I recently finished reading the New York Times best seller, Strength to Strength, by Arthur Brooks (2022). It provides a philosophical way and framework in which to manage the transition from main career to encore career or post career life. The book posits that while our brains lose raw processing power as we age, we gain another type of intelligence… good ol’ wisdom! The point is not to fight the inevitable loss of your cognition but rather look at your “wisdom” strengths as you move to the later stage of life. We are encouraged to accept this new strength and move forward from there.
The author frames the book around the two kinds of intelligence taken from a 1971 book by British psychologist Raymont Cattell. The theory says that when we’re in our prime (age 25- 40) we are strongest with “fluid intelligence.” This is the ability to reason, solve problems and think flexibly. As we age we lose “fluid intelligence” but gain “crystallized intelligence.” This is the ability to use knowledge and experiences from the past to apply to the future. Let’s call it wisdom.
I’ve found the book helpful as I note my own mental decline at age 62. It’s not only that I forget where I put stuff, but it’s also having a harder time recalling past stories, remembering lyrics, taking longer to learn and relearn things. I actually don’t have a hard time admitting my diminished capacity because I have found so many people I know around my age have the same challenges.
Strength to Strength describes how selected historical figures have dealt with decline – and in other cases with vitality. These people include famous inventors along with such composers as (J.S. Bach and Beethovan) and how they either accepted cognitive loss or didn’t accept it. Throw in some Budda, Henry David Thoreau, Rumi, etc… and Brooks manages to fill up 217 pages with words of wisdom, but doesn’t provide any real kind of way to get there – except to sign up for an expensive online or in-person transition program through the Modern Elder Academy. The Academy does have a good free publication on navigating life transitions which is worth giving your email address in order to receive it.
Reed’s Conclusion: In short, Strength to Strength provides a useful framework and introduction to what lies ahead for all of us. In short, Brooks asks us something like “how can we approach getting older from a place of possibility, leveraging what strengths we have to live a full, meaningful, loving and connected life?” If you’re in a transition/seeker phase, it might be just the right book for you. Once read it’s not “a keeper” so either return it to the library or, if brought, pass it along to a friend.
For a “keeper” book, I suggest Bruce Feiler’s, Life is in the Transitions which is more helpful in providing useful ways to move forward through life changes. See my summary of this book on my webpage.