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!
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.
Yesterday as I was walking around a large arts festival between downpours, I saw all sorts of amazing creations. I’m a bit jaded as my daughters are hugely artistic. I do photography, though not seriously, mostly for my own enjoyment. I sketch a bit but a sixth grader can overshadow my work pretty easily. There were artists from all over the country there with all sorts of media from paint, to wood, to metal, to fabric, to jewelry and mixed media. Anything you could think of was housed in those white tents lining the streets and bridges. Of course everything I liked was priced out of what I would be willing to pay for it but I am cheap. And we have been trying to downsize our possessions, not add to them. So it would have to be a work of art that would absolutely move me for me to even purchase it.
There was so much talent residing in that one area, it started me thinking. My one real art that I am passionate about is writing. No, I don’t pen fabulously crafted sentences with prose that other authors would envy. My writing is pretty straight forward, like my personality. My strength seems to be empathy not creativity so much. I write in a voice that others hear in their own heads and hearts. I can paint a picture with words but it won’t be flowery and chock full of adjectives describing the scene to the minute degree. I like to keep it moving. When I read and start getting mired in overly descriptive paragraphs about nothing, my natural tendency toward efficiency will have me skimming the lines until I find some real action again. Some readers love an author who will wax poetic for long stints. Me, I think, what’s next? What happens next?
Driving home alone after being rained out of the festival, I opened the sunroof of my truck, letting the warm, humid air blow through the cab. If I can help it, every vehicle I own from now on will have a sunroof. Even if it’s a junker. I love the sky above me and the air blowing through the roof. I turned up my music and enjoyed watching the dance of the fading sun and storm clouds in the horizon knowing soon, I’d have to shut the sunroof when the next round of rain came upon me. This is summer at it’s best for me. Just being able to open the windows and not freeze. Moments like these make me feel inspired.
I have been thinking about reinvention and second acts that are popular with my age group (middle aged). People ruse being middle aged as the approach to the end. As if “middle aged” is a bad word or words. What people don’t realize is that while yes, you are past that ‘young’ era but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing. I sat in a bar/restaurant yesterday that caters to the younger, hipster crowd noting that I was one of the oldest people in there. My daughter and her boyfriend love this place and it does have fabulous food and atmosphere. I’m overhearing conversations, watching the interactions of these 20-somethings, maybe 30-somethings and thinking I am so glad I am 45. There is a wisdom and freedom with this age and older. You have passed a lot of the frivolous drama, marriage and raising kids or at the later part of raising kids.
I also realized that I have much in common with what was either in college or just out of college kids. I have my whole life ahead of me albeit about 20 so more years into the process. But I have this advantage over them. Many of them will be getting married and having children (or adopting etc for same sex couples). I’ve already experienced this part of my life. I am financially stable and less encumbered. I’ve learned many lessons in life already (and will continue to learn) that I can use to my advantage. I’m not too old for most things. If an 80 year old woman can become a DJ in night clubs, imagine what I can do? I may not be joining the military or doing Ironman competitions because of my knee problems but I still have the chance to become a best-selling writer if I’d ever publish something.
I saw all those artists today who have put their work out there for the world, that are pursuing their goals and I realized I can write all I want but until I start actually finishing something I can submit, my work is going to go unnoticed outside of this blog. As far as the reinvention which is really not that, but more about experiencing life and not limiting myself to what I am today, it’s about stepping out of my comfort zone. Exploring things as I would have when I was younger. Actually, it’s not reinventing anything, it’s simply living my life to the fullest. Taking some chances, stop being so safe all the time. Trying on different hats. Stretching the imagination.
Middle aged isn’t a death sentence as everyone wants you to believe. It’s a new beginning.