Tomorrow, I turn 50 years old and for some reason moving into the next decade of my life always makes me reflective. I look over the previous decade and think about all that has happened. Where I was in my life when I turned 40 is a lot different now that I’m on the cusp of 50. Turning 30 was probably the hardest for me as leaving my 20’s felt like I was definitely heading into middle age. My ‘youth’ was behind me it seemed. Turning 20 had been celebrated because I was more than happy to stop being a teenager. I always felt older than I was back then. In a rush to grow up and be independent. Turning 40 was no big deal. I didn’t have a lot of feelings about it, I was busy with three teenagers and taking care of my mother who was going through multiple bouts of cancer. My whole 49th year, I have been thinking about what does turning 50 mean to me. When I turned 20, 50 seemed ancient and old. Last night at dinner, my husband asked me where did I see myself at 50. I honestly didn’t think about it before now. I had just been trying to survive in my 30’s and 40’s. There has been enormous changes during this past decade. I’ve lost some very important people in my life and in my mid-40’s, I became an orphan so to speak, with no grandparents or parents alive. My three daughters have grown up and moved out starting their own lives. Frankly, I hadn’t planned for this part of my life. The beauty of social media is that you get to share moments with people in your life that you may not be able to otherwise. I’m friends with many of my classmates and us being the same age, I’ve watched them embrace their jump into the next decade. Not one of them complaining but joyful that hey, we made it to 50. My personal feeling is one of gratitude, that I have been given all these years to live and I’ll tell you, now fifty sounds young. My great-grandmother, Sadie, always said, ‘You’re only as old as you think”. She lived to be almost 101 years old. I never once remember her referring to herself as ‘old’. I think it is sage advice. So many of my friends and people I know never made it this far so every day, every year is a blessed. Going into the fifth decade, you have a completely different outlook than if you were going into your 2nd or 3rd decade. You’ve seen some shit, experienced great heartbreak but also great amazing joys. What was important to you at 20 is probably not as important to you at 50. Wisdom comes with age and you finally understand the saying ‘youth is wasted on the young’. At 20, you have all these lofty goals and ideas that may seem silly or frivolous now that you see what is truly important in life. Walking beside my mom in her final months of her life narrowed that list down for me exponentially. The only thing you take with you when you die is love. So my life is centered around those I love the most and being kind and loving to others. Love is my meaning of life. To love and be loved. To help others and not be a total shit to people. As I move into my fifth decade, I want a simple and uncomplicated life. I know this isn’t always possible because well, … life. However, I will continue to strive to just enjoy the little things, enjoy what we have worked so hard for and have fun. I think I can finally take a breath and have some damned fun. I always put so much pressure on myself to achieve, but now I’m not sure what I’m achieving. To really focus on taking care of myself after pretty much all my life, I’ve taken care of someone else. To really pay attention to my health because I know as I get older, good health may be more of a challenge. The body is not as forgiving as you get older. In conclusion, I’m excited to leave being my tumultuous 40’s. I feel more like I did back in college when I had my whole life ahead of me. I still have my whole life ahead of me, but the minutes and days are even more precious because I have much fewer of them. I look forward to trying new things and having many more new adventures. I enter this decade freer and less tethered as I am at the moment, not taking care of anyone but myself. It’s time to really enjoy my life, relax and have fun. Explore new possibilities. Look at new ventures and take a few risks. Goodbye 40’s and hello 50’s, you sexy beast!
With the start of the new year also being a start of a new decade, social media, advertising, conversations, etc. have been set very much around ‘new year, new you’. Lose weight, get motivated, quit smoking, so on and so forth. Okay, giving up smoking is a really awesome goal – trust me, lung cancer is no picnic. This tide starts somewhere in November and runs through January usually dying off right before Valentine’s Day when our focus shifts toward a holiday that seems to be fraught with expectations and triggers (PS it’s also my 50th birthday – I love gift cards to bookstores, Starbucks and resturants if you feel inclined hahaha).
This new decade also starts my fifth decade of life so I’m being particularly reflective. I know a lot of people dread getting older. Oh, no! I’m going to be fifty! Well, I remember when fifty seemed ancient and now it sounds young. But I’m really not one of those people as I prefer to look as aging as a priviliege that so many people I love and know did not even reach the grand old age of fifty. I’m one of the lucky ones and considering my wayward youth, I am particularly lucky to still be kicking around this great big earth of ours. While I can look in the mirror and see the signs of the years on my face, my skin starting to become crepey, my joints aching a little more each passing month, I am truly and deeply grateful for all of it. I am here and I am alive and I am healthy (knock on wood).
