Mapping a Fulfilled, Successful Life
The best-selling author of books such as The Gods of Management and The Age of Unreason as well as an influential management thinker, Charles Handy has been many things; among them a classics scholar at Oxford, an up-and-coming executive for Shell Oil, a business school professor, a property renovator, the voice of “Thought for the Day” on BBC Radio’s Today program and a reluctant management guru. At the age of 73, he has come to recognize these varied stages of his life as the different incarnations of himself as a person, and as markers in his growth as a well-developed individual.
In his new book, Myself and Other More Important Matters, Handy explores his own personal journey as a model for his readers to examine where work fits into our lives and how to move toward lives we find truly fulfilling. “Life, I now think, is really a search for our own identity,” writes Handy.“Sad is he or she who dies without knowing who they really are, or of what they are really capable.”
Handy organizes each chapter of Myself and Other More Important Matters around a particular lesson or concept he has learned, concentrating on the period in his life that helped cement this learning for him. For example, he examines his experience as one of the founders of the Sloane program at the London Business School and concludes that “while the skills of business analysis can be taught in class or learnt from books, the art and practice of management cannot.”
This realization came as the result of Handy’s initial attempt to include a philosophical and ethical component in the Sloane program’s curriculum, only to discover that “the students and their companies wanted something with a more immediate payback.” While many in the program recognized the importance of ethics in the business world, few had the time to devote to its study when faced with pressure from employers to acquire skills such as finance, marketing and accounting procedures. Through this experience, Handy soon came to realize that the finer points of management –– the philosophical concepts of the art –– were not best learned in the classroom, but rather through trial and error and mentoring, with ample opportunity for reflection. Much the same way he himself learned about management as a young executive for Shell Oil, thrown off the deep end as the marketing representative for Shell’s Singapore company.
An Autobiography That Teaches Rather Than Boasts
Myself and Other More Important Matters is, at its heart, an autobiography. It is Handy’s reflection on his life’s journey so far and what he has learned while traveling it. However, unlike many autobiographical accounts, Handy’s does not stray into the self-congratulatory or the boastful. Rather, he aims to provide his readers with not only the benefit of his accumulated knowledge but also inspiration for their own journeys of self-discovery. Handy’s valuation of self-analysis is apparent in his structuring of the book around concepts gleaned from each of his experiences rather than the experiences themselves.
However, while this structure enables Handy to utilize his life experiences to comment upon larger, more relevant concepts, this nonchronological organization at times leads to confusion. Often, several of Handy’s life experiences serve to underscore a particular lesson, and the effect of linking these experiences is a jumping around in time that makes it hard for the reader to get a clear picture of his overall life path and how the steps in his career built upon one another.
Still, this slight lapse in clarity is more than made up by Handy’s entertaining, inspiring prose and astute observations on what it means to lead a truly fulfilled life. Handy certainly deserves to proclaim, “I am a wordsmith. That’s what I do. Looking back, I reinvented my life as I approached 50 and I don’t yet feel the need to do it again so radically.”