Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“Half Time – Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford

Some books are nice to read; others are life-changing. Bob Buford’s seminal work, “Half Time,” is just such a life-altering book. It is significant to note that both Peter Drucker and Jim Collins took the time to craft Forewords to this classic, first published in 1994 and recently revised and updated.

Starting with the story of his own life and career as a successful media executive, Buford gently lays down the gauntlet and challenges the reader to assess how to move from a focus on success to a focus of significance during the second half of one’s working life. He issues a call to begin to think about the legacy we want to leave behind. The book - and Buford’s organization that stands in support of the book’s principles, – likens a life of work to a football game. Half time is an opportunity to take a breath, assess the pros and cons of the first half, and make the necessary adjustment to have an even more effective and satisfying end of the game.

Buford’s own journey has been influences by many great thinkers and practitioners who have lived lives of significance. He quotes liberally from these mentors. I love this quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

“This is the true joy in life – the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got ahold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” (Pages 37-38)


Buford offers some very concise and helpful questions that someone approaching “halftime” should be asking herself:

“Halftime is more than putting your feet up and meditating. It’s more than time away to think, pray, and play. A successful halftime needs some structure. Set an agenda that will help you ‘walk’ through the important issues. Such an agenda will indeed include time to pray and listen, to read the Scriptures, and to think. But it should also include some deliberate questions. The following list may help you get started:

• Am I missing anything in my life right now that’s important to me?
• What am I passionate about?
• Who am I?
• What do I value?
• What do I want to do in ten years? In twenty?
• What gifts has God given me that have been perfected over time?
• What gifts has he given me that I am unable to use?
• What would I be willing to die for?
• What is it about my job that makes me feel trapped?
• What realistic changes can I make in my employment?
• Would I be willing to take a less stressful (and lower-paying) job to be happier – to be closer to my true self?
• What steps do I need to take tomorrow to have a second half that is better than my first half?

(Pages 70-71)

Buford approaches these issues from the framework of his own Christian faith, yet the book and its principles are applicable to a reader of any faith or lack of faith.

Another wonderful Shavian quotation that spices up this book for me is the following:

“There are two sources of unhappiness in life. One is not getting what you want; the other is getting it.” (Page 83)

This quotation opens the chapter entitled “From Success to Significance.” Buford shares the stories of several individuals who have used halftime to take stock of their lives and of their careers. I found the vignettes to be challenging and inspiring. Bob Buford has had a close working relationship with Peter Ducker and Frances Hesselbein, both individuals who have excelled in using a long second half of life to make significant contribution in the fields of leadership in the service sector and in the business world as well as in the realm of mentoring military leaders. Buford serves on the Boards of two organizations that Drucker touched: Leader to Leader Institute, now headed by Ms. Hesselbein, and The Drucker Institute.

Near the end of the book, in a discussion about creating a mindset of lifelong learning, Buford makes an observation about team learning that I found to be very significant:

“Best selling author and MIT professor Peter Senge says: ‘Teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units in modern organizations.’ God seems to have built a governor against arrogance into the design of human beings. We are as interdependent in learning as we are in other arenas. After I have thought about some problems by myself for awhile, I always find it necessary to enter a give-and-take dialogue with others. It’s a way to find the other pieces of the whole puzzle.” (Pages 146-147)

The keystone of this book and the halftime principles is the issue of asking the question about the kind of legacy we want to leave behind:

“Peter [Drucker] once said to me, ‘The beginning of adult life is when you ask the question, “What do I want to be remembered for?”’ Essentially, this is the question of halftime. It speaks of legacy more than accomplishments and gets at the heart of significance.” (Page 201)

I plan to order several dozen copies of this book to give away to friends, clients, and candidates who are at a place in their lives where this kind of reflection would be helpful. This is a book of significance about significance. Whether you are in the first half of your life, at halftime, or still playing in overtime, you will find value in this book. It comes with my strongest recommendation.



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