on 21 March 2012
Never Too Late To Be Great by Tom Butler-Bowdon
***** (5 stars) by Scott Hammaker
These days more people are changing careers or going out on their own in their
late 30s or 40s. Many are faced with the results of a bad economy or shifting
business trends. And now is a time to take a new approach.
If you are in this position or if you just decide that it is time to follow your
passion then this book is for you.
It does not promise pie in the sky - it offers meat and potatoes for the table.
(rice and beans if you wish) It is practical and inspiring. It does not contain
"secrets" that may not work - it contains real life stories and honest inspiration.
It takes the "long view" on greatness. It is not a quick fix and does not
suggest any worn out techniques. It is filled with stories and encouragement.
It is practical and powerful without being mystic and metaphysical.
I found it refreshing and inspiring. It offers a wonderful new slant. I would
call it "self-encouragement" rather than self help. (no walking on hot coals
or magical mantras) This is the real thing. It is "a history of greatness."
So if you are over 30 and you feel a need or have a reason to follow your
passion and go for your dreams this book may just be just what you need to
get you going and put you on the right track.
It is easy to read and offers many fascinating stories that will inspire you.
This book inspired me and I and sure it will inspire you.
on 20 April 2012
"If the road I have shown to lead to this is very difficult, it can yet be discovered.
And clearly it must be hard when it is so seldom found.
For if freedom were close at hand and could be found without difficulty how could it be that it is neglected by almost all?
But all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare."
- Benedictus de Spinoza, Ethica, §5, Prop 42 n.
In reading Tom's new book I was reminded of the famous quotation above from Spinoza, one of the philosophers I most admire. All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare - Rome wasn't built in a day! If personal success, in the form of freedom and happiness, was quick and easy, then more or less everyone would already have it. When in fact, as a psychotherapist I'm acutely aware that most people's lives are more unhappy than they tend to let on to others. In the USA, the home of "positive thinking", the prevalence of mental health problems is so high that almost 50% of the current population will have met criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point so far in their lives. There's actually a lot more misery in the world than people realise. I think the teachings of Buddhism are based on a similar observation: life is suffering. Much self-help literature seems to gloss over the difficulty of life. A notable exception is M. Scott Peck's self-help classic The Road Less Travelled, which notoriously opens with the sentence: "Life is difficult." We have to recognise that a great many people in the world either live in great poverty and hardship or live lives of angst and quiet despair in the middle of apparent first-world abundance. Personal success and happiness can take time and effort and sometimes only come later in life. It's easy to forget that in the legend of Buddha and many other great men, their journeys begin with a period of dissatisfaction. Buddhist tradition claims that even Gautama Buddha only attained enlightenment around age 35; he spent years prior that searching and struggling.
Tom gives many examples of great men and women who only flourished later in life, sometimes after many years of wandering, effort, or even personal suffering. Spinoza's philosophical masterpiece, the Ethica, was only completed a few years before his untimely death, aged 44 from lung disease. Prior to that he had been expelled from the Jewish community as a heretic, having the most shocking curses placed upon his head. His writings suggest great emotional turmoil and misery in his life before he finally achieved a kind of enlightenment, and "emotional remedy", in the form of the imposing metaphysical system he developed.
"I thus perceived that I was in a state of great peril, and I compelled myself to seek with all my strength for a remedy, however uncertain it might be; as a sick man struggling with a deadly disease, when he sees that death will surely be upon him [...] is compelled to seek such a remedy with all his strength, inasmuch as his whole hope lies therein." (De Intellectus Emendatione, 4-5)
All excellent things are as difficult as they are rare, and sometimes take many years to achieve. One more example... Socrates, the pre-eminent philosopher-sage of antiquity, by some accounts, worked as a stonemason, following his father's profession, until around middle age when he began to dedicate himself fully to the pursuit of wisdom. He did not spring from the womb fully-armed with his philosophy but, rather, it appears it may have taken him half his life or more to begin developing into a philosopher, and his views were still a work-in-progress when he died. Now at this point, it becomes apparent to me that I could probably go on offering up similar examples. In fact, if I draw up a mental list of the people I most admire, it strikes me that virtually all of them took a long time to achieve things in life and often went through a period of initial hardship, setbacks, or emotional turmoil along the way. I said that Socrates was my last example but I can't hold back from mentioning another philosopher, discussed by Tom: Immanuel Kant. Any first-year philosophy student will tell you that Kant was an intellectual titan, a giant of the European enlightenment. I recall being acutely aware, when I was a young philosophy student, that Kant's great work The Critique of Pure Reason was published when he was in his late fifties. Somehow that knowledge comforted me. It made me feel there was plenty of time to write a book or come up with a big idea myself. As Tom points out, of course, we're all living much longer nowadays so there's that much more time to "succeed", either personally or professionally, later in life. We now live more than twice as long, on average, as people once did.