So when you add in the new year, new decade and a landmark birthday, this trifecta got me thinking. I bought a new journal toward the end of the year (okay I’m a journal hoarder, just ask my kids) and started filling it with big ideas and plans. I’m going to lose weight and get really fit. I’m going to finish that novel. So on and so forth. Then a few weeks went by and I went back to this pretty journal. As I’m reading through all that I wrote, I felt more and more tired with each page. How many times had I done this? Make these big plans and when I come back to them, I find my motivation has already waned. Sure it is a good thing to write down your goals to make them real, but do I have the right goals? What if I didn’t make a bunch of big goals? Would the world end?
What if I didn’t work toward a ‘new’ me? What if I am okay with the present ‘me’? Why do I have to keep working toward something big? I’ll be honest, ever since I could write sentences and make up stories, people told me I should write books, be an author. But cresting on my fifth decade, I’ve published in several small ways but I never really feel a thrill or accomplishment in publishing. I truly believe if publishing a book was my heart’s desire, that I would have done it by now or at least made a much larger effort toward this dream. I use writing as a way to work out things whirling around in my mind, to work out problems and sometimes just to entertain myself. I love writing blog posts because it doesn’t take huge amounts of efforts and sometimes I actually reach someone.
Over Christmas break, I spent a day going to several bookstores and trying to imagine my book sitting on their best seller shelf. I’m sure I looked every bit the crazy person standing back with my eyes closed at times, staring at the shelves of hard-back books. I couldn’t imagine it. I didn’t find myself getting excited about the idea of my book and my name on some beautiful cover. I decided that writing a book isn’t a goal of mine. Giving up a something you believed about yourself most of your life is very disconcerting. This was part of my identity, becoming a successful, rich author had been ingrained in my psyche but it hadn’t really been my own goal. I’m still a writer, but I am most likely not going to be the author of best-selling books. I am not closing the door on that possibility but I’m letting go of that goal because right now at least, it’s not mine. I know myself, if it’s something I truly had wanted, I would have achieved it by now or in the very least, put in a Herculean effort.
So what if I don’t change a thing about myself? What if my big goal becomes listening to and following my heart? Giving love and kindness to others. What if that’s it? My whole goal list in three points. Love myself, listen to my heart, be kind to others. The end.
As I wrote that list, I feel very positive and happy about it. I think we get so tied up into accomplishing goals, making ourselves better or new, so on and so forth, that we forget to enjoy the very moment we are standing in. So this year, I’m going to let go and follow those three points. I want to be more in the present moment and enjoy my life. I want to live my life in love and be loved back. On my deathbed, I’m not going to be ‘oh, I wish I’d lose that last ten pounds’ or ‘oh, I regret not writing that novel I didn’t really want to write’ or ‘I didn’t follow that goal list to the tee’.
That’s my goal this year, don’t change a thing (about me). Love myself, love others and follow my heart. Maybe, you could give this a try too cuz you’re awesome just the way you are!
At age 49, I’m going back to college, again, this time to complete my Bachelor’s degree. As I went over the programs with my college adviser, I found myself facing the fact that I would have to take Algebra and Statistics as general requirements for the BS degree. I tried my hardest to find a way around these even looking at other online college programs, but there was no doubt about it, I was going to have to take these classes. So when I registered for my first semester’s classes, I bit the bullet and chose Algebra and a business management course.
Now, I’m not going to say I’m bad at math, I’m not. I’m bad at things that don’t make sense to me. These things make perfect sense to my husband who is very technical and can figure out formulas in his head. But my brain doesn’t work that way. In high school, Algebra was the only class I truly struggled with especially the tests. When I planned my classes for high school, I went the safe route skipping trigonometry and calculus even though my desire was to go to school for more math and science-related area(s). When I had taken several career apptitude tests, every sort of engineering came up along with landscape architect and orchestra leader as well. But I was afraid of the math required to get these degrees.
