Discover more from All Rise with Sally Helgesen
Looking to the Future
Aspirations Mean Forward Movement
Last week, I watched an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had just announced that he’d be stepping down in December as Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Officer to President Biden.
When the interviewer asked him simply, “Why now?” I expected to hear a dignified but predictable response, delivered in his thick NY accent, which I love— something like: “I’ve had an amazing career full of challenges and honors but at 81, it’s time to step aside and let one of my extremely talented colleagues take the reins.”
I should have known better. The accent was there, but it was far from what I loved best about his response. He both surprised and tickled me— and no doubt millions of others— when he said “Well, it’s never a good time to leave but … I’ve been wanting to pursue another chapter in my career.”
Doctor Fauci has career ambitions!
This inspiring news took me straight back to a transformative event in my own life, when I was in my mid-sixties, which I’ve written about previously, including my first post for All Rise. At that time, I felt that I was headed toward an obligatory winding down of my career, as if my influence and relevance would inevitably start to wane in the years ahead. How wrong I was, and how right Dr. Fauci is now.
My epiphany came while I was lying on a yoga mat next to one of my heroes, Frances Hesselbein, who had led a number of high profile non-profits. Hesselbein was then in her mid-nineties, yet she was at the peak of her influence. I realized that, should I be lucky enough to live into my nineties, I would be mid-career at 65, with as much of my work ahead of me as behind me (I am a bit of a late bloomer). Inspired by Frances, I adopted a new mantra: “Mid-career at 65.”
The 10 years since then have been by far the most professionally rewarding and lucrative of my career. And Frances, now closing in on 108, is still with us.
In fact, she and Dr. Fauci have one fundamental in common: they have always been focused on what they want to contribute to the world, not on what is deemed age (or gender) appropriate. Both want urgently to accomplish things that benefit others. And they have been blessed with excellent health which has enabled them to extend those contributions into later life.
As Dr. Fauci told the interviewer, “I’ve been wanting to do things outside the government, where I can serve as hope and inspiration to encourage young people to go into public service, especially in the arena of science, medicine and public health.”
I wish him well in that endeavor and have zero doubt that he will accomplish his goal. He’s already deeply inspired one of his younger followers— me!