I am a 67-year-old with a curious mind and zest for life. I have an advanced degree and over 40 years of experience in a wide range of positions—from stock boy and shoe factory worker to investment vice president and a stint as an assistant professor of business.
My best advice is to develop a life-long love of formal and informal (life lessons) learning with a focus on honing critical thinking skills and cultivating a sense of civility.
Critical thinking, in its simplest form, allows us to determine if there is a logical cause-and-effect relationship or simply a coincidence that is masquerading as the cause. Sounds simple; it is not. Our human nature has us grasping for one answer when often several influences have contributed to the result. Our biases often have us pull out invalid assumptions and prod us to jump to a conclusion before we have thoroughly thought through the issues.
In America, we live in a highly complex world tasked to make everyday decisions based on incomplete and/or inaccurate information. And all of us have our biases and blind spots that cloud our critical thinking. What does this mean? Biases simply are preferences, and blind spots are a reference to a form of ego protection that prevents us from seeing objectively that what we might be thinking or doing is suboptimal or just plain wrong. First step: How easy is it for you to say to someone, “Sorry, I am wrong and admit I made a mistake”?
Critical thinking helps us to question key underlying assumptions. Sadly, in the search for a career choice or job satisfaction, little emphasis is placed on the individual values and fit with the cultural environment of the industry and company. Before you choose a career in an industry take an in-depth look at how your interests and values align. For example, many industries now have clear liberal or conservative biases. Being employed in private industry “at will” means you could get fired for something as innocuous as a political bumper sticker that frosts the fanny of an overbearing supervisor. Want to be a Wall Street investment banker? You better have the willingness and the ability to work 80 hours a week, live in the city, and make sacrifices in your personal life.
Think of the many tools (skills) you have accumulated, make a list of the ones you want to acquire for your tool box (e.g., critical thinking and civility) and learn which tools to use and in what situations. Just as you wouldn’t use a saw to bang a nail into a board, you wouldn’t want to use an inappropriate personality trait for a given problem. And consider how these tools truly can be transferrable skills when you interview for your next job or transfer a job skill to a personal situation. Also, periodically check your tool box, see what new tools are needed, which ones require some maintenance, and which ones need to discarded!
I was most fortunate to have a father who was strong enough to admit his mistakes and a mom who was a teacher who planted the seeds for a lifetime love of learning. Another invaluable life lesson I learned as young boy was helping my dad with projects around the house and our small boats. While he taught me the proper use of how to use a tool, like a hammer, and how to pick the best tool for the job, he often asked me, “How can we do this better?”
My three most valuable tools are analytical and creative skills and the flexibility to use transferable skills in a variety of situations. But I constantly look to continue to improve and polish them lest they become rusty. I decided early on my love of ocean sports, need for sunny weather and living in the suburbs are a key to my happiness. Since 1992, we have lived in a sunny, southern California suburbia, a mile from the ocean, and manage a family wealth advisory business we began in 1998, for individuals and corporate 401-k plans. And the first thing we asked our daughter when she recently joined our business is: “How can we do things better?” to improve productivity.
Where should we be able to learn critical thinking skills? In schools, but regrettably, while some education systems claim to teach critical thinking, few actually do. Fewer attempt to measure how well a student has mastered the consummate skill of critical thinking. Many secondary schools seem to focus too much on teaching students what to think not how to think. (May I suggest you make your own inquires to your local school boards and principals and college administrators as I have and determine whether critical thinking is mentioned in their mission statements, if and how it is taught, and whether it is measured). Remember the old adage: “That which is not measurable cannot be managed.”
Now a word on civility. Ironically, our First Amendment rights have been significantly curtailed in institutions, like schools and campuses across America, in the name of civility. While this deference is polite, it is not a form of civility, as Professor Teresa Bejan points out in her captivating TED talk. True civility is our willingness and ability to discuss issues calmly and avoid ad hominem character attacks and countless other errors of reason. Can’t agree? Perhaps it time to simply conclude, “Lets agree to disagree.”
‘What Color is Your Parachute’ series: One book is ‘Your guide to a lifetime of meaningful work and career success’ by Richard Bolles 2021
‘Noise: A flaw in human judgement’ by Daniel Kahneman (a 2002 Nobel prize winner) et al. 2021
College Learning Assessment (CLA+), Council for Aid to Education www.CAE.org
‘Mere Civility: Disagreement and the limits of toleration’ by Professor Teresa Bejan, Harvard Press 2017