I ended up taking a one-year program in Medical Assisting. Physiology and Anatomy didn’t scare me at all. Actually I loved all the medical classes even though it was a lot of memorizing. My plan was to do the program and move to the city to finish my Bachelor’s degree at the bigger university that I really wanted to attend. The medical assisting program would give me the ability to make a lot more money as I was paying for college myself as I paid for an apartment and my tuition.
But I picked this course,because I was afraid to jump straight in to the four-year university. I knew I was going to have to take pre-requisite classes because I had avoided them in high school. Most classes were easy for me. But complicated math, ugh, I felt like a failure because I just didn’t get it and it was so hard. Back then I didn’t consider the fact that maybe my brain just isn’t wired for certain things and I wasn’t actually a failure, that everyone has things that is hard for them. Instead of facing something I could very well fail, I chose to go the route of avoidance. I was too afraid to fail.
When I decided to finish my degree, I was faced with the fact that I was going to finally have to face my fear of passing college level algebra. When the classes opened online a week before the actual semester start date, I dove into the algebra class. As soon as I started into it and saw how much work it would be, I dropped the business course. This class was going to take my full attention. And it did, I spent over twenty hours on the first week’s reading, assignments, discussion question and online weekly meeting with our instructor. All of the class was online including the homework which was nice, but the software wouldn’t let you bypass anything. I had to learn it and sometimes, I would be almost in tears until it finally, finally clicked.
The class contained three exams, all paper that I drove over an hour to the testing center(s) as I decided this was easier than finding a proctor and making sure the tests were returned on time, etc. The first exam took me 2.5 hours. I got a low B. The second exam took as much time but I struggled way more and I got a D. But I made sure to ace everything else including the extra test credit. I was applying the law of averages, I just need to pass this class not get a 4.0 in it. Even with the D on the second exam, I was still averaging an A.
As the final exam approached, this 12-week class became more intense with more complicated formulations and equations. Due to scheduling issues, I had to switch from the remote testing center to the main campus for which I lost five days of study time. This was not good and I was almost in tears again. I do great when I can see my notes and the book, but the tests were much harder. So instead of panicking, I took the total points of the class, the points I had earned, assumed I’d get 100% on the homework and other assignments because I had and then added 50% of the points of final exam essentially getting an ‘F’. What grade would I get if I flunked the exam with half the points? I sighed with relief. I would get a ‘B’ in the class. I knew I could get at least half the questions right.
Yesterday, I drove downtown to the main campus and while a little nervous, I knew I would pass the class regardless. It took me almost 3 hours and I found while the story problems always mess me up, I really remembered most of what I learned including the quadratic formula I had memorized along with a host of others. I might get a C on the exam, but I figure more a D. But it doesn’t really matter, I accept that this testing is hard for me and I did my best. I excelled in the homework and other assignments. Sometimes, there are just things in life that you just have to do your best knowing that you won’t ace it. And that’s alright.
The one thing I wish is that I hadn’t let my fear of failing derail my plans. My life would have been a lot different had I stuck to my goals rather than letting fear dictate my path. I don’t know if it would have been better, but I know I wouldn’t have regretted diverting from my goals. I short-changed myself big time. Had I finished my degree as planned, my career path would have probably been greatly different. I would have likely made more money, etc.
I walked out of testing center yesterday knowing I did’t get a high grade but I was happy and felt accomplished. I did it, I passed college algebra! It’s better late than never. I realize that my tendency to avoid hard things limits my life significantly. I suppose that is human nature, taking the path of least resistance. No one wants to struggle and fail. But failure is part of growing. You can read that 10000 times and think yeah, makes sense but until you actually take action, face the possibility of failing, that these challenges is what makes you feel alive. I’ve been so focused on doing my best in this tough class that I haven’t had time to be bored or overthink or any of that stuff that I tend to do. Boredom for me comes from not challenging myself. From staying in my comfort zone.
As the new year, 2020, approaches, I will continue my classes but I’m also going to challenge myself in other areas of my life. If I fail, I fail. At least I’m out doing something rather than hiding away in my cozy, comfy zone.
Over the next year, I’ll share in my blog some of these challenges. I hope you will enjoy my ups and downs, my accomplishments and failures. Let’s enjoy the ride!
Mean people, we all have dealt with them in our lives. Whether it was the fourth grade bully on the playground or the lunatic who keeps sabotaging your career or the family member who makes your life hard just for kicks, we have all faced them, been victim of them and many times, we have no idea what we have even done to them. These are people who enjoy hurting others or throwing obstacles in their paths or even trying to ruin someone else’s life. Many times, it’s revenge for a perceived slight that in their mind was serious but you can’t figure out for the life of you what you even did. And many times, you don’t have to do anything at all, they are just wired this way.