Tom is someone I respect as a bona fideexpert on self-help. He has spent years immersing himself in the literature of personal development, studying the works of others in great depth, before developing his own contribution. I think he's right to believe that he spotted a gap, a problem that begged for an answer. In writing this book, he did what seemed obvious to him but it only became so clear and obvious, as I understand it, after a long and patient journey. In that respect, he is, of course, a living example of his own observations in this book. We hear about people when they become successful. For that reason, unless we take the time to delve a bit further into the lives of the people we admire, we're prone to be duped by the illusion that success comes in an instant rather than slowly maturing over time as the result of a slow-burning process, often involving hard work and dedication for many years. That illusion of instantaneous success can make people feel despondent. Tom describes many strategies to help us take the long view. Some of the exercises suggested in this book resemble techniques employed in cognitive-behavioural therapy, such as the method of "time projection" introduced by Arnold Lazarus, in which an individual is asked to jump ahead in time to a point in the distant future and look back on their life retrospectively.
Our relationship with time is one of the great neglected areas in psychotherapy, and personal development psychology. It's no secret that anxious individuals often seem to "run a fast clock", time goes quickly for them. In many of the clients I see in my therapy clinic, particularly those with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the chronic worriers, there's an overwhelming sense of urgency that goes hand-in-hand with fear of failure - a toxic recipe that creates intense anxiety, ruins sleep, escalates frustration, and leads to a permanent state of worry and apprehension. Something is obviously wrong with this mind-set. Indeed, recent research in cognitive therapy has found the sense of urgency in anxiety to be linked to what's known as the "looming cognitive style" (LCS), a tendency to perceive risks as escalating more rapidly than they do in reality. I think some of these anxious individuals would also benefit from reading Tom's book because it would help them to question the type of time-pressure that they place themselves under: "to be a success by thirty", etc. As the calculations in the book show, by age 30 the average person still has 83% of their productive life remaining. I'll probably suggest reading it to some of my clients. However, I think Tom's book would be good for almost anyone else, young or old. It's a remedy perhaps to a defect in the existing literature. I wish I'd been able to read it when I was young student, I'm sure it would have helped me ease the pressure off and relax into a more flexible long-term sense of direction, but my little anecdote about Kant served me well enough I suppose.
For those interested in purchasing the book, the chapter headings are as follows:
1.Warming Up: Why what you've done so far may just have set the scene
2.Life isn't Short: How increasing longevity is giving us multiple chances to succeed
3.The Long View: A simple way to join the elite
4.Lead Time: It's the `time in between' that matters
5.The 40 Factor: Why many people never do anything remarkable until their fifth decade
6.Mid-Century Magic: `Now for my next half-century'
7.The 30-Year Goldmine: How many, usually without intention, save their best for last
8.The Beauty of People: How background shapes us, but only to a certain point
9.Everything Big Begins Small: And often starts slowly
Tom's a good writer and his style is very easy to follow and engaging. "Once you start reading this book you won't want to put it down" is a cliché but in this case it's true. You could probably read this book in a day or two because it flows so nicely, a bit like reading a novel. Tom's a trustworthy and knowledgeable guide in the self-help field and his distilled wisdom will potentially save you the job of reading hundreds of other books - thereby liberating another decade of your time to achieve personal goals in life!
