365 to 50 Starts Today
Ten years ago, I was straining at the inevitability of turning 40 and what felt like moving from being a young-ish adult into a middle-aged one. Forty felt so formidable, as if I should have figured out so much by then, accomplished so much more. But 40 also felt empowering—my son, my youngest, was about to start kindergarten, and I aspired to reach back to rediscover the fiercely independent person who went into stasis when motherhood arrived at age 31.
On my 39th birthday, I started to chronicle the year to come. On my 365to40 website, I blogged every day, an exercise that started as self-discovery and, on October 29, 2012, became my emotional lifeline. I never could have predicted what that year would bring, namely a hurricane called Sandy that destroyed our home, left us reliant on others in a way I never had been before, and required us to rebuild our lives with no warning and only the smallest financial safety net. I also couldn’t have predicted what the next decade would bring: ending my freelance career to start a full-time job outside of journalism; carrying my family financially through two bouts of my husband’s unemployment; losing my father-in-law in a way that surprised and shook the entire family; and preparing to send my eldest to college. And let’s just throw in a pandemic, just to make it clear that no one, and especially not me, has any control over anything.
Today I turn 49, making it 10 years to the day when I started my 365to40 journey. And while it feels like tempting fate, I’m embarking on a 365to50 journey. Am I risking another natural disaster plowing through my life? Could this decade bring more financial uncertainty, family upheaval… am I daring another pathogen to jump species? If only I had that power. What I know now is that we don’t create drama; life is drama by definition. It’s unavoidable. Peace and serenity never last; they will always be wiped away by bouts of insecurity and dark stretches when you feel alone and defeated and shook to your core. That is what my 40s has taught me: No matter how hard I’ve tried to keep our ship steady and straight, storms – real and metaphorical – have arisen, and will arise. They are unavoidable, and they are hard, and they have made me mad and sad and question much about life’s purpose. But they’ve also taught me tremendous lessons and helped me discovered skills and strength I did not know I had.
I don’t really know what this 365to50 writing exercise will result in. For anyone who has gone through their own crucible – and I feel like everyone I know experiences this in their 40s – what I’m saying is not news. There are no great revelations to be had from my experiences that would teach or surprise those who have been tossed and beaten up by life. But I do wonder if, when I was still in my 20s and 30s and felt invincible and in control of everything, if getting a heads up that life will turn you, uproot you, scare you, but you'll persevere -- if that somehow would have made it more manageable. Probably not, because young people filter out what they cannot yet grasp, but maybe there is strength to be summoned from seeing what others have gone through and survived. That said, I hope this exercise will serve to inspire those of you who haven’t crossed over this threshold yet. For those of you who have, I hope you find camaraderie.
Many of the challenges I face now are daunting: playing career catchup after years of downshifting to raise my kids; watching one kid go off to college and preparing for the second one; evolving from the parent of children to the parent of young adults; the unfair, ridiculous, and infuriating emotional upheaval that is perimenopause; nearing 25 years of marriage and rediscovering each other as we transition back to the empty nest. But behind all of that is the realization that for the first time in decades, I’m starting to feel the space in my life to figure out what I want as these transitions happen and in the process, create space for my own imaginings.
I can’t promise this writing experiment will be interesting to anyone other than myself, and I can’t promise I’ll write every day. The only thing I do know is that I haven't written for myself in a long time, and I need to get back to it. I have a lot to process and much to untangle as I figure out how to rediscover the me behind the mom, the wife, the daughter, the employee, roles that have often made me feel like a servant to the needs and wants of others. But to say that is to play the martyr. In reality, those roles allowed me to hide from the pull and lure of my own aspirations. Because reaching and risking are hard, scary things. I sense it’s time to step out from behind the curtain, to become the maestro of my own destiny. What does that look like? I have no idea. Will I find out? Probably. Stay tuned.