These are the type of people who just make your life hell and without them around, your whole world becomes brighter. I’m dealing with one such person recently, even though I have always been kind to them and kept my thoughts of ‘omg you are a lunatic’ to myself. But that’s just it, this person is most likely mentally ill though I’m not a mental health or medical professional, the signs all point to some sort of issue that causes this person to be vindictive, hateful and sabotaging to other people so that they can feel important, powerful and large. They are so insecure within themselves, so miserable and unhappy that they want everyone around them to be miserable as well just to make themselves feel better. Their only real joy is to hurt others.
I believe this person blocked a path for me for something I thought I wanted. Though I don’t have proof, the signs all point to this person’s interference in my journey. Though at first, I thought it was other sensible circumstances. But then when this person popped back up suddenly in my face, I knew in my gut, they were hoping to inflict even more pain or gain satisfaction that they indeed made me unhappy because they had blocked my path. I just can’t deal with the depth of what feels like endless crazy to me so I had pushed them outside of my life as much as I could. I’m sorry this person is so unhappy but I’m not the person who inflicted anything upon them. It happened way before I ever came into their life, or maybe some people are just born that way.
At first, I started to think of revenge (I am Irish after all) but as I sat and meditated on the circumstances, I smiled to myself. This lunatic did me a favor. When I really searched my heart, the direction in to which I had turned was not one that I truly desired and so having the decision made for me, the pressure was off of me. I wouldn’t have been happier going down this road. Thank you, mean person. You actually did me a solid and as you hover around what you believe to be my carcass, you will find it’s just ash of out which I will rise like the Phoenix as I have always done in these circumstances.
As I think back over my life, though at the time, these circumstances of sabotage and hatefulness perpetrated by people who meant me harm, may have seemed dire. Though as I look further along after the incident(s), I see how my life became better. I’ve always been a survivor and I will continue to be that until my time on this earth is over. I feel sorry for you, that you are so black and dead inside that your joy comes from the suffering of others (or in my case perceived suffering). I am not the person people run away from when they see you or cringe when you text them or avoid you at all costs. I’m not the person crying that they don’t have any friends and not realizing their own personality and propensity to being cruel is the reason for this predicament. As you tried to hurt me, my own close friends came to my side giving me support and we form a wall of friendship and love that you can’t penetrate. You actually bring us closer in unity because they too have experienced your cruelty.
While I should be angry at you, I only feel sorry for you. I feel sad that your life is so empty and so destitute of love for yourself. I pray that one day, you will see the light, that the road to happiness and self-love/acceptance isn’t trying to destroy others but helping others be the best they can be, by lifting them up. Because when you do this, you lift yourself out your dark hell. I pray that you get the help you need to heal yourself and love yourself. Because until you can do this, you’ll just be a miserable lunatic that people run from. You’ll die alone a victim one more time of your own misery.
So mean person, thank you, thank you for making my life better. I sent you love and light in the hopes that one day you’ll see that the path you’re on won’t ever make you happy. But know, that I will always rise above what shit you throw at me and you mean nothing to me at all.
Perimenopause can be a real bitch. It starts out slow, making you slightly miserable and then for me, almost two years of feeling absolutely like shit. Hot flashes that wake you up 3-4 times a night not to mention just randomly during the day which is super fun. Having your sleep suffer to the point you’re falling asleep driving to work. Mood swings that a teenager wouldn’t envy. One minute you’re crying and the next you’re ready to kill a cute furry creature with your bare hands. I can go on, but trust me, it’s no fun. Plus, I was the one person who can’t take hormone replacement therapy and everything else they tried I was either allergic to or was overly sensitive. Yay me!
One thing about this I didn’t expect was how absolutely old, unsexy and washed up I felt. A lot probably was because I was struggling to do every day things and even more was my own way of thinking and preconceived notions. The bottom line is that just because menses stops, doesn’t mean it’s over. Not that I’m going to miss that monthly visitor. Good riddance. Moving into this phase of life though, you can’t deny you’re not longer in the ‘youth’ category. So I started searching out blogs and articles of women who had actually came into their own and had their greatest successess after they entered into menopause. That was eye-opening especially since I had figured that once you hit menopause, it’s over. Pull up your rocker, adjust your walker, get ready for death. No clue where I got that idea but it was stuck in my brain.
