Learning to Follow at Forty

So….a few weeks ago, I turned forty.

I don’t want you to think that I’ve been undergoing some major mid-life crisis (40 isn’t really mid-life anymore, anyway, right?), that I’ve given up writing, or been in a drunken stupor.  I just…needed a little time to come to terms with where I am right now in life, and learn to fully appreciate it.

As I turn 40, I see a world of possibilities in front of me.  I started playing guitar.  I’m taking on new adventures in writing, charity work, voiceovers, even sports.  Everything’s a new beginning, and God only knows which iron I have in the fire is going to burn the brightest.

I have nothing but beginnings ahead of me, and that’s thrilling.

It’s also very humbling, because honestly, 20 years ago, I thought that by 40,  I’d be reaping the benefits of a long distinguished career, not finding out what I was going to be when I grew up. But here I am, ready to begin my next adventure, and only one thing is for certain:

I am going to be learning, not leading, for a while.

In order to do any of the things I want to do, I am going to have to humble myself and learn to follow others with more experience than me…even if they are in their 20’s.  Or 11, in the case of my son teaching me how to work my new iPad.

The virtues and qualities of “Leadership” have been crammed down my throat for as long as I remember…no one ever encouraged me to be a follower at forty.  But as I come to terms with this, I am learning the beauty of following, serving, paying my dues, doing the “front lines” work of any organization or cause.

It’s by following that we most clearly see the needs, the inefficiencies, the processes, the waste, the opportunities.  Through simply serving and listening, the specific skills needed for a certain job collide with the transferable qualities of wisdom, perspective, empathy, and values.

Learning something for the first time at this age ensures our skills are  current, fresh, young.  Unsoiled.  But applying this information reveals our perspectives as experienced, multi-faceted, broad.  This is a powerful combination.

And when you think about it, being young and old at the same time is what 40 really should be all about. And 50. And 60.  Heck, I  know some young, wise 90-year-olds.

So let’s enjoy being beginners, followers, learners.  Let’s go out and make mistakes, fall flat on our face, ask the embarassing questions.  Let’s get our hands dirty by digging deep into the worthwhile things that scare us, intimidate us, even bore us.

Then let’s see what happens when our lifetime of experience collides with it.  Then we will truly prove ourselves as “old enough.”






2 responses to “Learning to Follow at Forty

  1. Hey Jennifer! Happy belated 40th Birthday! Loved your post! I totally relate to it…as a new 40 yr. old myself…still wanting to know what I will be when I grow up! My Dad was that way too at 40…and still is at 65! 🙂 Not sure how I feel about that…and what that means for me at 65. But keep up the posts…love your writing…I find myself more interested in your writing than what we are reading in class 🙂

  2. Didn’t mean to be “anonymous.” Just forgot to fill out the info below 🙂

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