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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

From strength to strength by Arthur C. Brooks

I finished this in August 2022. I recommend this book 7/10.

Get your copy here.

A great book if you notice that you maybe have more grey hair than your colleagues and you ponder if you are getting closer to the end of your working career. Or, you might feel ready to make a new career adventure in the senior half of your working life.

My notes and thoughts:

  • When you are young, you have raw smarts; when you are old, you have wisdom. When you are young, you can generate a lot of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.

  • This is a big finding for you and me—huge, actually. It says that if your career relies solely on fluid intelligence, it's true that you will peak and decline pretty early. But if your career requires crystallized intelligence—or if you can repurpose your professional life to rely more on crystalized intelligence—your peak will come later, but your decline will happen much, much later, if ever. And if you can go from one type to the other—well, then you have cracked the code.

  • "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad."

  • No matter how you find your passion, early on, pursue it with a white-hot flame, dedicating it to the good of the world. But hold your success lightly—be ready to change as your abilities change. Even if your worldly prestige falls, lean into the change. Remember, every change of circumstance is a chance to learn, grow, and create value. This chapter shows that it is not a question of making the best of a bad situation; it is not missing out on a huge opportunity that only comes later in life. Devote the back half of your life to serving others with your wisdom.

  • Therapists generally diagnose workaholism with three questions:

    • Do you usually spend your discretionary time on work activities?

    • Do you usually think about work when not working?

    • Do you work well beyond what is required of you?

  • The author's workaholism three questions:

    • Do you fail to reserve part of your energy for your loved ones after work and stop working only when you are a desiccated husk of a human being?

    • Do you sneak around to work? For example, when your spouse leaves the house on a Sunday, do you immediately turn to work and then put it away before she or he returns so that it is not apparent what you were doing?

    • Does it make you anxious and unhappy when someone—such as your spouse—suggests you take time away from work for activities with loved ones, even when nothing in your work is unusually pressing?

  • "Wealth is like sea water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become, and the same is true of fame" ~ Arthur Schopenhauer.

  • Note that neither Thomas nor the Buddha argued that there is something inherently evil about worldly rewards. In fact, they can be used for great good. Money is critical for a functioning society and supporting your family; power can be wielded to lift others up; pleasure leavens life; and fame can attract attention to the sources of moral elevation. But as attachments—the focus of our life's attention and as ends instead of means—the problem is simple; they cannot bring us the deep satisfaction we desire.

  • That's why, when it comes to success, you can't ever get enough. If you base your sense of self-worth on success, you tend to go from victory to victory to avoid feeling awful. That is pure homeostasis at work. The buzz from success is neutralized quickly, leaving a hangover feeling. Knowing you will be looking for the bump again very soon, your brain ultimately adjusts to a baseline feeling of anti-success. After a while, you need constant success hits just not to feel like a failure.

  • If you are ready to manage your wants—to start chipping away—the first step is to ask what exactly needs chipping. And that raises the question, "What is my why?" The bestselling author and speaker Simon Sinek always gives people in search of true success in work and life the advice that they need to find their why.

  • That is, he tells them that to unlock their true potential and happiness, they need to articulate their deep purpose in life and shed the activities that are not in service of that purpose. Your why is the sculpture inside the block of jade.

  • Make a list of your wants and attachments: money, power, pleasure, and honor. Then imagine yourself in 5 years. Happy and in peace. Enjoying life for the most part; living a life with purpose and meaning. Now go back to your list of things and figure out what will bring you real happiness. Commit to pursuing these things with your time, affection, and energy.

  • "While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes, one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes." Why? If we are thinking about the past or the future, "we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes." We are either reliving a past that is dead or "sucked way into the future" that exists merely in concept. Only to be mindful, therefore, is to be truly alive.

  • In short, imagine it's your last year of life, as well as of work. On the Sunday afternoon before the first day of each month, contemplate these questions: If I had one year left in my career and my life, how would I structure this coming month? What would be on my to-do list? What would I choose not to worry about? I am willing to guess that "taking an extra work trip at the expense of seeing my spouse" and "staying late to impress the boss" are not items that will be on your schedule. More likely, "take a weekend away" and "call my friend" will show up instead.

  • Leaders are particularly prone to loneliness, in no small part, because real friendships at work are difficult or impossible with people under one's authority and supervision. Work friendships are so important that 70 percent of people say friendship at work is the most important element to a happy work life, and 58 percent say they would turn down a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers.

  • But even if employees don't endow the boss with negative qualities, they can make the relationship awkward and unfun. One study from 2003 found that subordinates in the workplace often treat their superiors like authority figures from their childhood, such as parents or teachers. Even if they don't refer to the boss as "Mommy." this makes peer-to-peer friendship impossible and leaves the boss, who might be a former colleague, socially alone.

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