My idol for as long as I can remember is George Plimpton, American journalist, writer, literary editor, actor and occasional amateur sportsman. Plimpton is renowned for “participatory journalism” which included competing in professional sporting events, acting in a Western, performing a comedy act at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and playing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His influence on me spanned my career and inspired me to be a career coach; producer, engineer and talent scout for London Records; host my own radio show on WSTC/WNLK; produce and host for public television; write several books; perform at iconic venues like CBGBs and Nashville’s Bluebird Café; head-up my own record label; serve as a senior leader for companies including MCI, Cablevision and Cablevision; and even take a motorcycle trip across Egypt featured in New York Rider. I am a staunch believer that you can achieve fulfillment and do meaningful work at any age.
I was thrilled to see a recent article by Kevin Evers in the Harvard Business Review entitled, The Art of Blooming Late in which he captures the feelings of so many: “Even if you never hope to reach Mozart’s level of mastery, you may relate to his need to break free from convention. Maybe you feel as if your job is like painting by numbers. Maybe you’ve done everything right—excelled at school, worked hard, and landed a good, high-paying job—but you’re tired of being just like everyone else. Maybe you yearn to achieve something that is unmistakably you.”
If you find yourself identifying with this career plight, Evers serves up several books that should inspire you to take the next step to doing meaning work and pursuing a career with purpose (excerpts from article):
In Aristotle’s Way, the classicist Edith Hall describes the ancient philosopher’s belief that becoming conscious of our skills, talents, and aptitudes (dynamis) and then using our resources to make the most of them (energeia) is the foundation of living a good life.
Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes magazine and author of Late Bloomers, argues that our culture’s obsession with early achievement dissuades us from pursuing our passions. Instead of having varied interests, studying widely, and taking our time—essentials for self-discovery—we’re encouraged to ace tests, become specialists right away, and pursue safe, stable, and lucrative careers. As a result, most of us end up choosing professional excellence over personal fulfillment, and often we lose ourselves in the process.
The philosopher John Kaag, author of Hiking with Nietzsche, agrees. “The self does not lie passively in wait for us to discover it,” he writes. “Selfhood is made in the active, ongoing process, in the German verb werden, ‘to become.’”
According to the journalist David Epstein, author of Range, unless your job requires repetitive, routine tasks, being a specialist isn’t an asset. Having a wide range of skills and experiences is more beneficial because it allows you to be nimble and creative.
The authors of Dark Horse, Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas noticed the negative effects of early specialization in a study of people who came out of nowhere to achieve great success whereas seemingly average people—administrative assistants, engineers, IT managers—were able to transform their “cravings, predilections, and fascinations” into successful careers as master sommeliers, lifestyle entrepreneurs, and celebrated craftsmen.
Evers underscores that as you move forward, there are a few things to keep in mind. First and foremost, it’s never too late to “become” yourself. There are benefits to taking a long, winding path to self-fulfillment. Remember that age typically brings wisdom, resilience, humility, self-knowledge, and creativity. This is one reason the average age of founders of high-growth start-ups is 45. Citing the work of developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, Karlgaard writes, the “ages 40 to 64 constitute a unique period where one’s creativity and experience combine with a universal human longing to make our lives matter.” That said, once you’ve decided to embark on the journey, it may take years, if not longer, to reach your destination. But as research has shown, small daily changes can have a compound effect and slowly but surely lead you closer to the person you think you ought to be.