Remaining relevant as we age is particularly challenging for older women because of societal pressures, media images and dated grandmother/rocking chair stereotypes. Sometimes we don’t even try because it feels like too much work.
A vibrant 73 year old who shatters these old beliefs every day is Carolyn Brandt, an older woman who not only makes it look easy, but acts as though it’s nothing special.
Giving Away Her Secrets
When she tells her story, however, Carolyn Brandt gives away her secrets. In the process she reveals something very significant about older women’s relevancy at a time when everything seems to be changing faster and faster.
Carolyn Brandt was in education—“the best of all possible worlds for me,” she says, describing her move from high school teaching to Steward, a small newly opened private school in Richmond, Virginia–first as history teacher, then Department Head and Director of Studies, Director of the Upper School and ultimately the Assistant Head of School.
Willingness to Change
“I just kept changing as the school grew and changed,” she says. And in that statement Carolyn reveals the secret for all of us if we want to remain relevant. Like Carolyn, when we combine relevancy with experience older women can be a significant force in the world that needs our wisdom and insights.
Taking Advantage of a Small School’s Opportunities
Carolyn gives generous credit to the school Head for “creating a real community” and “a very special place–I could see what a difference a small school could make,” she says — and recognized the possibilities that were open to her in an environment where she could grow and change.
Carolyn possessed another important characteristic: she knew what she liked to do. For example, she figured out that she could continue working with children in her administrative roles by teaching them public speaking.
Love of Art Inspired Still Another Role
In 1997 the school was awarded a 15 million dollar gift, with 10 million earmarked for a fine arts center to be named for the much-admired, now deceased Head of School. The art gallery in the Center was named for Carolyn because of her work and her love of art.
Following this love of the arts, Carolyn became a docent for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts where she continues to volunteer for tours, both for adults and for children, twice a month—and without notes.
When she explains that she enjoys the research for the tours because of her background and interest in history, Carolyn reiterates again why her life stays so relevant—the continual combining of interests to create new roles for herself.
Doors Continue to Open
In 2012 Carolyn retired from the school where she had done so many different jobs. But that only opened another door—that of school consultant “Because I have the institutional memory,” she says.
Knowledge, experience, interests and willingness to change have led to Carolyn’s current role– writer of the school’s history from 1997 to the present. This work follows “The First 25 Years” by the school’s former Head whom she admired so much.
Self-Knowledge Helps, Too
When asked what personal qualities have allowed her to grow and change and stay relevant in a fast-paced world Carolyn knows herself very well. “I am tenacious,” she says. “I’m good at problem solving. I can figure it out.”
And because her ego serves the needs of the group, not of herself, she adds modestly, I’ve been told “I’m a good listener.”
In her spare time Carolyn Brandt is active in her church as a board member of its child care center, as the church treasurer, and as a trustee of the church’s endowment.