Building on experience

Published by Karen Hands on

Winter stems

Bare stems come into their own in my winter garden: vibrant dogwood and corkscrew hazel; yet the promise of new growth is already visible. We often use the turn of the year to reflect and take stock, just as these plants appear dormant whilst gearing up for the season ahead, and the metaphor has made for productive thinking that I’d like to share here.

As a teenager, I remember reading an article in a women’s magazine – I’m sure it was an interview with Meryl Streep – and she said that she’d always wanted to turn 40. She couldn’t wait to be older: to be treated more seriously, to feel able to be herself. The idea stuck with me and now I’d update it to say that turning 50 was the moment I’d been waiting for. It’s only in this current decade that the range of different experiences I’ve had through my working career has turned me into the person I expected to become. It’s not a finished product, because this person is always on a learning journey, but she holds the respect of people around her in a way that never happened authentically when she was younger.

Women, at least in the West, are surrounded by the cult of youth and the commercialisation of always looking your best. We’re taught to fear age. Yet wisdom was always a female trait and one that can only mature with age. This growing sense of stepping into my potential is part of becoming more mature and I relish it. Sure, I’ll try to stay fit and look my best, but I won’t deny the passage of time. Like those winter stems, I’ll find new energy to expand and grow in 2022, and just like them, the new will grow from a strong and flexible framework that acknowledges the foundation of what I’ve done in the past.

This year’s aims are stretching and broadening my approach. I’m building a growing team for the Oxford Women’s Leadership Development Programme and reinforcing the successes that got us to this point, but these executive skills are seguing into board roles and chairing as time goes on. Strands that seemed disparate share common roots as I expand my repertoire in the boardroom, whether I’m chairing a voluntary committee or advising the board on strategy and performance for a family-run firm. Expanding my wings as an angel investor brings yet another perspective on board relationships and priorities.

Instead of dying the grey and fretting over the lines, I’m here as I am. A maturing woman growing into her wisdom.


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