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From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks

This post about a book I read back in December 2022 has been sitting in draft for quite a while. Even though it is dated in December, it is actually being published here in July. Teresa and I have had an ongoing conversation over several months about what the next “phase” of our lives will be like. We are thinking about what our priorities should be and, based on that, how we want to invest our time. Based on the reviews, I thought this book would offer an interesting perspective on those topics. For me, it turned out to be more of a drawn-out excuse for an over-privileged member of the “elite” to justify not working anymore. I think that is why this post has taken so long to finish.

I finished From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur C. Brooks back in December. This book received a lot of attention after it was published in February 2022. Brooks is the former CEO of the American Enterprise Institute and writes a column for the Atlantic. I usually avoid “self-help” books because they are usually 10-20 pages about a core concept and then 200-300 pages of fluff to “make a book.” In this case, I thought that the author and the theme were interesting, so I added the book to my reading list.

The core concept for this book came from an article by Brooks that was published in the summer of 2019. It was titled “Your Professional Decline is Coming Sooner Than You Think: Here’s how to make the most of it.” The basic premise of this article is that the underlying talents and abilities that enable people to achieve professional success decline much faster than most people expect. We often see this in professional athletes in their thirties, but Brooks postulates and quotes several studies to demonstrate that this occurs across professions much earlier than we acknowledge.

Brooks uses the concept of two types of intelligence that was postulated by British psychologist Raymond Cattell in 1971 as the foundation for this. Cattell defined fluid intelligence as the ability to reason, analyze, and solve novel problems—what we commonly think of as raw intellectual horsepower. Innovators typically have an abundance of fluid intelligence. It is highest relatively early in adulthood and diminishes starting in one’s 30s and 40s. This is why tech entrepreneurs, for instance, do so well so early, and why older people have a much harder time innovating. Crystallized intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past. Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom. Because crystallized intelligence relies on an accumulating stock of knowledge, it tends to increase through one’s 40s, and does not diminish until very late in life.

Brooks postulates that since this change in intelligence happens to everyone the same way that physical aging does, you just need to accept you are not going to be able to continue to leverage the abilities that made you professionally successful as you age. You have to transition to a different “role”. Brooks adds two other concepts to this basic foundation. The first is that you have to overcome the “addiction” to success that “all” successful people have. You also need to understand that long-term satisfaction can by understood by the formula “satisfaction = what you have / what you want.”

Brooks was a very successful member of the Washington elite who decided to step away from his job and public role to focus on other things. He postulates that that choice was really based on the natural changes that come with aging that he would have been stupid to ignore. It just came off as an excuse to me.

Cover of From Strength to Strength Arthur C Brooks

From Strength to Strength

Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life

Arthur C. Brooks

The roadmap for finding purpose, meaning, and success as we age, from bestselling author, Harvard professor, and the Atlantic’s happiness columnist Arthur Brooks.

Many of us assume that the more successful we are, the less susceptible we become to the sense of professional and social irrelevance that often accompanies aging. But the truth is, the greater our achievements and our attachment to them, the more we notice our decline, and the more painful it is when it occurs.

What can we do, starting now, to make our older years a time of happiness, purpose, and yes, success?

At the height of his career at the age of 50, Arthur Brooks embarked on a seven-year journey to discover how to transform his future from one of disappointment over waning abilities into an opportunity for progress. From Strength to Strength is the result, a practical roadmap for the rest of your life.

Drawing on social science, philosophy, biography, theology, and eastern wisdom, as well as dozens of interviews with everyday men and women, Brooks shows us that true life success is well within our reach. By refocusing on certain priorities and habits that anyone can learn, such as deep wisdom, detachment from empty rewards, connection and service to others, and spiritual progress, we can set ourselves up for increased happiness.

Read this book and you, too, can go from strength to strength.

Released February 15, 2022
270 pages

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