Pair in the start of my empty nest, it was quite the emotional, depressing, shit show of who am I? What am I going to do with my life? What meaning and purpose do I have any longer? Why is this so dang hard? I guess it was my version of a mid-life crisis but mostly it was just an adjustment, two events which I had no control over and in reality, both normal and eventually, positive things. Eventually, your perimenopause symptoms ease to the point you feel half-way human again and start sleeping more. You have more energy because your body isn’t in a revolt against the lack of hormone production. It’s almost like a withdrawal, a reverse puberty.
In line with that, I adjusted to living in this house without children. I spend a lot more time alone now, but I’m an introvert and I actually thrive in solitude. Not that I sit at home and feel sorry for myself (okay, once in awhile I did), but I found I love going out alone and being among people I don’t even know. Interacting with strangers is kind of my jam, because it’s short-lived and doesn’t require a huge amount of energy I don’t want to spend socializing. Oddly enough, I may be out alone but I’m not actually alone because depending on what I’m doing, there’s people everywhere. I’ve talked to all sorts of people from all over the world just doing things I love whether it’s hiking, biking or walking through a festival. When I am with someone else, I tend not to talk to anyone unless spoken to first because I place my attention on the person(s) I’m with.
Then when my employer increased our yearly tuition reimbursement amount, I decide to start taking classes again to finish my bachelor’s degree. I don’t have any grand plan when I do finish, but I realized it’s important for me to get my degree, a goal I had set for myself in my teens and it had always bothered me I didn’t finish. My first class was a basic orientation class which was super easy for me. My next class, Algebra. I picked this as my first real class because I like to get the worst out of the way early on. I’m not bad at math, I just struggle with things that don’t make much sense to me so algebra in high school wasn’t my thing. Geometry made sense to me so I did well in that. I somehow avoided calculus and trig which in a way, I wished I had believed more in myself back then.
Taking algebra 30+ years later is scary if you didn’t do well in high school. I’ve spent hours and hours on this class so far and I’m only about 50% done but guess what, I’m getting a 95% in the class overall so far. My hard work is paying off. The magical bonus – I’ve totally immersed myself in something extremely challenging and while scary at times (I was afraid I might not get it or even fail), the challenge has given me a major boost. I get frustrated at times, have been about in tears others but I really love having something that challenges me and it doesn’t revolve around people.
I am not a people person, though I’m not socially awkward, people and their issues drain me like no tomorrow. But equations and coefficients just sit there quietly, waiting for you to solve, or factor or graph. It’s exciting when something that didn’t make sense to me suddenly becomes clear. It may take me awhile to get it but when it clicks, it’s exhilirating to see “CORRECT” when I work through the online homework system.
The odd part is, this class has given me a new purpose and is teaching me about myself. I never do well having to deal with a lot of people but sit me down with a set of problems that are totally non-human related, and I’m happy to immerse myself in them. I also realized that I’ve sold myself short most of my life when it comes to math. Yes, it’s not easy for me but if I work at it long enough and ask for help, I eventually will get it and succeed. Going back to college again and starting with probably the hardest class in my curriculum has sparked something long buried inside of me. My love of a challenge.
When you grow up in a violently, dysfunctional home, go through two really bad marriages, so on and so forth, you tend to retreat into the most comfortable place you can nest. But for me, this means boredom. Yes, everything is all quiet and such for the most part but I’m bored shitless because I don’t even challenge myself or try something hard. Not that I want chaos and craziness in my life, but stepping up and stretching my wings is a good thing. Going back to school has made me feel almost alive again even if at times I just want to cry because I can’t quite get something.
- The good news is that even if you reach a time in middle-life when you’re struggling with ‘the change’ and/or empty nest or other changes, there comes a moment where you reach your second wind. My former therapist called it a valley. For years, you run at high speed taking care of so much and then bam, you fall into this valley which was for me was grief of losing my mother, perimenopause and transitioning into the empty (though it’s not technically empty) nest. Then one day, you realize that you’ve climbed out of the valley and are standing out in the sunshine once again. You take in a deep breath of crisp air and you feel human again. You want to take on the world or at least a country or two.
