This past March it happened….. I turned 50. Grey hair, deeper dive doctor visits, jokes from friends about your eminent demise, cakes with a million candles, and all that comes with it. 50 is an interesting time to reflect, look forward, and well just, think in general.
One of the gifts I received for my birthday was a book by Ronnie Sellers. Well, actually it was a book compiled by Mr. Sellers, that included 50 different authors that each wrote a short chapter on what they learned about turning 50. The contributors included athletes, authors, artists, doctors, renegades, CEOs, entrepreneurs, politicos, non-profit professionals, you name it, pretty much everyone was represented in some way shape or form.
The very last chapter, #50, was to me the best. It was written by Harold Kushner, the Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Massachusetts. Okay, I admit that I didn’t know such a position existed, so I figure Rabbi Kushner is an important man well beyond contributing a few hundred words to close out a book. I was right, here is his Wikipedia page if you want to learn more about his accomplishments…..
Back to the book. The message about the Rabbi’s experience in turning 50 and the title of his chapter is this – “Trade Strength for Wisdom.”
The subtitle? “Being the toughest person in the room is good. Bring the most compassionate is better.”
I like this guy.
As we all climb the proverbial ladder in life and strive to be the best at whatever we do, that first person (being the strongest in the room) is what most people seek. I did for years. It’s not until you realize that the second part is more powerful (compassion), that we truly arrive. As people, as leaders, as friends, as partners, as spouses, as parents, as well, really anything. If we spend our time building bridges and helping others, won’t the rest take care of itself?
While it isn’t the point here, I realize that if you are a compassionate and charismatic personality, It’s likely that this would also likely lead to the accumulation of influence, if that is what you strive to obtain. Again, not the road that should be traveled here, but I digress…..
In the Rabbi’s fine writing of chapter 50, and probably the reason it was the closing segment of the book, this concept that wisdom and compassion wins in the long run was awesome. Like all the other chapters in the book this one was brief, but here are three quotes from the Rabbi’s writings that were the most provocative to me:
“Midlife, life after 50, is a time to go back and fill in the spaces we might have left blank when growing up.”
“There is something profoundly gratifying, surprisingly so, about no longer seeing other men as rivals or obstacles to our success.”
“My traditions teach me that wisdom is of greater value than physical strength, and that therefore we should rejoice when we reach that stage in our lives when physical agility begins to decline but wisdom increases.”
(Author’s note on the last one: My physical agility is definitely has declined, I’m still working on the wisdom part).
I’ve heard many people, mostly TV media during interviews, ask their subjects something like this…. “If you could go back and tell your younger self something they need to know, what would it be?”
The answer is in the Rabbi’s chapter in Mr. Sellers’ book…..
Too many of us try to take over the world with an old school mentality. Kill or be killed. The strong thrive and the weak fade away. Be aggressive and take what’s yours. Work harder than everyone else to get to the top. Look out for #1 (yourself). Any of those sound familiar?
Even if you are not 50 yet, I can tell you that mentality in any form is short sighted. You can and will get far further along in life through caring and compassion than through any other means available to you. If I were asked what I would tell my 20 or 30-year-old self, it would be this…..
“Spend your time supporting and promoting others, and in the end you will be elevated beyond any position an org chart can offer you.”
The moral of the story? Don’t wait until you hit some magical age to do awesome things for others. Start now. Start today. Whatever act you choose to help or promote someone around you, do it now. Do it often. Help others. In the end, great things are sure to follow.
As the old saying goes, the hardest thing to do is to begin. Well today is that day. The day to make the trade of strength for wisdom. No matter our age or status, let’s all get started on this journey.