J.D. “Jim” Fox, Head Coach, Next Act Coaching
I’m working more and more with professionals facing sudden job loss — they’ve been axed, or they flee an intolerable situation. I’ve experienced both, and know of two books that can help when you’re reevaluating EVERYTHING.
David Brooks — the thoughtful (and politically conservative) New York Times columnist and TV pundit, is connected to both of the books I’m recommending. He wrote one; and did a Times column about the other. Neither is new; you can get cheap, used copies online.
Brooks’ book, “The Road to Character,” dropped into my lap, literally, at The Renaissance used book store at Milwaukee’s airport. The chapter titles sound like standard self-help hooey: The Summoned Self, Struggle, Dignity, The Big Me, and more.
But his book is anything but standard — he wrote it over the course of several years while teaching a seminar at Yale, and he credits after-class beers with his students for their contribution to his thought process. My kind of professor.
In the book itself, he picks a distinctive array of historical figures — from antiquity through modern sports — to bring his topics to life.
My personal favorite was his first chapter on The Summoned Self: Frances Perkins, FDR’s Labor Secretary, started out as a young socialite in New York. She was called away from afternoon tea to witness a horror: The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which for its time was as significant as 9-11 is for us. The sight of doomed workers jumping from a burning building summoned Perkins to a life of social reform (and the back room deals usually required to achieve it).
In his column, Brooks recommended “Life Reimagined: The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife.” Author Barbara Bradley Hagerty, a former NPR reporter (who took a buyout and moved on) debunks the entire concept of Midlife Crisis, and makes a compelling case for everyone’s second and third and fourth acts.
Both Brooks and Hagerty seem aware that no one really reads serious books anymore, because they both end with summary tips … you can just scoot there and get the gist of them.
“Life Reimagined” ends with “Sixteen Suggestions for Midlife,” and my favorite is “Always be a Rookie at Something.” Why? Because your brain — and maybe your soul — thrive on it.
As for Brooks, who by the way is among the best writers out there, his book ends with a 15-point “Humility Code.” I know, you’re busy, so here’s the best part:
“If you make disciplined, caring choices, you are slowly engraving certain tendencies into your mind. You are making it more likely that you will desire the right things and execute the right actions.”
Of course, this coach recommends moving beyond the provided lists, and actually reading these books in their entirety. You may not agree with everything they say (Brooks is to the right of me politically, and much more a man of religious faith than me); but they at least make you think about what might work for you. In fact, I’d say that’s the whole point.
You got something better to do at the beach?