I know it’s hard but there is this time when you will out of the blue realize that you’ve come out of the woods. That you aren’t washed up or too old. The only time you’re too old is when you’re dead. Just keep moving ahead even if it’s a few baby steps at a time and you need a nap right after. We have to adjust as we get older but I follow the Facebook page of Ernestine Shepherd – the World’s Oldest Female Body Builder (check her out, she’s amazing). She’s in her 80’s and looks better than most people in their 30’s. Following her posts, it reminds me that you don’t have to just give up and get old. This lady is super dedicated and even trains other people!
It’s like my great-grandmother, Sadie, always said, “You’re only as old as you think.” That didn’t make sense to me until I got this age. She’s absolutely right.
(Insert scream here) – I’ve gone back to college for the third time. In 1989, I graduated with a Medical Assisting Diploma (that the college had promised would be an Associate’s program before my first year was up – but NOPE). In 2006, I started on again and off again online classes through a local two-year college and over ten years of quitting and restarting, I finally graduated with my Associate’s of Applied Busines or AAB which sounds super fancy (yet isn’t). This I graduated from two years after my mom passed away in honor of her.
When I got an actual degree and a few letters behind my name for my work email signature, I thought, there, a degree, that’s enough. Yet here I am, three years later starting back up going after my BS degree through more online classes. It took me applying to several colleges but I found one that wasn’t going to make me take a ton of classes and hours as well as several what I’d call repeat classes they didn’t make my co-worker who graduated from the same program at the same time take – he got credit and I didn’t – WTF (Colorado State – I’m calling you out). I don’t care if the class was the next level up, I was not doing another Microeconomics class especially when I’m not an Economics major.
However, I do have to take Algebra and Statistics – GASP! I barely passed alegebra in high school 30+ years ago. I sailed through my orientation class they force you to take even though I’ve been in school oh, about half of my life. The first week of Algebra, I was almost in panicked tears. Algebra isn’t my jam. It’s not that I’m stupid about math, my brain just has a hard time wrapping itself around things that don’t make a lot of sense. I spent HOURS and hours that first week working through problems via their online software that tests and helps you through everything you need to know. This means if you don’t get it, you have to do a lot of the same thing which I guess is good. But I made it harder on myself because I didn’t read all the textbook sections assigned so I was clueless. Good job, Laura, handicap yourself right out of the gate.
So, now, I do the textbook reading first, then jump into the homework. Today I drove over an hour to get a book – TI-84 Plus for Dummies because I have never even touched a graphing calculator. A have a scientific one that I can use on the paper tests but the homework started with using a graphing calculator which I had borrowed from my daughter’s girlfriend (thanks!). But I had no idea how to really use it even after the lesson instructed me, I could get it to work on the online graphing calculator because I got specific instructions, but the same didn’t work on this real life calculator. So here I am, closing in on my 50th birthday learning how to use a graphing calculator. I had asked my husband and he said he used graph paper, aka the old fashioned way. Since my first test is a week away and he’s traveling for business, my butt was in the car going to the only bookstore that had this in stock.
Though I’m a little worried I won’t pull a high enough grade to keep up my GPA and still get employer tuition reimbursement, I’m working super hard on relearning algebra and actually, to be honest, I’m learning stuff that I just guessed at when I was in high school. I get all excited when it finally makes sense and I no longer feel like a math failure. It’s not that I’m not smart enough to learn it, it’s that it’s hard and I have a tendency to want to gloss over hard things. I want it to be easy like most things are for me. Give me an English class and a term paper over an algebra quiz any day. Where some people freeze up on having to write papers, I revel in it. While I struggle with slope-intercept form.
I’ve created a life that is consistent and easy to an extent. I’ve struggled most of my life so it has felt good to just coast along. I’ve worked for the same company for over 21 years. I’ve been in my current position for 13 of those years. I shy away from change and new things. Maybe this is part of getting older but I think it’s also the fact that I got burned out by my turbulent life. Now that it isn’t turbulent, I’ve been coasting. But I’ve also been bored shitless. Without challenging myself, even though it’s scary AF, I’ve made my life mundane. I sit around and ponder why my life doesn’t seem to have meaning which is not really the issue. My life doesn’t have positive challenges. I’ve had so many negative challenges, that I shut off the good ones too. I”ve cocooned myself into a bunch of fluffy nothingness and then whine about how I’m bored or don’t have enough to do or whatever it is.
