I have been musing lately on how uniquely different learning is in the two halves of life. My teachers have been two brilliantly researched and deeply insightful books written from widely different perspectives. Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest and widely published author who leads The Center of Action and Contemplation in Colorado. In his book, Falling Upward, Rohr says, “In the first half of life, we are naturally and rightly preoccupied with establishing our identity – climbing, achieving and performing. In the first half of life, you have got to find your identity, your significance; you create your ego boundaries, your ego structure” – what Rohr describes as the “container.” But that's just to get you started. Says Rohr, “Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues and letting go of life.” But the whole thesis of Rohr's book is exactly the opposite. He, like I, believe that the second half of life is the culmination, the fulfillment of a life well lived. The Second Half is most often where all that building of necessary ego structure morphs into calling and destiny.
The second book is Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. This book is being reviewed all over the place. Here is what David Brooks, of The New York Times, said, “I'll be shocked if there's another book this year as important as Charles Murray's Coming Apart. I'll be shocked if there were another book that so compellingly describes the most important trends in American society. Murray's basic argument is that America is dividing into a two-caste society. … America has polarized. The word “class” doesn't even capture the divide Murray describes. You might say the country has bifurcated into different social tribes, with a tenuous common culture linking them.”
Murray separates people into an educated upper tribe (20% of the country) and the lower tribe (30% of the country). And it makes all the difference in the world which tribe you are born and raised in with notable exceptions like Steve Jobs. Your tribe shapes your learning, your ego structure and your expectations of what is to come for you.
As Brooks states, “There are vast behavioral gaps between the educated 20% upper tribe and the lower tribe. … Roughly 7 percent of the white kids in the upper tribe are born out of wedlock, compared with roughly 45 percent of the kids in the lower tribe. In the upper tribe, nearly every man aged 30 to 49 is in the labor force. In the lower tribe, men in their prime working ages have been steadily dropping out of the labor force, in good times and bad.”
And Murray uses only white kids to take the racial factor out of the equation.
“People in the lower tribe are much less likely to get married, less likely to go to church, less likely to be active in their communities, more likely to watch TV excessively, more likely to be obese.”
In other words, you, the child of the First Half, learn from your 20% upper class values or your 30% lower class tribal values and culture. For most people in the 20% or the 30%, these learned habits and practices guide the Second Half of their lives. It is hard to escape the pull of gravity.
As for me, I was fortunately formed by a mom who described me as “the world's greatest left end.” (It wasn't true, but it was nice to hear.) She also described me as one who would someday lead the business. This actually became reality at age 32, when my mom died my son, Ross, was then pre-school. Ross was expected by me to get a good college education and to build the business as well.
Back to Brooks, “It is wrong to describe an America where the salt of the earth common people are preyed upon by this or that nefarious elite. It is wrong to tell the familiar underdog morality tale in which the problems of the masses are caused by the elite.
“The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. … They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.
“Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self disciplined and productive.”
In my own case, at age 34, I decided to manage my learning in my own way. Making a list over the weekend of my post graduate experience, I found:
- Young Presidents Organization.
- The Harvard Business School (9-week Owner Managed Program).
- Harvard Kennedy School (Hauser Center Board).
- Personal trainer in literature and history (Dr. Larry Allums) — ten years of studying from the Greeks forward to Cormack McCarthy.
- Twenty years of being mentored by Peter Drucker primarily in my significance career.
- The Strategic Coach Program – four years.
- Three different small groups (Christian, YPO, Second Half).
- And a reasonable dose of suffering – my only son dies at age 24. Business failures, nonprofit failures, what Rohr calls “Falling Upward.”
The lesson is that I had little choice about my learning environment in the First Half of my life where my learning was structured by institutions like The University of Texas Business School and the U.S. Marine Corps. In the Second Half of my life, I took personal responsibility and control for the learning I experienced. I built my own curriculum. You can too.
“What's next?” Probably pretty much what the wisest man in the Old Testament, Solomon, learned at the end of his life. I am quoting from the last three verses of his remarkable life survey in the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 12;
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every work into judgment including every secret thing
Whether it is good or whether it is evil.”
Not everyone waits until midlife to begin.