Observation first alerted me to the critical age of 47. Of course, every age and no age are critical in the sense that you have free will and can choose what to do at any time. But in today’s world, 47 is pretty much halfway. Look at it like this. You effectively start work at 25 if you are going through a modern degree-based education-qualification system. You will probably work until you are 69 though there is nothing to stop you working later than that. 22 years after starting at 25 and 22 years before finishing at 69 is 47.
It’s not just a simple calculation that suggests the critical age. 50 is today’s ‘watershed’ in life. It’s not a real watershed, of course, but one you, like others, may imagine. As a halfway marker it embodies the reality of distance run and some realistic optimism of the distance still to go. We see this marker increasingly clearly all through our 40s. It comes fully into focus at 47. But there is a more compelling observation even than that.
Over 20,000 clients in 30 years have shown us a remarkable consistency of two behavioural patterns that relate to 47. Executives who have been reasonably educated and who have aspired to top management usually make a decision at 47 EITHER to stay roughly where they are on the management ladder OR to go for gold and make a concerted effort to get to the top. There is nothing right or wrong with either attitude.
Good, balanced life at a senior level, with no aspirations to progress further – and therefore presenting no threatening competition to your peers and superiors – is a highly desirable state. It requires you to do some sums. Your estimate of aging costs will be too low unless you are exceptionally lucky and prudent. But if you can trim your lifestyle to a reasonable comfort level, you will have a steady, reliable existence from now on.
On the other hand, if you have done well, are ambitious to achieve material success and are prepared to pay the price of focus and some work-life imbalance, 47 is the age at which you should find your next ‘Tree’. It may be the last work ‘Tree’ you will have. If you apply yourself with intelligent effort you will succeed. Because you will be willing to take the risks associated with climbing the last rungs of the ladder.
Can you do a sort of half-way, work hard, be ambitious but not bring the whole balanced lifestyle to an end for the sake of personal ambition? Many successful people will tell you ‘yes’. I have no reason to doubt their sincerity, only their definition. In my experience, both commercial and personal, the determination required to climb the North Face at 47 is extremely demanding and often leaves in its wake regrets for things not done, people not cared for.
Sometimes the financial position at 47 is demonstrably inadequate, forcing ‘go-for-gold’ behaviour. I don’t think it removes choice altogether but each case is different. We all have our own concerns, requirements and hopes. One of the nicest, most decent people I knew worked for Shell in the UK many years ago. He decided to take the ‘level’ route at 47. His wife had a little private money and they were neither greedy nor particularly ambitious. He lived a thoroughly happy, adjusted life. A role model in many ways.
Not everyone can do that, nor should they. Talents are given or acquired for a purpose that involves others, not just ourselves. The responsibility for using your talents wisely and well, in the interests of those around you in family, and others who are in need of help, is considerable. The social and commercial worlds also need good guidance and there are precious few people equipped or willing to do that. This will be increasingly true as morality and ethics struggle to develop to cope with the opportunities and threats posed by AI and its development.
We should review our lives more often than we do, not hysterically but calmly and realistically. We should make up our minds about the Post-47 Route. It is a critical decision. We do have options but we may need skilling or reskilling to take advantage of them.
Above all we should recognise the marker posts in life and acknowledge them with deference. They are what determine who we are as much as anything else over which we have control. And our control is only as good as the clarity of our destination.
There’s still a way to go at 47.
Let’s use it to its full.