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A Book a Week -6

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       By    Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan

A perfect fit for those in ‘retirement’ or ‘retiring’. Learn to know that there is no word ‘retirement’ in Japanese lexicon. True. Here is a book that dwelled into how we can be engaged in a more fruitful and productive life, by pivoting when need to, from before ‘retirement’. A lovely book from someone who practices what he preaches to ‘live happily ever after’.

Professor Arthur C. Brooks is a renowned Harvard professor known for his expertise in economics, public policy, and social entrepreneurship. Born on May 21, 1964, in Spokane, Washington, Brooks has made significant contributions to academia and the public sphere.

Brook’s works have gained widespread recognition and influence, reaching audiences beyond academia. Some of his notable publications include “The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier, and More Prosperous America” and “Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.” These books reflect his emphasis on bridging political divides and finding common ground.

He now teaches the popular course on Harvard campus on ‘Happiness’. Brooks in ‘FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH FINDING SUCCESS, HAPPINESS, AND DEEP PURPOSE IN THE SECOND HALF OF LIFE’ digs deep into the second half of life of all of us. He calls the first one, pervaded by ‘strivers’ as ‘fluid intelligence’ when it is a flow. The second half, he calls it ‘crystallized intelligence’ which we ought to proactively tap into for a ‘fuller, better, productive life’ contrary to popular perception of retiring into the woods and sunset. Fascinating construct with research and data from authentic sources.

The bestselling author and popular Atlantic columnist ponders a way to “get off the hamster wheel of success and accept inevitable professional decline with grace.”

Drawing from his media columns and research, Brooks approaches the conundrum of the later-life career striver from a social science angle and presents the bounty of his analysis through advice and encouragement.

He begins with an idea that many professionals find personally devastating: that the majority will peak in their careers much earlier than they’d imagined, like entrepreneurial tech founders who experience creative declines in their early 30s. He examines the problem with psychologists and, most notably, career professionals feeling the pinch of dissatisfaction while remaining hooked on the pursuit of smoothly unabated career advancement.

Brooks shows how this process of decline can bruise pride and elicit fear, and he investigates how it can also be difficult to comprehend and even more challenging to accept, as it contradicts our innate instinct to continue creating successful ventures. In accessible, affable prose that also incorporates spirituality, including teachings of ancient Indian and Buddhist philosophers, Brooks discusses the psychology and addictive allure of satisfaction.

It may suffice to draw the reader into this opener. The book begins with Brooks telling the story of someone well known (he does not identify him) melting down on a plane because he felt like all his work had been for nothing. Having been at the top of his game, in his later years he knew he no longer measured up to that standard and judged his past accomplishments by his present ability. This is a warning. Brooks follows this anecdote with a chapter demonstrating that most people hit their decline much sooner than they recognize professionally.

The bad news is that the decline comes sooner than we would expect. The good news is that it is a particular type of decline. In general, younger people tend to be more adaptable and experience a higher degree of fluid intelligence.

Senior citizens among us have a whole new life ahead of us. It is not meaningless to say sixty is new forty. It is. It can be. If we choose to exploit our crystallized intelligence and not worry about the dissipation of fluid intelligence from aging.

The book has brilliant nuggets and vignettes to communicate the message with a cutting edge and razor-sharp intellect with experience in ‘living as he says’. The eastern and Indian philosophical connect is alluring to us, born and brought up in the culture.

It is undeniably a worthy read. You may be a ‘striver’ or one who had ‘strived’ with ‘fluid intelligence’. The message is : you can continue ‘striving’ with  lived experiences and wizened wisdom a.k.a.   ‘Crystallized intelligence.

(Author of multiple books and practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)


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