss of ability.]

    You can beat yourself with "I'll never be the best at..." all day, but that kind of endless comparison is unhelpful at any age. I'm learning Python, for the hell of it - no intent to be a professional programmer or measure myself against others here, not even an expectation that I'll do anything useful. I'm just having fun.

    10 votes
    1. [3]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. [2]
        Loire Link Parent
        That is one perspective on the matter, and not wholly incorrect for many people. I would suggest that you are missing a whole other perspective by generalizing every worker as chasing money to buy...

        That is one perspective on the matter, and not wholly incorrect for many people. I would suggest that you are missing a whole other perspective by generalizing every worker as chasing money to buy random tchotchke's we don't need. Some of us grind long hours, or constantly seek success because that is where we find meaning.

        I work 12 hours a day seven days a week. Sometimes I work more than 12 hours a day. I once worked 56 straight hours, willingly. Do I do it because I'm chasing a bigger television? It doesn't seem like it. I spend maybe 22-25k all together of my yearly salary, everything else for the last three to four years has simply accumulated in my checking account (I should really do something about that...). I live in a comfortable but underfurnished small apartment and don't buy much.So why do I do it?

        I do it because success is what drives me. Because work gives me meaning. I'm not here to smell the roses. I have zero need or desire to lounge. I am here to build. Just like you said: my time is valuable and I get the best value from using it to pursue my work, to improve, to push forward. Reaching new heights is my passion. This is what (usually) makes me happy and I've know that since I was a teen.

        What Brooks discovered is not that his grind was a waste. He discovered that eventually you have to find a new passion, just like he couldn't be a musician for his entire life. And that's where our real societal failure is. We aren't offering our post-retirement population enough options to pursue new interests. I won't always be able to do my current job, and when that day comes I will have to find something else to make me happy. That doesn't mean the years I spent doing this were a waste.

        Because here's the reality: Nothing really matters. Whether its capitalist trinkets or a "spiritual" hike through southeast Asia, everything is irrelevant. In the end under the right conditions most of your friends will easily forget about you and find more. Your family will forget about you and move on. Your relationships don't truly mean anything. Human existence is what we make it. Meaning exists where we look for it. For some the material chase does mean something. Just because accomplishment means nothing to you, doesn't mean its irrelevant.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          Comment deleted by author
          Link Parent
          1. Loire Link Parent
            There is no endgame. It's something akin to an old arcade game. You keep working towards it, excelling, pushing upwards, sometimes falling back, but always struggling higher. We, as a species,...

            But I guess I don't understand what the end game of your success is.

            There is no endgame. It's something akin to an old arcade game. You keep working towards it, excelling, pushing upwards, sometimes falling back, but always struggling higher. We, as a species, didn't rise to our current level by stagnating. We didn't get here by enjoying the world around us. We became the most advanced creatures in the known universe off the incremental work conducted by men and women over the last 20,000 years. Little additions to society here and there add up and lead to where we stand now.

            How would you feel if all this building you're doing turned out to be worth nothing some time in the future?

            Of course it will eventually be worth nothing from a certain perspective. Everything turns to dust. We all grow old and die and are soon forgotten. You have an advantage because your books will long out last us but even then, those will fall out of publish and disappear. What you are doing is worth nothing when we look at it from that point of view. But then maybe your books inspire someone, enlighten them, emotionally or intellectually sustain them. Then that person does something that adds to society a little more. And then someone takes that contribution and builds upon it.

            Those are the building blocks of civilization and even though, eventually, the earlier increments are forgotten, that doesn't take away from the importance they had in initiating the progress.

            But to answer my own question from above, I'm not sure what the end game is for me. At this point, I'd be content just writing novel after novel for the next forty years until I croak. I'm not interested anymore in fame or wealth or any kind of external reward or praise for what I'm doing. Just getting to do it is rewarding enough. I think maybe you and I are very similar in that regard.

            We are similar in that regard, but it seems that you may be discounting your writing in a sense. You are labouring. Your labour is intellectual, and you enjoy it, but it is still a labour. You have found your own meaning and your own method to contribute to society. You are productive (exceptionally so it would seem). It's not about being famous (unless that's where someone finds meaning). Nor is it about being rich. Success is its own amorphous goal.

            Which is all to say, I am absolutely fine with dying tomorrow, in the sense of never experiencing some "benefit" from my labours, because I know I am helping continue the slow march of this nebulous human project.

            2 votes