I’d gotten stuck in the idea that I had to accomplish something huge when really all I need to do is challenge myself. As much as I tell myself I hate algebra, it’s bothered me for years that I never really learned parts of it that my friends seemed to get. Now I’m going to learn how to use a graphing calculator which wasn’t a thing when I was in high school. And I’ve stopped worrying about my age. When I first started participating in my class discussions and projects, I was terrified I’m the oldest one. And usually I am but there’s quite a few people right in my age group and no ones gives a flying F. It’s fun to have so many different ages and backgrounds around me even if it’s online. I find it interesting that in the weekly “Meet” sessions for my algebra class, it’s the females that are ringing out the answers and solutions more so than the males. That’s a shift from when I was in school. Losing the girls aren’t good at math and sciences mentality is awesome.
Well it’s getting late, my eyes hurt from staring at a book and screen most of the evening and trying to read that tiny writing on that calculator (thank you readers!). I’ve got a full day of work tomorrow and more homework to tackle. Onward and upward!
About one year ago, my last daughter moved out on her own, leaving with the empty nest which is really a stupid term, because there are still my husband, my pets and I. It’s the altered nest, the changed nest, the lighter nest. It’s definitely not empty. Honestly, the anticipation of her leaving was worse than the actual event. Oh, I cried as I repainted her room, I grieved and after a few weeks, I was like, huh, this isn’t so awful. It’s different, quieter, cleaner, and at time starkly frightening as I was faced with all this free time that I wanted but didn’t really know what to do with once it arrived.
It’s been a year of letting go, of adjusting and of grieving. You go right ahead and grieve, just don’t get stuck there. And understand that it will ebb and flow and eventually your new life will seem more ‘normal’. The beauty of this time is that you get to go back and find yourself, pick up and start a new life. The hard part for me has been letting go and also discovering who I am when I peeled away the roles I’ve been living for so long. My caretaker role goes clear back to my youth as I lived in a very dysfunctional home. At a very young age, I was cooking, cleaning and taking care of people that were not my responsibility. So it’s been a bit of a shock, but I’m happy not taking care of much more than my pets, my home and myself.
I had the added challenge that my husband and I don’t work the same shift at times.(single parents – I feel so much for you!). My shift is steady while his swings and encompasses every other weekend. I’d never lived alone (I think everyone should live alone for a year – I’d fared much better) so being in the house alone as much as I was this past year was a struggle. First of all, I had to combat my own thinking. I’m not a loser if I’m home alone on a weekend night. I also had to embrace the fact that I’m an introvert during this year. I’ve become an ace at eating in restaurants alone and sometimes, I prefer this. Though people assume I’m not married or I have no friends or family when I do, this is certainly not true. I’m just a bit of a lone wolf and didn’t really discover how much this is true until this past year.
I’ve tried group activities and even if I had fun, I just didn’t want to go after the first meeting. I’ve tried different varieties of volunteering and settled on being a Lunch Buddy for a now sixth-grade girl at the middle school. The one-on-one interaction appeases my introverted side while the limited commitment appeased my desire to not ever be over-committed again. My personality demands flexibility and spontaneity. I’ve spent most of my life tied to commitments, schedules and so on. I will admit though, having all this free time was scary at first and there are times when I struggle with the thought that I need to do more, be more productive. When this happens, I have to really sit down and consider if I think I must do, if it really makes me happy or if it is just something I believe I need to do for whatever reason. In other words, that I don’t just stuff activities into an uncomfortable space that will eventually just make me miserable.
Having an empty nest has really opened the opportunity to learn who I am and focus on what I really want out of life. I was so used to just doing things because I was told I must, or there was some expectation of it (this was also self-inflicted), that I’ve been challenging my preconceived notions and ideas all year. This is still ongoing but when I reflect on where I stood a year ago, I’ve made some significant headway. Being authentic and being myself is a top priority for me. Though we all have to do things we don’t want to such as clean toilets, work, etc. these things have to be done or there are significant consequences that are worse than actually doing the undesirable activities.
