When Peter F. Drucker, the political economist and author, passed away in 2005 at the age of 95, he was legendary in business circles and often called the “father of modern management.” His future-oriented writings were required reading for business school students nationwide.
But I knew very little about him. And I certainly never considered how his thinking on the workplace related to individual career paths and second acts, in particular, a topic near and dear to my heart. I honestly didn’t imagine his ideas would be relevant today and would resonate with the growing cohort of workers embarking on second acts post 50.
Well I was wrong. I recently received a new book by Drucker scholar and author Bruce Rosenstein, Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way. As I read along, I found myself putting sticky tabs on page after page. In fact, I found myself nodding as I turned the pages, soaking up his all so timely wisdom.
I immediately emailed Rosenstein and asked if he had time for an interview with me. He did, and I will get to it in a minute.
But here’s what blew me away. Drucker, who I always viewed as an elder statesman type, even stodgy perhaps, and someone only management types followed, really got it. He was truly prescient.
Rosenstein deftly draws on his own knowledge and that of his mentor to convey a strategy to create a successful second act.
For instance, Rosenstein writes about a commencement address that Drucker made to the graduating students at the University of Scranton, in Scranton, PA on May 31, 1964. (I was only 3 at the time.) “He spoke that day of how people must transform their lives on an ongoing basis, as the world is continually changing, requiring different work and different knowledge as people further their lives and careers,” writes Rosenstein. “He believed that education never ended…that creating the future required a daily, purposeful, roll-up-your sleeves approach.”
This Drucker quote says it all, to me. “To make the future happen requires work rather than genius.” Here are my highlights from my conversation with Rosenstein:
KH: From your analysis, how do you advise people to use Drucker’s concepts to help them embark on a second career in their 50s and 60s?
Rosenstein: Start by being deliberate and attentive in your search. And consider clues from the recent and distant past. This aligns with Peter Drucker’s construct of “the future that has already happened.” For instance, a new or lifelong interest in healing might lead to a second act in a field such as nursing, massage therapy or health information management.
Also consider clues that come from emerging issues, trends and developments. Today you can find these virtually everywhere—in business, government, health care, technology and beyond.
I also recommend keeping a notebook or file on the future. Capture thoughts, ideas, resources—anything that might inform and inspire your next chapter. Keep an open mind, and cast a wide net. In time you can figure out what’s most relevant.
Another idea is to form a book club or study group focused on future-oriented topics. Occasionally bring in guest experts to lead your discussion.
KH: Why is it important to build your future beyond your current workplace in all aspects of your life as you prepare to create a second act?
Rosenstein: If work is your only source of satisfaction and self-worth, and you lose your job, you almost certainly will be crushed. Drucker stressed the importance of living multi-dimensionally, inside and outside the workplace. In one of our interviews, he described this to me as “living in more than one world.” The idea resonated so deeply that it became the focus (and title!) of my first book.
Advance your growth and development in diverse ways—deepening your religious or spiritual practices, serving others (through, say, volunteerism, teaching or mentoring) and committing to lifelong learning.
Also enrich or expand areas outside of work: family activities, social clubs, sports and exercise, mind-body work, artistic endeavors—whatever cultivates more purpose and meaning in your life.
KH: How can Peter Drucker’s strategies for rolling with the punches help entrepreneurial second-acters?
KH: What are your favorite Drucker ideas that can help motivate wannabe second acters to take action, find purpose, relevance, and succeed in their next chapter?
Rosenstein: For starters, strive to do work that genuinely benefits others. Drucker advocated thinking and acting as any good CEO would—considering not only what serves you but also your family, your personal and professional stakeholders, your various communities and perhaps even mankind. Seek out opportunities, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit world, that can help you, help others.
Another useful idea, especially today, is to make friends with change. Drucker said, “The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it.” Aspire, then, to be more than an agent of change. Be a leader of change.
In Drucker’s book The Age of Discontinuity, he proposes asking yourself the big existential questions of life. Among them: Who am I? What am I? What do I want to be? What do I want to put into life, and what do I want to get out of it? And what do I want to be remembered for? Questions such as these can be a great guide to finding purpose, relevance, and success.
KH: How can following some of Drucker’s teachings help alleviate the inevitable anxiety and fear of the future as we age?
I also suggest practicing what Drucker called systematic abandonment—that is, to intentionally remove things that are no longer useful or productive. This frees up precious time and energy, which usually helps alleviate anxiety. Drucker recommended pairing systematic abandonment with kaizen: steady and incremental improvement of what remains. I refer to these combined processes as remove/improve.
Bruce Rosenstein is managing editor of Leader to Leader and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way: Developing and Applying a Forward-Focused Mindset (McGraw-Hill). He worked as a researcher and writer forUSA Today for more than two decades. For more information, visitbrucerosenstein.com.
Follow me on Twitter, @KerryHannon
My latest book is What’s Next?: Finding Your Passion and Your Dream Job in Your Forties, Fifties and Beyond. I am also the author of Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Happy and Healthy … And Pays the Bills (John Wiley & Sons), available at www.kerryhannon.com.