What’s Next

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” Robert Byrne

Several months back when I wrote a post about performing for likes, Ab of the My Lovable Pest blog, made a comment that he had turned off notifications for when people like a post. I thought it was a pretty good suggestion so I modified the notifications on my own blog so that I don’t receive notifications when people click “like.”

It had a funny effect. At first, I really missed getting the emails that “[alias] liked your post and went on to say “They thought [post name] was pretty awesome.” Actually, they didn’t necessarily think it was awesome – they “liked” it. But more to the point, I had to go through the withdrawal of not getting those dopamine hits in my inbox.

Eventually I got used to it and it led me to focus more on the comments I was getting which was a far more meaningful experience of interaction around any particular topic whether it was something I wrote or I was commenting on something someone else wrote.

But then I started writing for the Pointless Overthinking blog. On Wednesdays, I publish a post on that blog with 27,404 followers. And the settings for that blog are tuned differently so that I do get the “likes” for that post, usually about 100/week.

That felt pretty great for the first few posts but then it morphed into a feeling of “what’s next?” A feeling that Harvard professor and social scientist Arthur Brooks describes as success addiction. We get to a new level and it feels pretty great – and then we adjust to that level and look to the next thing.

His cure for success addiction is to know our “why.” By being deeply rooted in our why, we can hope to get off the treadmill of looking for the next thing because we are grounded in our mission.

The why of my blogging has evolved over time. I’d say that I blog because it helps me process the depth and delight of my experience in life. I find something that I learn or see or feel in a day and by writing about it, I burn it in a little deeper. And when I talk about it with people through comments, I get the gift of seeing it through others’ eyes.

Puzzling through this helps me move through that “what’s next” blah because I remember that what’s next is another conversation with my delightful blogging friends.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Wired to Learn

“Sharp people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” – Brandon Mull

I got a new client this week. She was introduced to me by a mutual contact that told her I could help. She is clearly very bright and has done a lot of research but given the huge amount of documentation on the technology choices she has to make, she just needed someone to weigh in on what would work best because she doesn’t have time to try out every option herself.

After only a 30 minute phone call in which we talked through her options, she was ready to go with what I recommended. Of course, the technology we were talking about is my specialty and has been for 20 years but what struck me was how openly she was able to learn.

According to Nicholas Christakis, a sociologist from Yale, this is the hallmark of the human species. Christakis’ work in the field of sociology is about the long view of human history. He’s deeply optimistic about our ability to cooperate, teach others and love because we are one of the only species that does that outside of the family structure. In his book, Blueprint, Christakis lays out the case that “natural selection has given us a suite of beneficial social features including our capacity for love, friendship, cooperation and learning.”

Of course one of the places this is easiest to see has been with my kids over the last few years as they’ve learned to talk. When my son was one and just starting to talk he called water, “Mamu.” He and my brother’s wife, who was nannying for me, use to have a funny verbal game they’d play. He’d said, “mamu”, she’d say “water” and it would go on for a minute until they both broke out in laughter. And then eventually he accepted that it was water, just like he’s learned all the other hundreds of words he can say, because he trusts the caretakers in his life.

Which reminds me of my ex-husband. He had good reasons to believe his parents weren’t reliable sources of information. His dad used to say to me, “I knew my boy was smart when I came in to beat him with a belt and he asked for me to beat him with the wooden spoon instead.” And it was in his senior year of high school when he was living with his dad and step-mom and they moved in the middle of a night to a different state to avoid a tax debt without telling him (or bringing him) so he had to find a place to live on his own.

I think they were one of the reasons that he couldn’t learn from other people (or maybe the primary reason he couldn’t). And that was behind my reluctance to have kids with him was because I couldn’t bear the thought of having him experiment on children as the only way to learn the best way to parent.

So I understand that we all have different levels of openness to learning and that it might vary within a person by topic. But it gives me great hope when I witness the human ability to trust and learn like I did with my client this week. Because it resonates with what I’ve gleaned from Nicholas Christakis’ work – that we have come this far because we are wired to cooperate and learn. Coupled with Arthur Brook’s concept of crystallized intelligence that I wrote about last week, the idea that as we age we develop intelligence more suited to synthesize, tell stories and teach, it seems we have the right ingredients to pass on goodness to the next generation and beyond.

(featured photo is of my dad teaching a class)

Synthesis

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” – Abraham Lincoln

My best friend since second grade, Katie, was telling her college aged daughter that I was one of the smartest people she knows. I laughed knowing all the stupid stuff I’ve done over all the years that Katie is very well aware. But getting my bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering was one of those things that made people think of me as smart and so I just smiled.

But it also struck me that it’s been a long time since someone called me smart. And then I heard a 10 Percent Happier Podcast yesterday that explained why that might be. The podcast featured Arthur Brooks, a professor at Harvard who has just written a book From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. In it, he discusses two types of intelligence: fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is raw smarts, solving problems and doing it quickly, thinking very quickly. It is the brain power of young brains and it starts to decline in our mid-30’s to 50. Young tech entrepreneurs tend to rely on a lot of fluid intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is what emerges as fluid intelligence declines. It is the ability to synthesize so that we become better story-tellers, teachers and are able to put ideas together and explain them to others. Historians are great examples of people that are using their crystallized intelligence to its fullest potential.

Which brings me back to thinking about my friend Katie. She graduated with honors as the 11th in our high school class and I graduated 12th. The reason I go to Katie for advice isn’t because she’s smart – it’s because she’s wise, kind and understanding. Most often, she is using her crystallized intelligence to relate the stories of her life to mine.

It also struck me that with those descriptions, all of us over 50 bloggers are in our sweet spot. Telling stories and synthesizing life, we are making the most of our crystallized intelligence as it starts to come to the fore. And if I’ve done a decent job telling this story, you all should be feeling great that you are right where you need to be!

(featured photo from Pexels)