Refire! Don’t Retire

"We’ve found conclusive evidence that achievements and accumulation of wealth do not make people happy…there’s plenty of emphasis on success in our culture. I’m finding we have to help people focus on significance as well."

- Refire! Don’t Retire, page 16

Early in Refire! Don’t Retire, Ken Blanchard and Morton Shaevitz slip in a word that has fallen out of common usage.

That word is zeal. Seriously, how many times have you used that word in the last six months?

The specific sentence, “what are you doing out of habit rather than zeal,” is just one of many soul-searching questions posed throughout the book. But for me, that one word stands out because it captures the essence of what both authors are trying to convey on each page.

A quick online search defines zeal as “great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective.” And for Blanchard and Shaevitz, the objective is not success. It’s significance. They structure their book around four keys that will help make the rest of our lives the best of our lives:

  1. Refiring Emotionally puts the focus on revitalizing relationships and creating new ones.
  2. Refiring Intellectually stresses openness to learning opportunities in every situation.
  3. Refiring Physically places emphasis on overcoming obstacles that keep us from healthier lifestyles.
  4. Refiring Spiritually occurs when we’re “aware, forgiving, grateful, accepting and humble.”

Throughout, the authors provide solid, practical advice on how to combine all of the keys in a way that gives equal attention to every part of our lives. A short checklist at the end of each chapter encourages readers to “pause, reflect and take action.”

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Zeal involves risk

"To refire is not simply to stop or start working, or take a class, or to finally lose that twenty pounds. It’s an ongoing process of approaching things with gusto, taking risks, and bringing enthusiasm and zest to every area of your life."
- Refire! Don’t Retire, page 135

To serve as a common narrative thread, the book tells the story of a fictitious couple who had lost much of their enthusiasm for day-to-day living. They found themselves saying the same things, thinking the same thoughts and rarely, if ever, navigating outside of their normal routines. It’s a situation many of us find ourselves in.

With professional guidance and willing friends, this couple partnered with those same friends to become a “last-minute gang” that acted more spontaneously. Eventually, this group took the next step by becoming a “refiring gang” that actively sought out risk-taking, gusto-seeking experiences.

While I found the story’s characters to be flat and the dialogue somewhat stilted, the underlying principle came through: We need to take more risks if we’re going to approach life with gusto. How often do we find ourselves willingly choosing not to be spontaneous so we can follow the same, tired patterns of behavior?

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Bring one of your old passions back to life

"Make a list of the things that used to excite you—for example, acting, photography, model building, poetry, or writing. How can you bring one of these passions back to life."
- Refire! Don’t Retire, page 73

As part of refiring intellectually, Blanchard and Shaevitz encourage us to be open to learn, be a reader, be teachable, be courageous and be persistent. All of this is obviously great advice, especially in a world where it’s easy to know what we’ve always known, do what we’ve always done and live in isolation from anything that differs from our personal norms.

Being open to the new, however, was not the refiring advice that most intrigued me. Rather, it was the authors’ encouragement to look back to move forward.  At a certain age, it becomes far all too easy to forget some of those activities that once added zest and meaning to life. Refiring is about bringing those old passions back to life.

For me, that would mean a return to the simple, long-forgotten pleasures of a good crossword puzzle. I used to love sitting down over a cup of coffee and completing—or at least trying to complete—the USA Today, Chicago Tribune or New York Times crossword. It was more than just mental diversion. It was mental stimulation.

What old passion needs to be brought back to life in your life?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Feedback is the breakfast of champions

"We can’t keep growing emotionally if we isolate ourselves from others. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. If you really get to know others well, you’ll grow close enough that they’ll be willing to praise you when you’re fun to hang around with and give you honest feedback when you’re being obnoxious or a stick in the mud."
- Refire! Don’t Retire, pages 31-32

According to the authors, getting honest feedback is yet another risky endeavor that yields impressive dividends. Most of us, of course, prefer not to make ourselves vulnerable in this way. We love to hear the praise, but who really wants to be told they’re a stick in the mud?

To avoid hearing any negative feedback, we tend to isolate ourselves from others instead of actively seeking and developing strong, healthy relationships. Once we form these relationships, Blanchard and Shaevitz urge us to seek out honest, forthright, pull-no-punches feedback. This becomes the “breakfast of champions” because it provides needed sustenance on our refiring journeys.

I love writing Actionable Books summaries because the prescriptive format puts the burden on me, the reader, to find what’s there to be found. My inner cynic can’t gripe that “this story is too one-dimensional” or “this take on spirituality doesn’t square with my theological understanding.” Instead, I’m forced to identify the key actionable takeaway, as well as two specific ways to put that takeaway into practice.

Refire! Don’t Retire has solid, practical advice for anyone who believes the best is yet to come, that comfort zones are made to be stepped out of and that the ideal way to approach the rest of one’s life is with zest, gusto, enthusiasm and, yes, zeal.

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Bill Stadick

ABOUT Bill Stadick

I studied poetry and English literature in college then debt-stumbled into advertising, a job where words actually mattered. A few decades into it now, I recently left a communications firm in Wisconsin to start Page 17, Inc...
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