William Shatner teaches us to act big

2010 file photo of actor William Shatner Getty Images/Andrew H. Walker

Okay, let's be honest. If you look up the word "egotist" in the dictionary there may be a picture of William Shatner, longtime star of stage, film, television, and of course commercials.

As demonstrated in a recent interview with the New York Times, Shatner does have ambition, drive and strong sense of self. His one-man show is running on Broadway till early March. His last time on the Great White Way was in the early 60s and he received good reviews.

His television work, however, is what made him legendary, notably starring as Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in Star Trek, a role he took to multiple films. Shatner revived his TV star chops playing Danny Crane in Boston Legal. And for years Shatner has been the pitchman for Priceline.com. Along the way, Shatner has become a competitive equestrian and is still competing at age 80.

William Shatner to boldly go on Broadway

Yes, Shatner is an octogenarian. His current workload - 100 hundred minutes on stage -- and this continued enthusiasm for it, serves as an inspiration. As he says, "I've never not appeared in front of a live audience for any longer period than a month or two."

Most people I know do not want to continue working the proverbial 9-5 job through their seventies but many, including me, want to continue to be active and, when possible, continue working.

And so you can look at Shatner as an example of one who is not humbled by his age. If your health is good, you can continue to grow and develop your skills, or do something completely different.

The challenge is to continue to think big. Let me define big as a descriptor that is exclusive of size but inclusive of aspiration. You can make the big difference in what you do next.

My personal role model in this endeavor is legendary management theorist Peter Drucker, who was teaching and writing well into his mid-nineties. While I did not have the privilege of knowing him personally, I do know more than a few who did and all marvel at his intellect, his wisdom, and his willingness to continue to contribute until the very end.

Sounds good in theory but how can you do it? It means you continue to serve as a contributor. One of the fears that people who retire have is that they will no longer be wanted and that can be disconcerting, especially if your career has been center stage for a good many years.

The challenge is to channel that desire to be needed in situations where you are needed. Obviously volunteering is a good place to start; many executives have found fulfillment giving back, as we say, through teaching young people or managing a nonprofit.

Others dream bigger. They want to start their own business, and in doing so they may be fulfilling a long held dream to be their own boss. People I know who have done it love it. What they lack in energy they make up in two ways: Enthusiasm - they love what they do; and wisdom - they know smart ways to get things done and done well. They apply what they have to what they can do and it can work out just fine.

Shatner teaches us something else: Perseverance. In an interview with Scott Simon on NPR's Morning Edition Saturday he says that as an actor fear of failure has never left him. He is never certain that he will succeed in a given role. Again a lesson. There are no guarantees in life; simply you must continue.

Planning for the next stage is more than a personal matter. Your spouse will have a big say. He or she may need you more, if their health is not so good. Or they may need you less if they are pursuing their own dreams.

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