on 27 February 2013
I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you are a bit jaded, have a vague disappointment with where you are up to in life and are approaching middle life then do read this. It's inspiring - I'm a cynic and hater of woozy self-help manuals, but this is just lots of inspiring tales of people who have made it in the second half of their lives and how their success was nice and slow-cooked, and not the frantic scrabblings we all tend to because we think time may be running out. It's certainly given me a new perspective on life, so much so that I'm signing up to a 5 year psychotherapy course and will be qualified when I'm 55! I'd had 5 years of illness and operations, my son left for university, my work dried up and I have clinical depression - I felt on the scrapheap of life and on my way down without really having achieved much of what I wanted. This has made a big difference to my motivation. A powerful book that seems to help you by osmosis!!
on 20 March 2012
The good news is that it's never too late. This is a wonderful, beautifully written, thought provoking book. It brings something new to personal development; a new way to look at and understand the effect of time on our lives and plans. The book unveils some of life's secrets that otherwise only time and experience would teach us, as Tom explains principles like - slow cooked and lead time. It is cram packed with examples to reinforce the many valid points that the book is making and with plenty of excellent recommended reading too. I am certain this book will become an enduring classic itself as it serves each new successive generation well, when they come to realise that -`It's never too late to be great'. Tony Brassington. Mind and Achievement Ltd.
I received Never Too Late To Be Great back in 2012 as part of the Goodreads First Reads programme but I've been putting it off because I was the greatest fan of non-fiction back then and I thought this book looked dull and uninteresting. How wrong was I! Never Too Late To Be Great has actually proved to be pretty inspirational so it's true - never judge a book by its cover.
Never Too Late To Be Great is, as you can imagine, a non-fiction book about how it's never too late to achieve your dreams and that despite what popular opinion is about numerous billionaires who were 'overnight successes', it takes years and years of work and effort, even if it's subconscious, to achieve one's goals. This book is made up of nine chapters, each one discussing either how important a certain decade in one's life or how one's potential in life progresses, through the use of numerous examples of celebrities and million, even billionaires. Each chapter begins with the thoughts of the author, followed by examples of others who exemplify what he has said, ending with a brief summary of many other achievers.
Never Too Late To Be Great gets off to a great start. I was completely sucked in by the opening pages as it seemed to be a really good, but most importantly, different, look at success. I've never read anything of the sort before but I am aware that there are hundreds and thousands of books out there targeted at people trying to 'get rich quick' or find easy routes to success. Butler-Bowdon's book does the complete opposite. The saying "slow and steady wins the race" couldn't be more appropriate for this title. The author dismisses the myths that people like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were overnight successes and explains that every single successful person has dedicated years and years to their craft, whether they're aware of it or not. The beginning chapters are the best in my opinion because all the advice given is directly from the author, who writes in a very persuasive and understanding manner.
Whilst the book got off to a flying start, I was slightly disappointed by the rest of the book as it became more and more about listing examples of people to back up the author's point. At first this was inspiring, but as the book progressed this became repetitive and I have to admit that I skim read through several passages, especially if they were referring to successful people that I had never heard of. The majority of the chapters followed the format I stated above: a short introduction by the author, followed by a detailed look into the lives of several successful people and ending with pages and pages of short summaries of other successful 'celebrities'. I actually quite liked this general format, it was just that it was repeated again and again with each chapter and it started to feel like I was reading a condensed biography of every successful person of the last century.
That said, the examples provided were (mostly) of people that are still relevant in today's society or are people that are very well known for what they created, though perhaps not known at all for how they got there. Butler-Bowdon stresses time and time again that one should look at how successful people got to where they are and not what they did after their initial success. All these stories were fascinating, but as I said, there were just a few too many of them which meant that reading about that became a little tedious after a while.
Despite the negatives, overall my impression of this book is very positive. It achieved it's goal of inspiring me and giving me fresh hope that success may still come in the future. At only 18 years old, this book is definitely not aimed my age group as the author's measure for potential only begins at 20 years old though I still found it to be a thoroughly encouraging read. I would say that this book would suit those in their 40s the best or anyone else who's going through a bit of a slump and ready to give up on their dreams. Don't give up! This book will show you that you've still got years of potential left in you, even if you and those around you feel 'old'. A lot of successful people actually didn't find their true success until they were well into the second half of their life and there really is no such thing as 'too old'. Reading these stories should help anyone kick start their ambitions and get themselves back on track.
