What’s age got to do with social impact?

I’ve had too many conversations with women who tell me they felt they became invisible at 50.

Certainly, there is a lot of truth to this idea, it does happen. But I also believe there is an incredibly powerful flip side, a flip side that honours the experience and wisdom of these women and also puts them into positions where that wisdom can be honoured in action.

No, honouring that wisdom doesn’t always mean they need to become the manager. In fact, a management position can actually stifle the work of a great changemaker, more on that another time.

I’ll be 50 in just over 6 months and personally I’m preparing for the latter scenario. I’m just getting started.

But it isn’t easy. Along with coming to terms with a new appearance which seemed to happen overnight I find where I used to smile and nod at idiots I now have zero tolerance for them. I’m bored by seeing the same ideas executed again and again with a seeming lack of willingness to learn from the past and I’m very frugal with my time when it comes to people who will. Not. Listen. Why? Because something else about being nearly 50 for me is a real sense that time is running out.

Are these the first signs of becoming a grumpy old lady? Well, maybe. But I’m coming to realise that 50 is actually a time of reckoning about what one has done in the past and simultaneously an invitation to OWN the surrounding space.

I’ve worked in regional social impact long enough now to have seen things come full circle – and still not change. I’ve grown up enough to own my role in that. And I’m also old enough to know that very few ideas are new and sometimes a great idea just required different timing. (Even more reason to draw from the past).

Now, what may be the most important part of this post is this fact. The Health and Social Services sector, the sector where you are most likely to find social impact practitioners working is largely made up of women, and women over 50. If we don’t soon find a plug for the knowledge and skills that are literally pouring down the drain we are just wasting time.

And if you are in the social impact world I urge you to find out how you can learn through your elders of all genders. Ask them about what worked, what mistakes they made, what they’d change and what they would do again. And honour that learning in your doing.

I’ve always made this part of my practice and the learning is truly inspiring.

And if you’re an impact practitioner who is 50+ and especially if you are a woman, own it baby. You’ve done the yards, walk with pride and share your wisdom generously with those who are smart enough to ask you to share it.  That’s certainly what I intend to do.

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