Several years ago, I was in conversation with an older clergyman who had served the same church for over 25 years. In the course of that conversation, I asked my friend, “How have you sustained a ministry at one church for those many years?” Without hesitation, he answered: “I’ve always had some project, some new ministry venture, some personal goal that I was looking forward to accomplishing. Looking forward to new challenges brings energy to all I do.” I’ve remembered those two sentences now for over two decades!
Then it happened to me! I fell into a professional chasm some 15 years ago which, at the time, focused all my energy on the past. I reminisced more about “back then” and long-changed friendships decades old. The future no longer brimmed with hope; my shoes felt as if the soles were cement. I had stopped facing forward and every point on my life compass looked bleak. Fortunately, a trusted friend shook me to the core and named all the symptoms, jarring my imagination and life in a new direction.
As we age, and professionally as we reach what some have called “the season of maturity,” we can lose the visionary enthusiasm that fueled our younger years. “Back then,” when we may have had young children to rear and educate, a career ladder to climb, and a willingness to take a risk on change, looking forward was how we did life. There was always another “something” out there that drew us into its life-changing vortex. Sad to say, most adults who reach later mid-life lose or misplace that facing forward attitude. It was George Bernard Shaw who observed cynically, “Most of us die at 40 and are buried at 70.”
Clients reveal this in obvious and subtle ways. Consider:
- the divorce rate among empty-nesters is higher than ever
- seasoned and once successful business owners and CEOs fall into a leadership funk from which they can’t seem to recover
- a lack of high “health consciousness” when it comes to diet, exercise and mental outlook may be the number one issue facing baby boomers.
Our clients are there and often show us these symptoms. Are we listening?
So, here’s a question to drop into a conversation, especially with the 55 and older cohort. “Mary, as we’ve talked about your situation today – both where you are and future expectations – a question gnaws in my mind I have to ask. Could you tell me, either personally, professionally, or both what it is you are looking forward to doing in the next six to twelve months?” And then listen and see if you hear facing forward language.
What you might hear is, “I haven’t thought about that recently,” or “I’m glad you asked. In the next 6 months, my husband and I are both planning to retire and take a long-awaited trip to Europe.” When I asked this question not long ago of a baby boomer widow, I could see her smile on the other end of the phone call as she announced, “You may be hearing me talk more about Bill Smith (not his real name) in the months to come.” And then she told me about a tiny green shoot of romance awakening in her soul five plus years after her husband passed away.
Every time I get in my car, I remind myself that the rearview mirror is so small compared to the windshield! Why is it we spend so much time attempting to drive the car of our life looking in the rearview mirror? Anytime we can have a facing forward conversation with a client is a good time. And when we do, we will learn more about the people we serve and no doubt find new ways to strengthen our relationship and better their lives.