The other day, a friend posted a link to a blog entitled “5 Tips for Becoming Fearless After 50” by Barbara Hannah Grufferman. In it, Grufferman writes about fear – especially the fear of aging. “We can either let fear stop us in our tracks, or we can use it to move us forward. What will you choose?” Quoting her own previously published article, she continues:
The best advice I can give you is this: Be fearless after 50. Fear will stop you from pursuing your dreams and could cause you to give up and give in, keeping you a prisoner in your comfort zone. This is the simple concept I learned from researching, writing and living the advice in my book. If you’re healthy, you feel good. If you feel good, you look good. If you feel good and look good and have a vision for your future, you feel even better. If you’ve got all that plus the knowledge how to stay that way, you feel amazing. And if you feel amazing, who cares about age?
Age and fear are not insignificant blips on our radar; they’re right up there with such powerful adversaries as death and public speaking. But they are inevitable dance partners, so how do we dance and not run or collapse in the face of them?
Let me give you a bit of background on my own journey to set the context for what I want to share here. After graduating with honors from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree, I moved to the Atlanta area seeking work in human resources, but it was a terrible time to find a job. I struggled for a few years doing low-paying work as a credit clerk until I finally landed a position in advertising and communication for an agricultural chemicals company. I spent the next 20 years moving back and forth between positions in corporate communications or marketing; moving not because I was bored, but because I was “downsized” out of 7 jobs within a span of 15 years. The first time I lost a job, I was devastated; by the fourth or fifth time, it was old hat.
By 2003, I’d vowed to make a leap of faith and follow my heart and the pull from God that I felt toward more creative work as a performing songwriter. I spent the next six years writing and recording music, performing for appreciative audiences, marketing three music CDs (all available on iTunes) and a book of essays (via AuthorHouse), leading workshops, and generally performing my way around the Southeast – all while managing marketing projects on the side. Yet, by 2008, there seemed to be no more traction or momentum in that path than there’d been the first year in. I finally realized that I needed to find something else to do, some other path to follow; one in which I could support myself.
After much time spent in discernment and prayer, an idea began to take shape, evolving from earlier nudges that never felt quite right, and I began investigating the possibility of going to graduate school in theological studies with the hopes of becoming a professor of religion or theology. But by this point, I was 48 years old. Granted, I had no one else in my life to have to plan around, but going back to school meant pulling up all my long-established roots in Georgia, leaving everything I knew and loved, and leaping out into the unknown. I remember talking with a friend about how afraid I was about beginning an educational path toward a Ph.D., knowing that I’d probably be 55 years old before I earned that degree. My wise friend said, “You’ll be 55 years old anyway, you may as well have a Ph.D.”
I stand here now having completed a two-year master’s degree, and one year into a four-year doctoral program, having moved from Georgia to Chicago to California – dog and cats in tow – and I can’t tell you how many times people have told me how brave I am or how inspiring my journey has been.
And they’re right that I have been brave. But I will tell you without hesitation that I have not been fearless. Everything I have done has been accompanied by fear. At times, terror. Dancing with age and fear is not so much about being fearless as it is about being courageous in spite of one’s fear. It’s about being willing to move forward even when you don’t know the whole journey ahead of time or how it will turn out because the place that’s calling you is more persuasive than the place that’s holding you.
So don’t wait until you feel no fear, or you’ll wait until they lay you in your grave. Feel your fear. Honor it. And then take the next step anyway. You’ll be glad you did.