50 is the New 49
At the age of 50, I felt I had just gotten off of a wild bucking bronco.
I didn't feel like I had to be a "player" anymore. I finally saw women as women and not as girls. I realized that goodness was its own reward. I ignored those who judge me for my past instead of my present. I saw the true spiritual beauty of children. I could no longer understand revenge or oneupmanship. I would no longer step on bugs just because they were bugs. I no longer told lies. I saw my marriage as the be-all and end-all of my life. I saw it as my life. I felt that happiness was otherwise elusive when pursued like a pot o'gold.
At the age of 50, I finally got it. Even better, I felt like I was 49. So, in truth, I was pretty much on schedule. I should arrive on time when I get there.
If you never try, you’ll never know
You are never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream. Les Brown
When I was nine, adults began asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. My reply – to their general and vocal disappointment since they expected me to say lawyer, doctor or president – was mother, wife and teacher. As a senior in high school, I did lean towards becoming a lawyer and/or diplomat (attempting, perhaps, to align others’ expectations with my own interests), and pursued humanities in international affairs at a premier school of diplomacy. I loved my studies, but they along with observations of functioning government confirmed that I was not meant for politics. (Working at a law firm for two summers verified that I did not want the life of a lawyer.)
As a senior in college, I returned to teacher as my professional goal – although I did audition for, and study at, a drama school the summer after I graduated from college to see if I might want to be an actor. Having done a movie, commercials and modeling as a child combined with years of ballet lessons, piano lessons as well as musical theater performances from ages ten through 22, the arts were a lifelong love. Alas, I like security a bit too much, so I applied to graduate school, worked as a waitress at the Four Seasons to earn money to study in Spain, and lived in Spain for six months before going to grad school for Hispanic literature – having decided it was Spanish that I wanted to teach.
First semester senior year, a professor encouraged us to write a letter to our 30-year-old selves in which we discussed what we hoped to accomplish by age 30. At age thirty, I had attained said goals: I had completed the coursework for my PhD (not actually on my list but a bonus to help me be the best teacher I could be), gotten married, had a child and I was a Spanish teacher. Those years were grueling, exhausting, often painful and occasionally wonderful.
The first year I taught high school Spanish, there were quite a few veteran teachers on staff who were utterly miserable, just hanging on for the benefits and the pension. It was apparent to everyone including the students. Miserable teachers do not make good teachers. I promised myself then that if I were in a similar situation one day, I would find something else to do. After five years of working 80-90 hours a week (that includes the time outside of the classroom spent preparing lessons that could reach myriad learning styles giving all my students the opportunity to find success in the language classroom, grading, etc.), I started teaching part-time and consulting part-time for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). After ten years, the last of which I spent crying every single day, I gave up great health benefits and left teaching to consult full time at ACTFL. I turned 40 that year.
Over the next decade, I managed the development of curricular and assessment materials in over 24 languages, managing then directing all aspects of said projects including proposal writing, contract management, budget control, contractor hiring, etc. Eventually, I accepted a full-time position in charge of maintaining the quality of the organization’s myriad oral proficiency assessments, raters and testers, contract fulfillment, as well as continuing to oversee various assessment development projects.
Another turning point was on the way.
It was the year we turned 50. My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I needed to not be working 70 or 80 hours a week nor bringing work and stress home so that I could be fully present for him. For me. For my birthday that year, my son gave me a book: Find your Passion. He encouraged me to pursue those things I had always loved – painting, writing, acting. He said you have always worked to pay the bills, support the family. It’s time to do something for you. My husband was living his dream (Parkinson’s diagnosis notwithstanding); his business was doing well. We could afford for me to dream a little, too.
A few months later I “retired” and began traveling with my husband on business and other trips to support him; us. At the same time, I began painting. And taking painting, drawing and acting classes. I renewed my SAG union card and started doing background work, then standing in and auditioning for speaking roles. I found Prose and started writing more consistently.
The walls and floor of my breezeway are covered with my drawings and paintings. My writing has improved such that I won two monthly challenges in the last year. I have been the stand in on a network show for three years and this summer, I auditioned for and was cast in three short films. One, as the lead. (We will film next month!) Doing a little happy dance!
All this to say that 50 was a turning point but it wasn’t the first and chances are it will not be the last – if the years are kind and I stay healthy. Some prolific writers started publishing at 65. At least one great painter started at 78. That gives me hope. A [person] is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. John Barrymore
I read recently: It’s never too late to start over. If you weren’t happy with yesterday, try something different today. Don’t stay stuck. Do better.
Words to live by at any age.
Like a Flash
Joe was in his late 80's when we loaded up and headed to Nashville. He asked if I had any need to make the trip to Nashville, some six hours north and east. I really didn't, but he was a friend and he wanted to go to his great-grandson's first birthday party. The great-grandson was named Joe. The trip was a done deal and we would travel two weekends later.
At the time, I was in my mid to late 50's. On the ride back, I turned to Joe and asked, "Does time slow down as you get older?". I was hopeful that it did as my fifties had sped by much quicker than any other decade of my life. Joe turned to me and said, "Oh, no. You'll put your head down and it'll be January. When you raise your head back up, it'll be May."
This was not the news that I wanted to hear. Already, in my mid-fifties, I would say something like, "In twenty years, I'd like to..." and then realize that more than ever, those twenty years were no guarantee. In your 20's or 30's or even 40's you can make that statement with relative certainty that you will be around. In your 50's you are starting to get old in twenty years.
I am now in my mid-60's and my friend Joe died this past November at age 98. Joe would tell you to respect each day that you are given and to give thanks for health and well-being. Joe would be right.