“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Henry David Thoreau
Over the past year or so we have had numerous conversations with clients and friends in transition—a return to graduate school at mid-life; leaving a stable situation and moving to another part of the country; an intentional downshift in responsibilities; and involuntary departures from long-held positions. Facing change requires stepping to the beat of a different drummer. All the situations and individuals are unique, but they contain some similar themes we explore this week.
The Existential Necessity of Midlife Change. Whether a person initiates change willingly—or is pushed into change—some level of midlife adjustment is inevitable for nearly everyone. Midlife career shifts are a very difficult period, and one for which people are not fully prepared. A key to managing change is to stay open to the range of possibilities, but also to be realistic about what can be achieved. At mid-life one may reexamine basic assumptions from a position of strength—with perspective, self –assurance and professional experience. Midlife holds the potential to usher in a period of unprecedented opportunity for inner growth. A radical midlife transformation is unrealistic because flesh-and-blood human beings will go through a lot of fear, confusion, and trial and error on the road to transformation. To be productive, dreams must be connected to our potential; otherwise, they are idle fantasies. Coming to a realization of possibilities is a challenging task. Achieving self-awareness can be a lengthy process according to this article appearing in the Harvard Business Review.
Management of Disappointment. No one is immune to encounters with disappointment. People who seek positions of responsibility are especially vulnerable to episodes in which reality does not conform to their wishes or intentions. But, far from disappointment being a prelude to continued failure in careers, these episodes may be occasions for accelerated personal growth and even the beginning of truly outstanding performance. Abraham Zaleznik, who taught at Harvard’s Graduate School of Business, exhorts business leaders to “work on themselves” as a condition for effectively working on and working with other people. “Examine the personal goals in back of the decision to assume responsibility in a position. If the goals are themselves unrealistic, then major disappointment is inevitable.” When disappointment comes “face the disappointment squarely…by avoiding the pain of self-examination the individual will pay dearly for it later…in the course of examining reactions to disappointment, a subtle change may take place in the individual’s perspective and attitudes….at the same time uncharted possibilities for productive work and pleasure may be discovered.”
The original article “Management of Disappointment” appeared in the Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec., 1967 and may be accessed through a library.
An interview with Dr. Zaleznik is found here:
A Second Career: The Possible Dream. Almost everyone at some point thinks of a second career, regardless of profession or skills. As years pass many feel the need for newer and greener occupational fields. They yearn for opportunities to reassert their independence and maturity and to express the needs and use the talents of a different stage of life. But, second careers are evolutionary. For practical considerations and signposts, this Harvard Business Review article offers concrete suggestions.
We hope you enjoy reading these articles along with us and that you find them informative. Please forward this to your family and friends.
J. Mark Nickell & Co.
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