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 October 8, 1999

Magnum Memo: It’s never too late to seize success

Editor’s note: For the next several months, this column will feature excerpts from Debra Benton’s latest book, “Secrets of a CEO Coach,” a guide for developing the skills, knowledge and style of a true leader.

It’s never too late.

Many of you don’t have to worry about this right now, but most people find themselves middle-aged sooner than they’d care to have it happen. When it does happen, remember to take advantage of all the good things that come with age: varied experience, maturity and wisdom, perspective, confidence, relaxed attitudes, accumulated knowledge, decision-making ability, struggles that have been overcome, understanding people, past accomplishments, respect and distinction from peers, credibility, comfortable finances, professional contacts made, and the ability to empower others.

As long as you keep up with new technologies, avoid being pushed aside, employ up-to-date approaches, remain competitive and effective, stay healthy and have stamina, work well with young bosses and colleagues, deal with changing corporate cultures and values, maintain an energetic appearance, build financial security, and don’t settle for mediocrity, you’ll never get “old.” It’s like a friend, Mark Levine, who’s a diamond broker. He was in Hong Kong on business and was meeting a client in the hotel lobby. He had described himself as, “six feet tall, brown hair, and mustache.” But as Mark left his room, he glanced in the mirror and saw his hair and mustache were actually gray. They hadn’t been brown in 20 years!

Recently, traveling on business, I walked past the mirror in my hotel room and for a second couldn’t accept the reflection was me. I looked older than I felt. Thinking it was the poor lighting in the room, I called the front desk and requested brighter light bulbs. They didn’t help. It was like one of those fun-house mirrors that makes you look bigger (and fatter) than you are. The moral of this story is that although it would be nice if mirrors reflected the full picture, including self image, they really just give back the externals.

We all grow older. Another friend, younger than I am, recently sent me a birthday card with this message: “No matter how old you get, I’ll always be younger.” Of course I feel young, but I have to remind myself that I’m no longer a young career person but a mature, experienced one dealing with younger people all around me.

Bob Greene, author of “The Fifty Year Dash,” says, “One of the absolute truths about being 50 at work is that never again can you be thought of as an up-and-comer. Not in any way. Not in any profession or field of endeavor. … You can be good at what you do; you can be successful. But a door has closed. You can’t be a hotshot.” Regardless of how close or far you are from 50, you can’t turn back the clock. This instant is the right time to become more successful, regardless of your age. Anyone at any stage of life can do that. Older people have the same options as younger people. It’s just that the time is compressed for them.

What holds you back?

First is fear. You know fear, that stuff that makes your stomach turn upside down, gives you butterflies, makes your palms sweat and underarms drip, causes your knees to knock and then buckle, and shoots beads of sweat that run down your back. Whoa! Calm down. Be cool. The greatest self-defeating behavior out there is consternation about everything, in other words, fear. You know fear: False Evidence that Appears Real.

Fears gets transferred into concerns about:

” Looking foolish.

” Making mistakes.

” Seeking approval.

” _________ (Add your personal favorite to the list.)

You probably feel you never have enough time. Well, one of the biggest time wasters in life is fear, because it causes hesitancy and procrastination. (Another time waster is being a follower.) Save time. Be fearless. It gives you such flourish and panache! Get comfortable being a little on the edge every day. Get some moxie. Put yourself into a vulnerable position. Remember the pageants? Fear is walking across a fully lit stage, wearing high heels and a swimsuit, and pirouetting in front of thousands of people while trying to look comfortable and confident. My company wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have the ability to look comfortable, cool, and collected when I’m actually not!

The only trepidation you should have is the fear of:

” Not being the best version of yourself.

” Being left behind.

” Being left without.

Acting just a little less timid and a little more courageous than the other person makes you more memorable, impressive, credible, genuine, trusted and liked. There is an old Chinese saying: Better to live one day as a lion than a dozen years as a sheep. It’s one thing to have fear; it’s another to have fear but not act. For the most part, you’ll never get hurt as badly as you fear you’ll get hurt. This life of yours is the only opportunity you’ll ever get to show what you can do. Let’s go for it!

Debra A. Benton is president of Benton Management Resources Inc. “Secrets of a CEO Coach” is available for $21.95 from McGraw-Hill.

Editor’s note: For the next several months, this column will feature excerpts from Debra Benton’s latest book, “Secrets of a CEO Coach,” a guide for developing the skills, knowledge and style of a true leader.

It’s never too late.

Many of you don’t have to worry about this right now, but most people find themselves middle-aged sooner than they’d care to have it happen. When it does happen, remember to take advantage of all the good things that come with age: varied experience, maturity and wisdom, perspective, confidence, relaxed attitudes, accumulated knowledge, decision-making ability, struggles that have been overcome, understanding people, past…

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