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  • Writer's pictureShandy Welch

Leadership, Aging, and Wisdom

Have you ever wondered what goal you are chasing and if you are in the right race? I have worked with many clients who are struggling with the question, “What’s “next.” They are not dissatisfied with their work but a bit burned out and no longer feel the spark and excitement that drove their enthusiasm in their 20s and 30s. Work feels monotonous and uninspiring. Can you relate?

I was inspired to write this after listening to a podcast in which Andy Stanley interviewed Arthur Books. Brooks is a Harvard Business School professor and previous president of the American Enterprise Insititute. Additionally, he is the author of 11 books, podcast host of The Art of Happiness… and the list goes on.

So, is it possible to reignite the fire and feel as inspired and valuable as we did in our earlier years…. YES! You just need to be positioned correctly and honor the changes within you. Your value has not diminished, but your focus might need to shift.

Brooks breaks down our career life and “intelligence” into two categories that reflect our brains’ physiological changes and peak performance times.

  • Fluid Intelligence in our late 20’s and 30’s- “You are the hot shot.”

  • Crystalized intelligence in our early 40s and beyond.- does not require working memory but rather pattern recognition, good judgment, and wisdom. “You can identify the hotshot.”

When you reach 39, research has shown you have reached your peak performance for all major industries. This concept is based on the idea that our brain shifts as we age, not downgrading, just shifting. If we understand this and position ourselves to maximize these new talents, we will feel inspired and excited about our work regardless of our age.

Let’s break this down…

In our earlier years (the last 20s and into the early 40s), we are hungry for new input, our memory is sharp, and our ability to integrate new ideas and innovate is ripe. We find success in building our skills and capitalizing on raw talent. You had boundless energy and an uncanny ability to soak in multiple inputs simultaneously without dropping the ball. You sustain late nights and busy days without difficulty.

As you emerge into your 40s, the waves become calmer, and your ability to see more broadly, integrate ideas, draw from past experiences, and identify trends becomes your superpower. Wisdom allows you to recognize and understand that there are multiple approaches to the same problem. You can articulate, integrate, and lead on a broader scale. This is a new talent that deserves recognition.

You no longer react but rather respond with a calm, clear-headed innovative confidence that unites thought, and creates deep, sustainable change.

So why do so many seasoned professionals struggle or experience a “mid-life crisis?” I would venture to guess it is around expectations. We are yearning for the “old days”, the excitement and rapid fire of ideas that lead to our success, if that changes, then we may question our value and worth. The key is recognizing and honoring these changes without judgment and positioning ourselves where we are most aligned. Reimagining the definition of “achievement.”

Your mindset of what you labeled as “success” and worthiness is being challenged. You will be disappointed if you believe there is only one way to act and approach the world. I challenge you to, without judgment, allow your wisdom to lead. If you think about our great leaders, they are not 35 years old. They have garnered years of insight and intellectual learning, allowing it to “bake.” Marinading and “crystalizing” thoughts, experiences, tools, and relationships together to form overarching wisdom and knowledge.

I think back to when I first became a healthcare clinician, I was well aware of how much I didn’t know about medicine. For years after my formalized schooling, I would have textbooks by my bedside, reading about disease states at the coffee shop, intensely researching every disease and skin condition I encountered. I listened to other providers dictate their notes so I could look up anything new and learn from their wisdom. I spent hours and hours ingesting knowledge. It wasn’t until about 10-15 years into my practice that I began lifting my head, relaxing my shoulders, and settling into my comfort zone.

I now don’t react to clinical emergencies with frenzy, I can feel a calm come over me as I weave a web of knowledge and ideas more broadly than the presenting problem. Integrating past scenarios, thinking holistically instead of problematically. It is this approach that develops with time and thousands of repetitions. For that, I am proud. Yes, many of the adrenaline moments are gone, but in its place is a calm confidence. A quietness of knowing that comes with age.

After 22 years of clinical practice, I have shifted and now coach others, teaching what I wish I had learned to support the growth of the next generation of leaders. The excitement I feel watching others rise is equally as exciting as managing a trauma, but this time, I am not elbow-deep in blood!

My Challenge to You:

  • Are you chasing the same rush you felt in your thirties? If so, what are you avoiding or not capitalizing on?

  • How might you use your experience and insight to create a legacy?

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