I’ve said in the last few weeks that I want this holiday season to be one of peace. And to make that happen, I need to start with myself. I have a birthday this week, and it’s a big one. I’m not entirely sure making my thoughts about turning 50 public will be valuable to anyone but me. But, it’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about, so I may as well talk it over with you.
I generally ignore age. But, the realities of it creep around the edge of my awareness like a dog who’s just gotten in trouble for mucking through the trash. It slinks around at arm’s length, just close enough to make its presence known. It says, “I am inevitable. I am tick-tocking away. And while you can ignore me, you cannot avoid me.”
If I live to be 100 (which I have every intention of doing), then turning 50 is smack dab in the middle. This is the place in the life of a project that I hate. I love the beginning when it’s shiny and new and interesting and love the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction at the end. But, in the middle, things are generally messy and complicated. This is where all the growth happens. When you learn where your thoughts about it were wrong. When you adjust course. When you have to apply newly learned skills that aren’t quite up to the task yet. It’s where the path is less defined. It’s where the adrenaline of the start is gone and grit, determination and perseverance are required.
My 20’s and 30’s were fairly easy in many ways. At least in hindsight. And when I compare them to my 40’s. My 40’s was a decade of trauma. Childbirth. I moved 4 or 5 times. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Several radical shifts in my business and income level. That’s a crazy lot of change. Not all the changes were bad. Actually good and bad were mostly wrapped up in the same packages. I should say, though traumatic, it’s also been a decade of great joy and satisfaction.
Thoughts on Turning 50
As I think about the reality of a new decade and I watch my son grow up at what feels like warp speed, I find myself more and more often wanting to strip the masks off and really see. Both myself and others. I want to see myself for real…and I want to see you. The real you. I have even less patience than previously with all of our masks. I’m aware that time is not the never ending stretch of highway into the distance that it once felt like. I’m sure that’s a cliche experience. But, there’s a reason things become cliches, right?
If we’re going to talk about masks, I want to look more carefully at my own and I’ll talk about two today: physical and emotional.
If I stand in front of a mirror. And take off every shred of makeup. And truly look. In some ways I see a stranger look back at me. My mental and emotional self image hasn’t caught up with my physical self. Have you ever done that? Really looked at yourself lately? Your face? Your body? With non-judgmental eyes? There are stories we tell ourselves about the way we look. Mostly untrue. Some partially true. And some outright lies. Very little is actual truth. Do you realize that? Very little of the stories you tell about yourself in your head are true of you right now. Many are interpretations of a past or about expectations unrelated to reality.
Some of those stories I’ve let go in the last year. Like: I should look like I did as a teen aged athlete. Ridiculous. Or, my worth depends on what I look like, what I wear and how that compares to everyone around me. Or, how it compares to the photoshopped cover model. Or, to the I-get-paid-to-work-out athlete. Both shallow and ridiculous. Or, I should have a rounder face, smaller chest and thinner body. Why? Or, I should be botoxing, Retinol-Aing and whatever else-ing it takes to prolong youthfulness as long as possible. Because I need to look younger, prettier and fitter than I am. No. Wrong.
This is who I am right now. I’m turning 50 years old and I have colorful hair, because I like it. Because it’s quirky and fun and makes me smile. I have some wrinkles and age spots. I wear leggings, miniskirts and boots because they make me feel like myself. Other days I wear jeans and a t-shirt because that feels like me too. I wear them whether I’m staying in or going out. Because I dress for myself.
And as for my body. I’m as healthy and fit as I have been since high school. It looks different than high school. But, it should, right? I’ve had a baby and 30 years since then. But, it is strong. Capable. Responsive. It’s just the shell of who I am. But, I’ve recognized the truth that it’s the only shell I have. And I am the only one responsible for it. It affects how I live my life. There is so much that I want to do. And so I take good care of it so that I can hike, walk on the beach, play with children. I eat really well. And I sleep. And I exercise. Not obsessively and not for anyone else. It truly has become very little to do with what anyone else thinks I should look like…and all about how I feel inside.
I feel good. I’m turning 50 years old and I feel good. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s ok for me to feel that way and to say that in the world because it’s not a statement about anyone else but me. I see the imperfections, certainly. But, for the most part they no longer define or limit who I am. And I’m no longer driven to look like anyone else’s expectations. I look like me. And this is what 50 looks like…for me.
Emotionally, I’ve not made as many strides behind the mask. I still have work to do around feeling and expressing emotions. I think my next big life lesson may be on the amount of control I keep myself under. I don’t even know what language to use to explain that one yet. I’m guessing I’ll figure that out soon. But I have made progress this decade. I now don’t allow conflict to live in relationships. That’s a pretty big step actually and I should take a moment to celebrate that. I have a history of allowing the fear of rejection and abandonment to keep me from voicing feelings and opinions. I would pull them inward, holding them tightly where they fill up an emotional well with hazardous material. I’m slowly gaining courage on that front. Gaining the belief that I can be both heard and loved. That a relationship is stronger for expressing and working through anger, disappointment or conflict.
I’m also less likely to be completely sidelined by recurring depression that coats my insides like the oil in an oilcan at times. Thankfully, it’s less often and less deep at the moment, but I’ve also learned to give myself more grace when I’m there.
I think I’m less sure of myself these days. One holdover from the trauma of my 40’s is that I believe less in my own voice than I did in my 30’s. Less in my own power. And yet I know that voice better now. I think this next decade will bring a mellower, more powerful version of that confidence and trust back. At least I hope so.
Altogether, turning 50 I am more whole, more available to others, more true out in the world than ever before. I’m healthier inside and out. I’m certainly not perfect, far, far from it. But, I’m willing to own who I am right this moment. And be at peace with it. The good and the bad. The me I actually am at 50.
I can write the script of my future from where I am right now. Not from where I think I should be or from who others think I should be.
As I look forward to the next decade, I commit to walking through the middle with curiosity, with grit and perseverance. I commit to being courageous. To showing up. To living without a mask. To pouring into my son and into other people. To loving lavishly, unselfishly, generously and with abandon. If I can do that. One day at a time. If I can do that, if I can write my story with the ink of love…no matter what the circumstances of my life in 10 years, my 50’s will be a resounding success.
In the artwork this week, you see an eye that contains a heart in the iris. “To be at peace with” is defined as having friendliness toward something. Can you look at yourself and others with eyes laced with love? When people look into my eyes, I want them to see love shining back. I want to see it when I look at myself as well.
Whatever age you are. Whatever your circumstances. What if you were at peace with yourself?