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5 Life Lessons from an Ageing Activist

adaptable co-creation gratitude growing older kindness letting go love making a difference making choices peace resilience Jul 24, 2017

When I was 16 years old, my first goal to change the world for the better wrote itself into my brain – to help open and respectful conversations about different belief systems. At that time our new school headmistress was leading us to have these conversations weekly. I enjoyed them and wanted to make them happen much more often. I thought that all I had to do to make our world kinder and fairer, especially about beliefs, was to change the way that others talked about it…

When I reached 50, I looked back on all my failed attempts to make our world kinder and fairer, and realised that any change had to happen first with me. I had to BE the change I was looking for. So I began to work on this, and still am. I started by reflecting on how I could be kinder and fairer to myself, and was horrified to discover that I had a lot of work to do there. Only then could I truly be kinder and fairer to those around me. At the same time I began to wonder what it would be like to do this work alongside others on the same journey.

As I celebrated turning 60, the vehicle for this wondering emerged from much thinking and discussing with many others; the shared development of the Resilient Leadership Community. Soon after I turned 63, the final member of our current team of mentors joined. This made us into a whole community. Our first client, Carla Van Raay, joined our community within a year.

Now that I’m 66 years old, we are ready to show the world how the kindness at the heart of our group culture helps us to flourish; and to support and celebrate other people doing the same.

What have I learned from this 50-year journey?

1. I don’t have to do it all myself. Walking alongside others and helping them to achieve dreams aligned with mine means that we all win.

2. Our choices decide how our lives are lived. Everyone I meet is dealing with challenges and making choices. I sense that within each of us we have two places from which we can make our choices: one of love and one of destruction. While each of us creates our own unique dance between these two poles – being absorbed in our own brilliance or weakness and working towards the greater good – the place of love seems mostly out of reach.

3. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about listening to the stories of all of us at our best; the stories that weave us together as humans. To make the most difference, I have to stay focussed on my wider goal of listening to and supporting others to make our changes for a kinder and fairer world.

4. I have had to let go the urge to push for outcomes that I want. Instead I have learned to be open to and to go with what draws me towards my goal. As an older person I have less time and energy available than when I was younger and all seemed limitless. I have to “go with” far more and push far less to achieve what matters to me, and am continually amazed at the magical and effortless ways that my goals turn out.

5. In the end, I know I will be OK. Whatever happens, I will work out how to adapt and deal with whatever is before me. And I will do this in the best way that I can for the best possible outcomes for everyone including myself. This knowing is a peaceful place each time I find it, thankfully far more often these days. It has a gentle and insistent movement that is not of my making, yet supports my deepest needs. It doesn’t call to be noticed like being absorbed in my brilliance or weakness. It’s simply a peaceful and unending knowing. I’ve realised that in this place, love flourishes. When I make choices from this place, they always help what I care most deeply about to flourish. I nurture this precious space by surrounding myself with positive people like my beautiful family, my dear friends and my fellow mentors in the Resilient Leadership Community, and by my writing.

This has been a great and most humbling journey. I’m deeply grateful to have lived for long enough to get this far, having survived three nodding acquaintances with death to date. Now to embrace my next challenge – maintaining my connection to this quiet place as I make myself more widely known where I can make more of a difference.


[Photo by Wendy Campbell.]

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