Drucker on The Second Half of Life

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my takeaways from reading the book.

Back in 1999, Drucker wrote and asserted that “For the first time in human history, individuals can expect to outlive organizations. This creates a totally new challenge: What to do with the second half of one’s life?”

That assertion is now truer than ever. Most of us cannot expect that the organization for which we work at our younger years will still be around when we reach our later years. Mergers and acquisitions of companies make those old-fashion “stability” environments impossible.

Drucker also believed that forty or fifty years in the same kind of work is much too long for most people. They get bored, lose all joy in their work, and essentially “retire on the job.” When that happens to us, we become a burden to ourselves and everyone around us.

There is another reason that the knowledge worker develops a second major interest and develops it early. None of us can expect to live very long without experiencing a serious setback in our life or work. When the serious setback strikes, a second major interest may make all the difference in helping us keep everything together.

For the above reasons, the trend increasingly requires that we prepare ourselves for the second half of life. Drucker suggested three potential approaches.

The first approach is to start a second and different career. Very often this means only moving from one kind of organization to another. Many such second-career people have achieved fair success in their first job with substantial skills. The second career can offer the community, the income, and, above all, the needed challenge.

The second approach is to develop a parallel career. Many such parallel-career people stay in their primary field and create a parallel endeavor for themselves. At some point, the primary work might switch and become secondary and vice-versa.

The third approach is the “social entrepreneurs” coined by Drucker. These are usually people who have been very successful in their first profession. They love what they are doing, but the environment no longer challenges them. In many cases they keep on doing their primary work but gradually reducing their time on it. At the same time, they start another endeavor and apply the transferable skills to it, usually a nonprofit activity.

Drucker believed that there is just one requirement for managing the second half of one’s life. We need to begin creating it long before we enter that phase.

The people who actively manage the “second half” may always be a minority. The majority may keep doing what they are doing now: keeping on with the routine, being bored, retiring on the job, and counting the years until the official retirement. It is this minority, that Drucker believed, who will increasingly become the leaders and the models. These people see the long working-life expectancy as an opportunity both for themselves and for society, and they increasingly will be the one creating the “success stories.”