Several years ago, I was in conversation with an older clergyman who had served the same church for over 25 years. I asked, “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 30 years.

Then it happened to me! I fell into a professional chasm some 20 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. More than a few points on my life’s 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,” looking forward was how we did life. There was always another something out there that drew us into its life-changing vortex. 

With 2023 just days away, we are wise to remember that 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:

  1. The divorce rate among empty nesters is higher than ever.
  2. Seasoned and once-successful business owners and CEOs fall into a leadership funk from which many do not recover.
  3. A lack of high “health consciousness” when it comes to diet and exercise may be the number one issue facing baby boomers.

Our clients may well be “there” and often show us those symptoms. Are we listening?

On the cusp of a New Year, here’s a question to drop into a conversation, especially with those 55 and older. “Mary, as we’ve talked about your situation today – both where you are and future expectations – a question gnaws in my mind. 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?” Then listen, eager to 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.”  I remember asking a widow that question, seeing her smile on the other end of the phone as she said, “You may be hearing me talk more about Bill Smith (not his real name) in the months to come.” She told me a tiny green shoot of romance had broken the ground of her heart, a handful of 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? 

I can think of no better time to have a facing forward conversation than right now. When you do, you will learn more about the people you serve, and no doubt find new ways to strengthen your relationship and better their lives.

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