Remaining Relevant

The heads of the Kings of France from the statues of Notre Dame Cathedral “cut off”  and buried during the French Revolution

Surfing the net, amid the post-election, post-hurricane, post-Petraeus rubble, I stumbled on an article in the New York magazine by Frank Rich, a former op-ed writer for the New York Times. While not at all what any Republican wants to hear and somewhat biased, as any political victor is wont to be, there was certainly enough truth in the article to leave me feeling unsettled. The unsettled feeling was not only political in nature but the same raw sensation I have felt at other times, in other areas of my life whether it is professionally, spiritually or in my education.  It was the painful jolt of a loss of relevance.

It is the same emotion a mother has when her kindergarten walks into the classroom without looking back and she realizes she is no longer the only person in her child’s life. It is the reality an author faces when her bestseller is now being sold on the $4.98 clearance table. It is the quiet resignation of setting down the phone when you have once again reached the answering machine of an adult child because their life is much too busy to be checking in on a daily basis. It is realizing that your sacred rituals no longer speak to the souls of the next generation. It is scrambling to learn a new 3.0 app when you can’t remember where you put 2.0 on your desktop and you never figured out 1.0. It is packing up a product into a cardboard box that you once put your heart and soul into developing and marketing—because no one on the planet even owns a cassette tape player anymore. It is a feeling common at some point in life to every human who resides on this rapidly spinning planet. It is the stark realization that you must change, and quickly, or be relegated to a corner rocking chair or thrift store—both dusty, lonely places.

It will take humility and innovation for the Grand Old Party to recognize that it must also move forward and become more relevant to a younger, more diverse electorate. All loss, whether it is a divorce, job loss, health issue or an empty nest requires pondering and introspection. Most difficult of all, a loss requires transformation! Like many wordsmiths, I have found many of the answers to my most difficult struggles in that ancient book of wisdom—Webster’s dictionary. The word “relevance” comes from the Latin word “relevare” meaning “ to lift up.” If we are to remain relevant we must always look for new ways to lift each other up. Relevant is also closely related to the word “relieve” –literally it is to lift up each other-to lighten the load. Loss of relevance is a feeling—but it is certainly not a state of being. As my nest empties, the world changes, my flip-phone become obsolete and three paragraph blogs need to be reduced to a tweet- I can remain relevant by finding new ways of providing relief and lightening burdens. My generation can remain “relevant” as entrepreneurs, teachers, parents, grandparents and even political candidates by listening, changing, growing, lifting and like “The Boss”-Bruce Springsteen—occasionally changing our tune! (See “8 Lessons from Bruce Springsteen on Staying Relevant”)

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4 Responses to Remaining Relevant

  1. jessica says:

    I love your examples of losing relevance. You are such a good writer and made me recall some times in my life when I felt like yesterday’s news. I’ve been thinking about this concept lately because Heather was laughing at me because I’ve never heard of the game War of Words. It has made me think I need to get with the times and get myself a smart phone. But lately I’ve been going through my blog and thinking about the times in my life that I am the most happy. It is usually when I am the most irrelevant…Not keeping up with the Kardashians, latest kindles, on top of the six o’clock news, etc. I have the most peace when I get back to basics…family, close friends, food, spending time in the great outdoors, and developing my relationship with Christ. I know I have that luxury being a stay-at-home mom. Not being relevant as a interior designer would have put me out of business really fast. I guess it is all about finding my balance. Love you.

  2. Cathy G. says:

    I agree with you that things change and most of the time we have to change with it…but I also like Jessica’s thoughts that there are times it is ok to be irrelevant and choose your own path! I just hope I can be wise enough to know the difference! Thanks for making me think! I needed a dictionary to read the article you referred to in the beginning, but I got the gist of it! Your thoughts were much more concise and well spoken!

  3. colleendown says:

    Thanks for engaging me Cathy and Jessica–I am glad a few of you are still willing to read my random thoughts! I hope that I made the point that our “relevance” has more to do with our ability to “lift” than being able to remain hip, cool and fashionable–if those are the qualifications, my children will assure you that I fell of the train long ago. Nana remained “relevant” to us her entire 100 year life, because she would love and lift us whenever we saw her not because she “kept up with the times.” I think when we feel a pang of irrelevance–and I do feel these as pain-as when I read this article-it makes me stop for a moment and rethink what I am doing!

  4. Heather Sullivan says:

    I think your definition of relevance is so apropos to the time at hand. I hope that both parties can stay relevant in that spirit.

    Eesh, that article was scathing. i don’t think I’d take even my liberal, Obama-loving opinion that far. That article, Jessica, is War of Words. The game I play is Words with Friends.

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