On Friday I attended a small lunch event with around 15 local women, my local MP Lucy Wicks and Foreign Minister and Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne. Some of the women I knew, some were nodding acquaintances and others I met for the first time.
All those attending had one thing in common – they had influenced and impacted the lives of others in meaningful and positive ways; some through their public profile as politicians, entertainers or spokespeople; others through their career or work as community advocates, tirelessly lobbying governments for much needed funding, navigating complex bureaucracies or simply giving time. Many shared their difficult personal journeys with mental breakdown, as victims of domestic violence, Covid impacted elder care and overcoming adversity in business and other circumstances.
One of the guests was the National President of the National Older Women’s Network, which advocates for the rights, dignity and well-being of older women. Asked how old this was, she answered ‘anyone over the age of 50.’
I looked up, shocked. This was me – on Monday! Goodness – would I now be overlooked as a ‘woman of a certain age’. Why does a half-century appear to loom so large? After all it’s just another number – one more than 49 and one less than 51.
I have never been one to worry about aging, yet there is no doubt that turning 50 has loomed large in my mind for much of this year. Is this because:
- I was meant to be leaving for the USA today – on a four-week east coast trip with my husband and children taking in Florida Disney, Universal Studios, Cape Canaveral, Kennedy Space Centre, Savannah, Atlanta, the Blue Ridge Parkway, Washington and New York?
- I am now entering my 6th decade? With greying hair, one hip already replaced and a new knee on the near horizon?
- Leading a small business during Covid and trying to remain positive and innovate / adapt / pivot – whatever – tends to grind you down, but you do not complain as there are others so much worse off than you?
Or is it none of these things and something deeper- something that is hard to identify without a bit of soul searching. It came to me at the lunch on Friday that in this group of successful and giving women who were influential in many different ways, there was a sense of fragility in the air – as if the sticky tape was coming off and the parcel was unwrapping. From stories of those trying to help women living in their cars with three children, to others working out how to deliver 1000 meals a week without volunteer networks to the Foreign Minister stuck on ZOOM and dealing with China. There was a sense that it is really tough and pretty hectic out there.
But there was also a sense that sharing stories makes a difference. Admitting you are fragile, that you need help or that you are struggling with the sense of dislocation and isolation, struggling with constantly walking uphill in the battle against Covid, or yes indeed, struggling with turning 50. This is my story that I am sharing.
A little while ago I reflected that in 30 years of working, I have never had a significant career break. My children were born when WOB was growing, so I never took any time off after I had them both by caesarean. We had not yet won the fight for universal parental leave, gender inequity ruled in the boardroom, WOB was growing fast - and it just never occurred to me that I would do anything other than ‘carry on’. I reflect now that I ran the second WOB conference in 2009 just five weeks after having my son by caesarean (his four year old sister and he both came to the Sheraton on the Park with me) and I immediately flew them both to WA to run another conference with my then husband’s business. I now ask myself ‘What planet was I on?
Many of us have juggled careers, business, family, children, illness, mortgages, divorce and much more – while all the time trying to look and be our best all the time. Looking back I want to advise my younger self to take a breath, stop doing stuff and be more aware, more present in the big moments; the birth and early childhood of your children (mine are now 11 and 15), a friends’ illness or major life crisis, your parents’ 50th
wedding anniversary, a career milestone; – but also in all the incidental moments, a lovely dawn, an inspiring story, your husband’s soccer win, a bike ride or a bush walk.
As I turn 50 today, I have resolved to take some of my husband’s advice – that we are human beings, not human doings. Take some time to just be still, to be present, to breath, to really listen to what is being said and unsaid, to connect and reconnect, and to find a measure of stillness. So that when I turn 60, I find myself a wiser and more reflective person, someone who still has something to give to this rather crazy world.
A warm thank you and acknowledgement to all those who have been part of my journey to a half-century.