Between Precocious and Wise
Posted October 17, 2011on:
In recent months, I have been contemplating the slow transition into midlife. I’m not quite ready to claim the label yet (I’ll be turning 38 on my next birthday), but I’m definitely closer to midlife than to youth. It feels as though there is a subtle shift beginning in my perspective.
All my life, I’ve been the youngest one. While I was the oldest child in my family, I was always the youngest in my class at school. My late-year birthday meant that I started kindergarten at four and completed my first semester of college at 17. When I went to seminary at 23, I had worked for two years after college, but I was still six years younger than anyone else in my seminary class. I was ordained at 27, and did not know any ministers younger than me at the time. Even now, there are no other pastors in my denomination’s local association that are younger than me. My closest age peer is five years my senior.
In school and in ministry, in spite of my youth, I have done well. I am a quick learner, and I was able to keep up with my older classmates and coworkers. Part of my identity has always been this youthfulness, this sense of being somehow ahead for my age. Someone gave me the word for it: precocious. Being precocious has always been a part of what it means to be me.
This year, I marked 10 years of ordained ministry, 14 years of marriage, and I’ll soon have five years of parenthood. I am no longer new at any of these things. It is no longer interesting (to me or anyone else) that I should be competent at them, in spite of my age. After so much time, it is expected that I should know what I am doing, that I should be effective at my work, that I should be responsible and put-together. While it still happens from time to time, it is increasingly rare to hear someone marvel that I am “already” the pastor of a church.
For the most part, this is a great gift. After 10 years, it’s definitely old and perhaps also a bit insulting to have someone make over you for doing your job effectively. It is freeing to be normal, to have your competence no longer surprise people, to be treated with respect, and to be trusted as a knowledgeable leader. I no longer need to prove myself—people simply expect me to know what I’m doing.
At the same time, there is a corner of my ego that wonders what will be special about me going forward. Youth made me unique for a long time (probably longer than most, since I entered a profession in which the average age is 51). Being a quick learner and enthusiastic adventurer will keep youthfulness around even longer, but not with the same level of surprise and intrigue. I am no longer precocious. That is a word that belongs only to youth. The question in my mind is: what will replace it? That’s been a fairly significant part of my identity for my entire life. While I’m ready to let it go, I found myself wondering what will take its place.
Someone else gave me the word for that replacement: wisdom. Just as precocious is a term reserved for youth, wise is a descriptor that only comes with age. I’m definitely not ready to claim it yet. I’m not even sure it’s a term that can be claimed–perhaps it must be bestowed. I know it is a worthy aspiration. I aspire to be known as a wise woman, a wise leader, a wise pastor, or just simply wise. As I let go of the label “precocious” as part of my identity, I take comfort in thinking that “wise” might someday come to replace it.
For now, I dwell in between. If I think about it, I guess I have gained some insight, even a modicum of wisdom from my years of experience. It’s also true that there is a glimpse of the precocious left from time to time, since there are still many things I am doing for the first time. I am no longer precocious, but not yet wise. I wonder how long this in-between time will last.