Learning to let go has been another big lesson over the year. I still am working on this one as well, but after you’ve spent years guiding your kids, letting go especially for someone like me has been a drastic lesson in itself. But as I am getting better at not trying to control, give advice, etc. (not perfect at this in any way!), I find more and more freedom and way less worry and anxiety. My goal over the next year is learning to finally truly relax. I’m always just a little bit keyed up, partly because my brain is constantly rolling over things, many of which I have 0 control over to anyway. Ruminating over these things that are out of my control and driving my husband nuts is not beneficial. Like anything else, this is a process and slowly I’m getting better and better. I’ll never nail it perfectly but I can continue to improve. It’s hard not to worry about your kids.
Besides finding a volunteer opportunity I really love, letting go and being authentic, I started back to college utilizing my company’s reimbursement benefit. I finished my Associate’s degree in 2016. I thought I was done but I searched my heart when I found that my employer upped their benefit enough that I could actually attend online college (which is extremely expensive) and graduate in less than a billion years because I don’t want to put any money out of pocket for school. If I had some great career change I was pursuing, I would jump right in and take out loans, etc. for the higher education but since I really don’t have this, I am happy to go at a slower pace and not pay out much $$$$.
Though I will admit, I’ve freaked a bit at having to take college-level algebra after a 31-year hiatus from my last algebra class. This class is taking huge amounts of my time, so much so, that I dropped the management class that I was taking at the same time in order to stay sane. I’m just not great at algebra and had to start at the very beginning of the text book and read everything, watch every video, redo a ton of problems, take tons of notes, etc. This is extremely challenging. But while I’m not a fan of math, I am really underneath it all, good at math when it finally makes sense to me. What I do enjoy is the challenge. Being so engrossed in something, even though it’s not my fave, that time flies by. I was sitting in one of my regular haunts yesterday, eating lunch alone working on math problems in between bites. One of the co-owners asked me what I was doing and even provided me with more scratch paper when he saw I was running out.
My life had gone on automatic. I’ve worked in the same place for 21 years. I’ve been in the same position now for 13 of those years. I can do much of my job in my sleep. I’m also not great about going outside of my comfort zone. This has more to do with growing up and living a good part of my life in chaotic mess. Now that my life is really good, usually calm (outside of work), I love the peace and am afraid of bringing anything stressful into my life. But I’m bored shitless this way. Walking around in a trance is no way to live.
But guess what? Now I have all this time to focus on my own challenges and goals. Even if I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do in this chapter of my life, I can start working on whatever interests me. I get stuck on that, having this great big picture and when I don’t, I paralyze myself into inaction. The truth is, I don’t have to have it all figured out. I can pursue what I want in life and maybe it will all click together into this grand picture or maybe it never will. Either way, I’m not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself. But I am also not filling my time with “should’s” and “have to’s” that aren’t truly something I need to do. I have to pay taxes but I don’t have to join a writing group just because I love writing but I don’t love groups. I can sit at home alone and watch a movie on Friday night. I don’t have to get a bunch of people together and go out.
So, thank you empty nest for allowing me the time and focus to really get back to myself and learn about myself. Hopefully, I’m becoming a better person (still working really hard on this one) and a more independent person. I was used to having one of my daughters around to hang out with but now I have to entertain myself at times. It’s forcing me out of my shell, out of my safe little world. I’ve even started attending festivals alone when no one is available. On my bucket list – go to the movies alone. Okay, for an extrovert that sounds awful but for an introvert like me, it seems almost normal.
Thank you college algebra, you’re probably going to have me in tears a few times, but I forgot how much I love a challenge. I have been avoiding things that I don’t like as if they are the plague. I think this attitude is holding me back in life. I may hate editing my own writing, but I need to if I want to publish something on a real scale. I may be afraid of the whole submission, finding an agent, etc. process but I am going to have to move forward rather than staying in my safe bubble to accomplish publication and finally see one of my books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. I have a tendency to talk myself out of hard goals or activities. No pain no gain, right? I’ve got to get my cowardly ass back out into life. I’ve spent years hiding behind my kids and my responsibilities.
I have no excuse now do I? Time to live. Thank you, Empty Nest, for ripping back the curtain of comfort that I was hiding behind. I keep trying to pull it closed so I can hide and not face hard things. I’ve stopped challenging myself outside of my comfort zone. It’s hard to go back and face the forgotten dreams, it’s easy to say, oh, I don’t really want to get my bachelor’s degree or I don’t really want to publish that book, but is it really true?
It’s taken me a year, but I finally want to step out from my comfort curtain and start living. It’s a bit scary but I feel alive. Until next time, hugs and encouragement to you!