All in all, Never Too Late To Be Great is a refreshing read that is suitable for those of all ages, though clearly targeted at those who have already lived a great portion of their lives. I found this book to be really uplifting so if you or somebody that you know are in need of a life then this is what you should be reading! As I said, I haven't read any other non-fiction books about how to be successful, though I'd say that this is a pretty good guide and is probably one of the forerunners in this genre. So, if you're in need of inspiration, pick up a copy of Never Too Late To Be Great and change your attitude today!
on 16 April 2012
After summarizing hundreds of books through his '50 classics' series, Tom Butler-Bowdon has come through with a book with his own ideas. I personally pinged the author on many occasions of what his ideas and thoughts were after almost a decade in the self-help industry. I was happy to find out Tom set forth on a book to lay out what was missing from the plethora of books he dissected.
Tom mentions the Italian proverb: 'who goes slowly. goes long and far.' If you haven't made it in life yet, don't worry; most successful people didn't make it until their 40s, and sometimes even later. In our instant gratification culture where everyone wants a magic pill, 'Never to late' is a good reminder that good things take time, and nature is never in a rush.
Dozens of short biographies are given on business executives and successful people of the 20th century. The stories are uplifting and good examples of Tom's central principles in the book. I noticed 2 other factors other than thinking long among people mentioned in the book.
First, whether someone became successful at 40 or 60, their ascent usually started when they became crystal clear about what they wanted. Once our goals are set, we unconsciously reach them, no matter how high they are. I also noticed many men sprung into action when a supportive spouse was behind them, or nudged them to do something better with their life. I think a great follow up to this book could be more of the nuts and bolts of creating a ten-year plan, and how to attract grand things into your life.
If you feel your efforts up until now have been blunted, you may want to pick up this book for stories to uplift you.
on 24 March 2012
In the interest of disclosure, the author, Tom Butler-Bowdon, is a friend of mine. That means that I would only write this review if I could honestly praise the book, and fortunately this is a great book!
His previous books make it evident that Tom has spent many years extensively studying human achievement, covering both popular 'self-help' literature as well as more academic/intellectual literature. This background, both broad and deep, makes him as much a scholar of this topic as anyone out there.
And that background leads to this book, in which Tom's central conclusion is that most of the literature underestimates or altogether ignores the empirical fact that, at the level of the individual, major achievement nearly always takes many years, typically a decade or more of serious foundation-building work to 'pay our dues'. This finding could be viewed as discouraging for people who are already middle-aged or beyond, but Tom reminds us of three key points that lead to the opposite conclusion, and hence the title of the book: (a) our past life experiences, however progressively linear or eclectically diverse, may have already prepared us better than we realize for major achievement in the future, possibly sooner than we anticipate, (b) beyond age 40 is when many people finally develop a mature and authentic sense of themselves and are able to intensively focus, and (c) most people in developed countries can expect to live to age 75 or older in decent health, so most of us have plenty of time still remaining - productive life need not necessarily end at age 65.
It follows that we need to be patient, focusing on quality rather than speed, and accepting periods during which little or no progress is seeming to be made ... all while hanging in there and being persistent, taking setbacks and obstacles in stride, and maintaining our passion and our conviction that major achievement can be attained in the longer term if we've found a small-but-expandable niche which offers unique social value (thus endowing our work with meaning). And when significant results do finally start to materialize, be ready, because growth can be exponential. As the saying goes, 'most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year, but underestimate what they can achieve in a decade'.
