Crossroads

The late Dr. Ramon Reyes of the Ateneo Philosophy Department was said to have been in his early 20s when he agonized about which path he would take after college. Shall he say yes to a lucrative offer from a multinational corporation by way of a management trainee position? Or shall he embrace the calling to be a philosophy teacher?  To resolve his dilemma, he had the good sense to seek out the wisdom of one of his Jesuit teachers.  After listening to him, his teacher kept quiet for a moment  before posing a question along the following lines:  “When you grow old and are about to retire and you look back at your life, which would give you greater fulfillment and happiness – to be able to say that you have manufactured thousands of soap bars and amassed great fortune or to be able to say that you have formed the hearts and minds of  leaders and parents and missed out on that fat paycheck?”

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In Bob Buford’s Half-Time: Moving from Success to Significance, we find not a dichotomy between the options that faced my teacher but rather a continuum. According to Buford, the first half of one’s life is normally spent in the rat race where the goal is to earn and get ahead. One of two things happens as one enters the second half which he refers to as half-time. A crisis – which can take the form of a death in the family, a health scare, a  financial problem, a career meltdown, divorce, and the like –  comes along which forces you to stop and take stock of your life. Or the status quo is sustained and you continue on with amassing material wealth only to question its adequacy to fulfill you.  Half-Time is addressed to both those who go through crises and those who don’t as they reach midlife.  As Buford would put it: “During the first half of your life, if you are like me you probably did not have time to think about how you would spend the rest of your life. You probably rushed through college, fell in love, married, embarked on a career, climbed upward, and acquired a few things to help make the journey comfortable…But sooner or later you begin to wonder if this is really as good as it gets.” (p. 26)

In this sense, Half-Time offers a refreshing vantage point from which to appreciate Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. All human beings, we learned in Psychology 101, seek to satisfy their physiological needs before graduating to security needs and on to love and self-esteem and finally, self-actualization.  Jim Carrey is quoted to have once said: “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.” In a way, Carrey was actually paraphrasing what the Bible tells us: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul.”

Perhaps it may be asked, how exactly does one avoid losing one’s soul? Or to put it more positively, what must one do to gain one’s soul? Buford’s Half-Time eloquently shows the way through a seamless tapestry of personal stories, anecdotes and quotations from Vaclav Havel to George Bernard Shaw, from Blaise Pascal to Soren Kierkegaard, from Henry David Thoreau to Dag Hammarskjold.

Among the  numerous stories, anecdotes and quotations in the book, what stands out the most in driving home the central theme of Half-Time is his citing of  a pivotal scene in the movie City Slickers which starred Billy Crystal and Jack Palance.  Palance who plays the role of a cowpoke issues a wake-up call to the character portrayed by Crystal, a business executive out for a two-week vacation:  “…you all come out here about the same age. Same problems. Spend fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope then…then you think two weeks up here will untie them for you. None of you get it. (Long pause) Do you want to know what the secret of life is?…One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean s____.” (p 80.)

To find out what your one thing is, Buford advocates that you start by asking yourself the question that his strategic planning consultant asked him: “What’s in the box?” That is to say, what is that one thing that you love to do and that you are good at which will truly make you happy and fulfilled? “What is your purpose? What makes you tick? What do you do so well that you would enjoy doing it without pay? What is your passion, the spark that needs only a little breeze to ignite into a raging fire?” (p. 82.) How can you leverage on such to serve others and serve God?  Half-Time offers a lot of real-life examples that will make it inevitable for the reader to pose the preceding questions to him/herself: There is the case of Michael Jordan who left the NBA for “a minor league spot on  a second-rate team in another sport.” There is Tom Tierney who left “a seven-figure job as CEO of world-class Bain &Companies to form Bridgespan, which focuses on midlevel nonprofit organizations.” (p. 83.)  There is Peter Lynch who at age 46 “decided to put boundaries on the time he was willing to spend at his job so that he could assume greater control over his life” (p. 124.)

Lest the reader think that finding significance must necessarily entail a 180-degree change, Buford points out that the journey from success to significance calls for a lot of reflection and discernment. Indeed, each chapter concludes with a set of questions meant to help the reader pause, reflect and discern.  By his estimate, it will take anywhere between 1 to 3 years to be able to resolve one’s search for significance.  The objective of half-time is not so much a change in career but rather a change in one’s perspective. “The key to a successful second half is not a change of jobs; it is a change of heart, a change in the way you view the world and order your life.” (p. 97-98.)  Aside from reflecting and praying about what will truly make you fulfilled and happy, Buford recommends what he calls “seismic testing” – assessing your talents and your strengths and seeking the wisdom of people you respect and trust. One must also take stock of the implications of putting a premium on significance even as you explore alternatives to how you are currently living your life. For most people, it is simply  not feasible to turn one’s back on your career and pursue what Steve Jobs calls “that which makes your heart sing” without a care in the world.  After all, most of Buford’s readers have mortagages to pay and children to send to college.  This in no way means you should postpone your search for significance to the time  when you finally get to retire.  The time to start is not someday but today – one step at a time, one question at a time.  Half-Time which has sold close to 1 million copies worldwide offers a well thought-out guide  and template for this protracted inward journey to significance.

The last time a book has had such a profound effect on me was when I accidentally came across Stephen R. Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s book came at time in my life when I was going through several crises. The book did not only equip me to navigate my way through dire straits, it eventually proved to be a very instructive guide in living a more meaningful personal and professional life in  my 20s.  Bob Buford’s Half-Time comes at a time in my life when most of the questions he poses in the book effortlessly  resonate with me even as they disturb and compel me to take action.  More importantly, Half-Time uncovers a hitherto undiscovered layer of meaning in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s admonishment: “Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” (i.e., “For the Greater Glory of God.”“God” writes Buford, “has a wonderful plan for the second half of your life: to allow you to serve him by doing what you like to do and what you are good at.” (p. 89) Pretty radical, if you ask me. It puts to question the conventional separation that we assign to working for oneself and one’s family until retirement vs. serving God and others on weekends or during annual corporate social responsibility events or as one nears retirement.

In the poem entitled “Sangandaan” the poet Jose F. Lacaba reflects thus, “Bawat pusong naglalakbay dumarating sa sangandaan. Ngayong narito ka. Kailangang magpasya. Aling landas ang susundin ng puso. Saan ka liligaya? Saan mabibigo? Saan ka tutungo?” (i.e., “Each heart that travels comes across a crossroad. Now that you are here. You must decide. Which path will your heart take? Where will you be fulfilled? Where will you waste away? Where will you go?”)

 The road to significance beckons. What will you do about it?