Peter Drucker is best known as “the father of modern management.” That’s accurate, but it’s only part of the story. He would prefer to describe himself as a writer. He wrote thirty-nine books. They include titles on business and society, two novels and a book on Japanese painting. The Economist asked him to write a 20-page feature on “The Next Society” when he was 90.
Peter Drucker was an amazing thinker, but it didn’t happen by accident. He thought a lot about his thinking. When he faced difficult choices, he analyzed the options, the risk, rewards, and probabilities. Then he developed a plan. Nothing remarkable so far. But next he wrote a letter to himself to review in six or nine months. He outlined his expected outcomes.
Months later when he read the letter, he saw what reality produced. The comparison of expectations and outcomes provided clues about what he assessed well and the consequences of unrecognized biases. Drucker claimed that most of whatever wisdom he developed came from these after-action reviews, the reflection about the outcomes.
Drucker took his work seriously, but he never took himself seriously. There are several stories of admirers who beseeched him for private time or collaboration. Apparently, he was generous and gracious to most folks who showed up. One was a friend of mine who spent an evening with Drucker. He still repeats lessons from that evening forty years later.
In the last half of his life Drucker became a coach for and later friends with Bob Buford. After a successful business career, Buford founded Halftime Institute and a leadership organization serving mega churches. He and Drucker formed a close friendship that lasted until Drucker’s death.
For his book, Finishing Well, Buford interviewed 120 people who had found purpose beyond self, aiming for significance, not settling for success. He called these people code breakers or multipliers. Drucker observed that these heroes spent time to reflect. He knew not everyone was naturally reflective. So, he encouraged Buford to broadcast what the reflective people had discovered.
We all try things and fail. People who reflect have a far better chance to learn from the outcome. One of my mentors said his father admonished him to “make new and different mistakes.” In other words, don’t pay the dumb tax twice.
Periodically life gives us chances to stop and reflect. Maybe it’s an unexpected death, or a big birthday, or a major life event. Some of our greatest joys and deepest pains cause us to look up and ask, “Is this all there is?” or “What is my purpose on this earth?
You and I will probably never be like Peter Drucker or Bob Buford. Yet, we were uniquely crafted. Your mom had about 500 eggs and your dad had billions of sperm. The odds were against it, but you were the one who was born! You received a unique set of gifts. Over the decades you’ve learned some things the hard way, created some valuable relationships, and developed some skills. No one else on the planet has the same abilities, accomplishments, painful learnings, and opportunities to bless.
Reflection will help you discover those opportunities. Many people keep a journal as an aid to reflection. That might not be right for you. You can take a walk with yourself or someone who loves you. Think about what went exceptionally right in your life and what you might want to do with your remaining time. Many of the world’s most impactful people are far more productive in the last third of their adulthood than they were in the previous two thirds.
Perhaps reflection will help in figuring out what you’ve learned. Maybe you’ll gain clues about your passion and who you might want to help. Once you have a better idea of how you’re wired you might ask “So what? and then “What next?”
You’ll probably out live your grandparent by a generation. Use your time well.
If you’re willing to share your answer to “What is my purpose on this earth?” I’d love to know about what you discover from your reflection.
Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.”