Producing a Great Second Half

Revisiting Bob Buford's bestseller Half Time

“None of us knows when we will die.” So begins Bob Buford’s Half Time, his influential, bestselling book about living the “second half” of your life not for success, but for significance. I read a 20th anniversary copy of his book just before he passed away in April at his home in Dallas, Texas, at the age of 78. 

Half Time was originally published in 1995, and has remained popular ever since. Told as a first-person testimonial, Buford recounts how at the age of 44 he began to have “success panic.” He realized he was about halfway through his life, as far as he could tell, and although he was the CEO of a thriving cable-television company,  and truly proud of his success in business, he yearned to live a life of “significance,” to use his hard-fought business wisdom in service to others. He didn’t want to retire and relax, but rather lead a “second half” life of adventure. “When I look across the Christian landscape in America, I see a powerful reservoir of energy just waiting to be unleashed,” he writes, and he decided his “second half” mission would be to tap that energy for good.

What follows in the book are practical questions Buford asked himself, and general principles that guided his reflection and planning in what he calls his life’s “half time.” The book is simple and short, easily read in a quick airplane flight. But to answer Buford’s questions regarding life’s purpose and direction for yourself in an honest way—that is far harder. Buford likens it to stepping “outside the safety of living on autopilot.”

The book took on a life of its own. Open the 20th anniversary edition and you’ll see endorsements from David Bradley of Atlantic Media, Peter Coors of Molson Coors, the former CEO of Pepsico, the chairman of Herman Miller. “Bob Buford has a peculiar genius for inspiring people to embrace discomfort,” writes Jim Collins in a new foreword.  With Gathering president Fred Smith, Buford had co-founded a group called Leadership Network, which fielded thousands of letters responding to the book. This led to a spinoff group called the Halftime Institute to help business leaders come up with their own second-half game plan. The nonprofit is still thriving today and offers one-on-one coaching for executives, as well as peer-networking events.

Buford’s second half was not all books and speaking engagements. A businessman at heart, he cherished the teachings of his longtime mentor Peter Drucker and started the Drucker Institute to collect and disseminate his management strategies. Of particular interest was his effort to instill these strategies in American churches, which he primarily did through Leadership Network. Mentoring some of the most influential “megachurch” pastors in America like Rick Warren, Buford brought a new layer of business thinking to church growth. Leadership Network also still bubbles today, serving more than 400 churches with large congregations.

In describing all this, Buford is quick to argue that a person should serve in his “second half” using the gifts and skills he acquired in his “first half.” Buford’s mission to “transform the latent energy in American Christianity into active energy” wasn’t a diversion from his business expertise—it was an extension of his wisdom to a different arena. This revolutionized how he thought about giving. He writes, “Before, I tithed from a substantial income and occasionally added to it with personal gifts; now I give approximately 75 percent of myself to causes that match up with the way God wired me.” Luckily for us, he inspired thousands of executives to do the same.

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