From Shame to Shine.

December 10, 2023

From Shame to Shine.

May 29, 2023

I was always the youngest amongst my peers at work. At age 19, I was the youngest manager of a retail business. Age 29, the youngest director they’d had at the multibillion-dollar company where I worked. Age 32, the youngest executive MBA in my graduate class. Age 36, I was the youngest VP in my organization.

By 40, I’d created a rigid identity equation that looked like this: 

Youngest + Job Title = Jen 

And then it stopped. 

Younger folks started coming up all around me. Meanwhile my mid-40s brought perimenopause, memory freeze, ‘zoom neck’, and body changes. Invitations to the emerging leader, mentee, and next generation groups just…ended. I became invisible.  

My performance slipped with my confidence. Now I recognize that I felt deeply ashamed of something. I was ashamed to be – me. What changed?

I was taking aging very personally. I was living in a mind and body that was rapidly changing and the world seemed to relish in reminding me that YOU ARE GETTING OLD. Not to mention the realities of an executive’s mature personal life – changing health, changes in relationships, demands as a parent and daughter all meant increasingly setting young me aside. No amount of math could make my identity equation work. The emotion du jour was existential crises. I’ve peaked. It’s all over for me. What now? 

I describe the years between ages 44 and 51 as “the listening years.” Years of deep unlearning and excavation rivaling Pompeii. Yes, I might feel a little dusty but I’m certainly not alone here. 

I used to think that the purpose of my head was to direct my body. The head was the ruler. Anything below the neck was to be ordered around. I've come to believe that the purpose of the head is to learn how to listen to the wisdom in the body. Family, culture, media, trauma, and time all pile dirt over the Self. It’s difficult to listen to something when it’s muffled by so many layers of “Should.” 

In the beginning, learning to dig and listen to my Self was so difficult and I was horrible at it. For the achievement junkie, how can listening get me another gold star? 

But slowly I began to learn. I learned how to deprogram the leader that I’d become. I learned that I was not my job title. Slowly, I uncovered some treasures, and I began to shine. I learned that I was never invisible to others. I needed to become more visible to myself. 

What can I share? If you are “deep in the shit” and feeling invisible, irrelevant, or suffering from age shame, get yourself a big-ass shovel. Dig around the voices in your head. Toss out any dirt which does not serve you and listen to what your intuition knows as truth. 

Chip calls this listening ‘embracing your inner elder.’ I love that! Emerging into my 50s, my new identity equation is more like an infinity loop; fluid in motion and learning from the timeless human experience.  

Shine into your age and always love the look of your neck. 

-Jen 

Jen Kluthe lives in Edmonton, Canada along with her 2 teenage daughters, life partner, and dog Jilly. She works as an Executive Nomad - providing wisdom and adding capacity to executive teams as they operationalize their big strategic goals. For fun, she reads paper books, hikes, practices yoga and will shamelessly invite herself to your Friday night dinner party. 

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