Leadership Library Review: Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose

September 2018

Claiming Your Place at the Fire: Living the Second Half of Your Life on Purpose

by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro (Berrett- Koehler, 2004)

What are the big take-aways?

In many ways a leadership book for readers of all ages, Claiming Your Place at the Fireprovides structured inquiries for exploring, (re-)identifying and owning what I sometimes refer to as your “Big-O Offer” to the world: your life purpose.

Why do I like it?

I like the book’s open-hearted and down-to-earth manner of encouraging the reader to take a fear-free approach to the powerful types of growth that can only occur around “mid-life.” My sense is that the authors loosely define mid-life as the age when a person becomes self-authoring, which is often in the late thirties and beyond, but they also cite some very young exceptions. Leider and Shapiro’s basic philosophy is this:

In the second half of life, the same questions that drive our conception of the good life during the first half inevitably return.  Who am I?  Where do I belong? What do I care about? What is my life’s purpose?  [Authors’ emphases.]  Only now, in the second half, we have a unique opportunity to be the author of our own story.  We have a chance to rewrite it, rather than simply replicate the first half.

Through relatable profiles featuring (younger and older) “elders,” coaching questions, and thoughtful discussion of “four flames of vital aging” (i.e. the flames of identity, community, passion and meaning), Claiming Your Place at the Fireprovides a roadmap for holding healthy conversations about how to become a more sage human being on this planet.

I like that the book is designed to be utilized in a circle of conversation with your tribe of friends, family or colleagues.  I’m using it as the primary resource for a Leadership Book Group this fall on “The Power of Leading at Midlife.”  Eight of us – who happen to be mostly in our fifties – will soon be gathering in person and over the phone for three monthly meetings to play with questions such as: What distinguishes leaders at “midlife” from younger counterparts?  How does leadership purpose evolve with life purpose?  What are some racial, gender and cultural implications of this co-evolution?

In what situations would this be useful?

Claiming Your Place at the Fireis useful for supporting productive soul-searching around work, vocation, meaning-making and being the leader of your own life during the midlife transition and beyond.  I highly recommend it if you’re a midlifer feeling stuck, and even if you’re not feeling stuck.  It’s a book about acknowledging and honoring your unique value to society in general, and to younger generations in particular.  Elevation of the wisest among us, as the authors point out, is an ancient tradition; they argue persuasively that it’s time to revive it in youth-obsessed contemporary Western culture.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

A couple of my leadership-oriented favorites that would pair particularly well with this book are Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Becoming an Authentic Leader by Bill George, et al. (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library), and Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-lived, Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (previously reviewed here in the Leadership Library).  For an inclusive and thought-provoking exploration of midlife and self-authorship that draws on multiple spiritual traditions, I highly recommend Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

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