ALF Transitions

By Susan Ellenberg (Education XXXII), Senior Director of Community Development, SJSV Chamber of Commerce

In her book, Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife, Barbara Bradley Hagerty identifies three themes as essential to “living richly in one’s middle years”: engage in life with energy, choose purpose over happiness, and understand that your thoughts define your experiences, not the other way around.

As you read this post, I will have celebrated my 50th birthday just weeks ago. I know there are those who purport to have midlife “crises” around my age but I proudly confess that I am not experiencing crisis in any sense but, on the contrary, revitalization, refocus and transitions in spades.

ALF came into my life at a pivotal moment, though I did not fully grasp its import at the time. I had just been elected to the San Jose Unified School District Board of Trustees. In retrospect, I cannot imagine having survived my first year as a trustee without the support, safe space and relationships I found with my classmates. Few adult environments afford space for truly honest, vulnerable conversation; opportunities to ask sensitive questions and hear a range of views expressed respectfully and passionately. I credit my classmates with helping me work through some significant challenges, political and intellectual, and for pushing me to explore every idea through a multitude of lenses.

Through my ALF experience, with my classmates, the EdNet cohort and the full membership, I have met deep thinkers and passionate advocates, people at the beginning of their careers, those who have retired from their primary professional work and at every stage in between. To a one, the common thread has been the relentless question of what can WE do to improve some system, address some challenge or lift others so all can thrive in our community.

I found upon reading Ms Hagerty’s book that I had already been following her prescription. I am living life with energy as my youngest child prepares to fly the nest for college. I am joining commissions, committees and councils; seeking out a range of mentors, and daring myself to take on new challenges and do things that scare me. In July, I will begin a new career as Senior Director for Community Development at the Chamber of Commerce, where I will focus on expanding and deepening the Leadership San Jose experience and revitalizing the Youth Leadership component. I have always chosen purpose over happiness, understanding that I have amassed so many blessings and opportunities that it is my obligation to use my skills, time and resources to play a small part in repairing the world. Finally, I work hard to remember that my emotions are shaped by my perception of events that occur — it is not events themselves that define my experience of them. On that one, I am definitely a work in progress.