Tom also offers a fairly extensive discussion on the role of luck. It seems that his view is fairly close to my own, which is that our achievement depends on our cumulative life trajectory, which in turn depends on the continuous interaction of ability, effort, and luck over time, which themselves each change over time as a result of this interaction. Thus it's an oversimplification to focus on just one of these factors as 'the key' to high achievement, and luck only partly explains differences in outcomes. Indeed, some people react to 'bad' luck by working extra hard and thereby becoming successful, while others become complacent due to 'good' luck and wind up squandering it, so the concept of luck is somewhat nebulous. Moreover, even if exceptionally good luck explains much of the success of 'outliers' (per Malcom Gladwell), by definition, we don't control our luck, so passively hoping for good luck certainly isn't a good strategy for achieving success. Instead, we need to focus on sustained effort, which leads to growth in our ability, resilience in the face of bad luck, and getting the most out of good luck when it comes our way.
I could go on trying to summarize the many additional related insights in the book, but there's no substitute for reading the book itself, since Tom provides a vast array of examples which vividly bring everything to life and thus help the ideas sink in. And he does it with his characteristically energetic and engaging writing style.
Needless to say, I highly recommend this book, and I thank Tom for writing it. I've personally benefitted from reading it, and I'm sure that countless other readers will as well. Remember, 'the key to happiness is doing what you want to do every day'!
on 4 May 2012
I really enjoyed this book - Never too Late to be Great.
At its heart it provides a fresh perspective by combining the "10,000 hours" theory of achieving mastery with a better appreciation for human longevity (i.e. we have more time than we think). This combines to inject realism but also optimism into our ability to achieve great things.
In the commencement speech that Steve Jobs gave that went viral after he passed away, he spoke about taking calligraphy classes just because he was interested in it. He didn't know where it would take him but ultimately fed into the stylised take he brought to personal computing. In other words follow what interests you and try different things. I mention this because in Never too Late to be Great, the author focuses on this very point - 'persistence and experimentation'. I think this is too often overlooked. Without hope (from knowing we have enough time) we won't persevere and without trial and error we won't stumble upon great opportunities.
This is a fine addition to self help literature. Good work Tom!
on 17 April 2012
"The older you get the less you become a product of your upbringing and conditiong, rather you become the result of your own decisions."
I just finished Never Too Late to be Great and it is truly one of the best books I've read all year. Tom Butler-Bowdon is a prolific writer. Bowdon has captured so many true examples of people finding their purpose at a later age. I was shocked to read that so many of my heroes and mentors started on their path at a later time.
I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the book. Tom has put in a lot of work to really research and find evidence that each person of value struggled for many years before they became a major success. I was really inspired by this book and will read it again and go over my highlights.
I have read Tom's other books and they have really changed my life. This book will hold a very special place in my library. It's packed with so much content and specific examples of people "ripening". One amazing facet of this book is the power of "thinking long". Tom draws on a wide research into the time it takes for a person to become an expert in their field. People seem to think that success is an overnight thing; however, it takes a long time to realize a person's potential. When we give ourselves slightly longer time frames, anything is possible. People far exaggerate what can be accomplished in a year, but they undermine what can be accomplished in 10 years.
When most people plan their retirement, numerous remarkable people are just at the beginning of gaining their stride. With a longer lifespans nowadays, it's likely that you have more time than you think to achieve your goals. This book will show you why. In all probability, your best is yet to come. Get this book now; It's never too late...
on 10 March 2013
'What if, I wondered, slow cooked success was not only the norm, but the only path to genuine achievement?'
The author has delivered one hell of a book on a subject that has been chewed over by politicians, employers & the common person the world over namely ageing & achievement. This book made me feel the same way I did when I saw the 45-year old Foreman fight the Champion of the world Michael Moorer age 26 and regain a title he held 2 decades before: namely, what is my excuse. (Example NOT in the book)
The author explains that if your productive life is from age 20-80 & your 35 you have ¾ or 75% of your productive life ahead of you & you don't have to do what you have always done; if you don't believe this he goes on to prove it. Example after example is given of late bloomers from Ray Kroc(McDonalds), to Estee Lauder & Claude Monet.
Butler-Bowdon's book is offensive and insulting because it takes away the excuses I wasn't born with this advantage or that advantage & I'm just too old now to achieve anything. This book should be put on a free prescription by the National Health Service to treat those with depression but instead of
waiting for that day I'm glad, I brought it.