How to Jump the Curve in Your Mid-Life Transition.

How to Jump the Curve in Your Mid-Life Transition.
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

Many leaders I work with that are nearing the midpoint of their lives are in their career sweet spot.

They have invested the last decade or so honing their skills, relying upon their natural gifts and wirings, focusing on what they are uniquely gifted and built to do. 

And at this point their career may feel a little like striding down an airport moving walkway: Each step they take is multiplied, their efforts are empowered, and they are speeding towards progress.   

But a powerful principle threatens to surprise them, slowing them down, sapping their strength, and positioning them to decline in the second half of life.

Arthur Brooks, in his book Strength to Strength, describes this principle.  He says most people find success in the first half of their career relying upon fluid intelligence, their “raw smarts,” or natural giftings.  These leaders ride this skill curve to solve problems and create new ideas, systems, and innovations.


But our fluid intelligence declines as we age.  We slow down, our abilities diminish, our natural strengths fade.  The curve eventually trends down.  Relying on fluid intelligence for your second half is a doomed recipe.  What got you here won’t get you there.


However, there is a second kind of intelligence, crystalized intelligence, which is the ability to draw upon and utilize a stock of knowledge learned in the past. This type of intelligence actually increases as we age and grow.  It’s experience, lessons learned.  


In other words, wisdom.


This chart explains the two curves :

See how the first curve of fluid intelligence starts strong, but declines over time?  While your crystalized intelligence is actually just getting started.  As Brooks puts it, “when you are young, you can generate lots of facts; when you are old, you know what they mean and how to use them.”  


We see this all the time in sports.  The aging mobile QB who has to figure out how to “jump the curve,” to repurpose his game to center on his arm and not his diminishing legs.  The cyclist who begins to rely on better training, healthier diets, and more expensive gear rather than the brute force of years gone by.


How does this concept inform your transition into the what’s next of your life?


To retool our lives for success in the second half, we have to shift from relying upon natural ability, to relying upon our wisdom and experience.  


We have to jump the curve.


As I approached mid-life, around 45, I wondered if I should continue to rely upon my fluid intelligence, working to get better at my natural skills of preaching and leading.  Or could I begin to leverage my crystalized intelligence, using my experience to empower other leaders?

  • Could I jump the curve? 
  • Could I find success moving from being the QB on the field to the coach on the sideline?  
  • Could I find value not in what I could do, but in equipping others to do it?  

These questions led me into a midlife transition period of exploration and discovery.   

  • I took an adjunct role at a seminary teaching preaching, finding greater passion helping younger leaders preach than I ever found in crafting my own sermons.  
  • I started a company focused on coming alongside leaders facing transition, using my experience and education to help them navigate their what’s next.
  • I co-chaired a Mayoral Campaign, investing in my city through drawing upon my wisdom and relational networks, not my own leadership gifts. 


Jumping the curve has reinvigorated my passion and purpose in life, and provided me a “moving walkway” towards my second half–one that is on the incline.


Others I’ve worked with have also jumped the curve.

  • The fundraiser who embraced “dealmaking” as his primary role–leaning into his second curve experience to raise bigger amounts than ever.
  • The minister who stepped off the stage and began to write books and teach, launching a new generation of church leaders.
  • The financial partner who moved from direct financial advising to a new position in Client Advancement, utilizing his years of experience with clients to serve them and his firm in a powerful way.
  • The Corporate Manager who traded years of skillful hiring of employees into consulting companies on how to become fully and rightly staffed. 


In each of these jumps, the person was stepping into their crystalized intelligence, leveraging their lives towards more focused leadership. The key to success AND satisfaction in the second half is learning to jump the curve.


Jumping the curve is more than a survival strategy; it is a thrival strategy (not a word).


How will you jump the curve?


How will you repurpose your second half away from the declining curve of your abilities, and towards the inclining curve of your wisdom?


One question helps me begin to consider this jump:  What is it you are currently doing that you could develop others to do?  


As you navigate what’s next, don’t get stuck in trying to extend the first curve.  Explore how to jump the curve. You have so much more to offer than what you can do; you can offer what you know.

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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