Develop or Die-Middle Age Career Advice

Angelo Lombardo

How Did I Get Here?

So you’re middle age (Or Close To It), and haven’t achieved all of your career goals.  What do you do,  convince yourself that things are “good enough” and wait until retirement?  My career advice to you: Develop or Die.

Please understand, I’m not talking about your mortal existence, but rather your career existence.

Let me illustrate using my own experience:

One day I woke up and found that I was in my mid 40s.  I wasn’t sure how this happened.  For most of my life I was sure I would be young forever.  Nevertheless there I was.

Once I realized there was no cure for my “progressive aging” situation, I got my friends together and formed a “support group”.  We would get together, drink wine, laugh and talk about things like “careers” and “life”.

Hunker Down and Die

One evening during a “support session”, one of my friends commented that despite not reaching all of her career goals, things were “fine”.  She went to say that her career plan going forward would be to “hunker down” and wait for retirement. 

The minute I heard this, all of the fun came to end.  I looked her straight in the eyes and said “Hunker Down and You’ll Die”. 

Playing Defense, The Deadly Decision

Far too often I have seen people approaching middle age abandon their career dreams, “settle” for “good enough” and “wait” for retirement.  Put another way, they decide to spend the rest of their professional lives “Playing Defense”.

Experience has shown me that people who adopt this strategy usually end up as part of the mass layoffs common in today’s corporate world.  The reason is simple – They stop achieving.    Rather than trying to be in the top 5% of their peer group, they attempt to “fly under the radar”.  As a result, they stop developing themselves, deliver so-so results, and allow their passion to “flame out”.

Never Stop Playing Offense

Never settle.  No matter where you are in your career, Always Play Offense, by developing yourself and accelerating your efforts to attain your career objectives and be in the top 5% of your organization. 

Think this is impossible?  Over my career I’ve been blessed to meet everyone from U.S. Presidents to professional athletes to Special Forces.  These are people that never “settle”, rather they are intensely focused on achievement regardless of their age or where they are in their career.

Not surprisingly, they all share similar qualities which propel them forward.  Specifically….. 

They’re Future Focused

Top performers don’t talk about “their retirement plan”.  For them there is no retirement.  They see their best years as ahead of them, filled with goals to accomplish. 

When I met President Bush (W), he didn’t tell me his goal was to get through his second term and retire.  He committed to doing everything he could to accomplish his vision-during and after his presidency.

They Constantly Develop New Skills

Every successful CEO or senior executive I’ve met is a voracious reader.  You can never be “obsolete” if your skill base is constantly improving.  Take classes, read books, listen to audio programs, read blogs (especially mine….) as long as it’s helping you develop skills you don’t currently have.

Most important, embrace technology.  It’s not impossible to master, it just takes a commitment of time.  Last year while speaking at a conference, I met a 90 year old WWII veteran who in the previous 12 months started an online business and had put over $100K in the bank.  If he can do it, anyone can.

They Develop Networks

No one does it alone.  The most successful people I know build networks of people they can tap into for knowledge or help. 

As you build your network remember one key element: fill it with people who are more successful or, have skills you don’t.  Being around them will “pull” you to a higher level.

They Take Massive Action

As Grand Cardone says in his book 10X, massive action brings 10X results.  “Playing Offense” is all about having a bias for action. 

The successful people I have met are all “doers”, not “talkers”.

Live Long and Prosper 

No matter where you are in your career, commit to “Playing Offense”, and you’ll be assured of a professional life that is long, prosperous and fulfilling.

Angelo Lombardo is a senior executive for the Coca-Cola Company.  Sign up for his weekly newsletter at to get more tips on success in life and business.

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