LIKE MANY OF MY CLASSMATES, I turned 50 earlier this year. I watched the birthday parade on Facebook as each one reached the milestone. I know it’s just a number, but honestly, how am I 50 already?? I’m told my face looks younger, but believe me when I say that my body is starting to feel every bit of my age. The physical changes are inevitable; you're told it will happen, and you don't believe it, and then all of a sudden, you're thinking, so they were right.
It seems I’ve reached the stage where people – inexplicably – seek my advice. I readily share my wisdom, if I may call it that, because after being a Card-Carrying Grown-Up for three decades, I figure I know a thing or two. Doesn’t mean I’m always right or have all the answers – far from it – but I’ve learned some things, and I'm not afraid to share.
I see in young adults the stages I remember going through. It's a joy to see a glimpse of their future self – proof that they're going to be just fine. Other times, I think, wait 10 years and then you’ll realize that you really didn't have it all figured out. I want to give them the keys to the kingdom, but it would be criminal to rob them of the necessary experience of doing it all on their own. It’s actually important to take that job that ends up sucking (and leave it for a new one), to date, to experience a break-up, to establish a household, to manage your money, to find your own jam. These experiences shape you.
It’s like that children’s story, “Bear Hunt” – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it, gotta go through it.
Twenty years ago, I was in the throes of raising a family. I defined myself largely as a mom. Now, in what seems the blink of an eye, my peers and I are sending our offspring away to college and (hopefully!) into their own adult lives. Some celebrate the empty nest, and others rue it. Behind us are the establishing-yourself-as-an-adult phase, the courtship-and-marriage phase, the house-buying phase, the childbearing phase, the minivan (or large SUV) phase. I still have a pre-teen boy at home, and two attending community college, but the days of giant plastic toys and nap schedules are far behind me (praise be to all the deities).
Those of us of a certain age are realizing it's time to reclaim, and maybe also redefine, our own identity, separate from our progeny.
It’s tempting to look back and second-guess some decisions I made, but the truth is, I wouldn’t be exactly where (or who) I am today if I hadn’t followed my own unique path. Regret is a waste of time and energy. We can’t change the past, so we must try to learn from it. Glean that nugget of wisdom from each life experience that will help you next time. Think about what your purpose is for being in this place at this moment, and about how you got here. If you can learn from your past, you have not failed.
And yes, that does sound like a commencement speech, but it turns out there's wisdom in those platitudes. (Listen to your elders, kids. They've been there.)
There’s still so much to look forward to. I am starting to hear a small but persistent voice that whispers, you're on the back nine now, sister – there is less and less time to waste. But I’m savoring every moment. There’s also plenty I still need to figure out. But I am enjoying my journey. I’m in a good place, and I'm so excited to see what comes next.