Make Listening to Others a Priority


Listening to others can give you unexpected insight into your behavior – past and present.

Your reinvention requires more than just your desire to change your career around. Dreams are great, but unless you have a well-conceived plan to turn them into reality, they will remain just dreams. Listening is the step in the Boomer Reinvention methodology where you compile a good chunk of the information necessary to formulate that plan.

Gathering information about ourselves and our life plans isn’t as simple a matter as you might think. We humans are great at playing tricks on ourselves. The result is that in most of our conversations, we are half listening and half defending ourselves.

Leadership scholar John Gardner once said, “Pity the leader caught between unloving critics and uncritical lovers.” It’s painful when your critics are beating you up unfairly. But it’s just as serious a problem when your friends aren’t being honest with you about what you could be doing to change or improve.

The Listening step is about finding the middle ground between those two extremes.

Receiving input from people you know and who know you well is going to be extremely valuable to you as you formulate your reinvention plan. And rather than going for cheerleading sessions (the “uncritical lovers” again), the deeper cut in listening to others is to solicit constructive feedback that is challenging and eye-opening. In this strategy, you will be setting up a series of one-hour conversations (or longer if needed) to receive this valuable feedback.

Strategy #7. Solicit Feedback

Listening to others deliver honest and constructive feedback can be hard to do. It may reveal things that you are not aware of; it may force you to reexamine cues and clues you have been misinterpreting. This can rock your world. It may expose the stuff you may not want to hear about yourself: the weaknesses you’re ashamed of and try to gloss over, the mistakes you’ve made, the times you’ve let other people down. But all of these things are part of who you are —or, more accurately, of who you have been—and listening to accurate constructive feedback (more “tough love”) can help you clear the past, take responsibility for your actions, and move forward.

You have spent decades in making a living and learning about business and about life and about people. You have left a trail of breadcrumbs behind you that extends back through some very significant, career-shaping, and life-shaping incidents and milestones. Soliciting feedback lets you tap into your journey from the past to the present and bring those significant turning points to light.

When you reengage with these memories through conversations with people you value, respect, and trust, significant issues are bound to come up, both good and bad. Reexamining these issues will give you some perspective on who you are, what you have accomplished, and where you may have been most effective as well as when you have gone off-track. It will give you a deeper sense of your strengths and weaknesses and reveal perhaps surprising details about how you work most (or least) effectively, what you like working on, and how you have dealt with people.

Finally, and most significantly, it will give you clues about what you can do to shape and focus your reinvention, including the right kinds of business ideas, the kinds of businesses you could start, and the kinds of business environments where you would flourish—among other ideas. Being ready and willing to hear this kind of feedback could trigger a real epiphany for you.

Soliciting feedback entails some important procedural and logistical steps, which are outlined in detail in the book:

  • Make a list of the people whose feedback you’re seeking
  • Draft agendas for your conversations
  • Choose the right venues to hold your conversations
  • Focus the conversations (i.e. don’t go off track)
  • Evaluate what you’ve learned

Don’t shortcut the process.  You will find it an unusually informative and productive experience!


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John Tarnoff is a career transition coach, speaker and best-selling author who helps late-career professionals transition to meaningful second-act careers beyond traditional retirement.

Following a successful career as a Hollywood film executive and tech entrepreneur, he reinvented his own career at 50, earning a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology to focus on professional development and training.

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