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Dealing with Decline

September 26, 2023

One part of my job is speaking, and lately, I’ve had the privilege to speak more often and on bigger stages.

I’m speaking to a group of 3,000 people next week, and I’m so excited. I’ve been asked multiple times if this will be the biggest group I have ever spoken to—and my response is that it’s not.

The biggest live audience I have ever spoken to was at my own college graduation . . . and all 12,000 people in attendance gave me a standing ovation. 

OK, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. But I’m actually not sharing this to brag. I’m giving you this context because I want to confess something to you: Since my college commencement ceremony, I haven’t spoken to a group that big. I don’t know if and when I will ever speak to a group that large again. 

This might sound ridiculous, but I haven’t even hit 40, and I sometimes wonder if my biggest speech is behind me. And not only speeches, but what if the most fun projects and the biggest ideas are in the rearview mirror? If it’s true for me at my age, how much more prevalent might this feeling be for my friends in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

I believe this feeling of decline isn’t something we should ignore or give in to. The feeling is rooted in something much deeper, and it’s where we find our worth.

Let me provide some context:

Arthur C. Brooks wrote an article about this phenomenon in The Atlantic. He calls it the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation. He explains that when people reach their professional peak, they often suffer greatly when they begin to decline (whether real decline or perceived decline.) One of the best examples he uses to explain this principle is Olympic athletes. They dedicate their whole lives to train for a chance to compete to win the gold medal. They may even win many medals, but eventually, they age. Their bodies wear down, and they can’t compete at the same level they did when they were at their peak performance.

It’s likely our professional success is not based on our physical fitness. But the reality for all of us is that we will eventually decline. That decline isn’t devastating unless our identity is completely wrapped up in our professional performance. Regardless of industry, we won’t be at our peak performance forever. So what do we do?

Here’s the short answer: Don’t base your self worth on your job.

It doesn’t matter who you are or how important your work is; you can’t let it define you. Because when it’s gone, you will be aimless.

If you’re ambitious, it’s likely you’ll need this reminder.

Who you are and why you exist is much bigger than your job.


When your professional life shifts, changes, slows, or even halts, you still have a purpose.

Here’s my encouragement to you today: Know who you are outside of your work. Define your purpose and make sure it is anchored in something deeper than yourself or your present circumstances.


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