Before I even blew out the candles on my 49th birthday cake, people were asking, “So what are you going to do for your 50th?”
In a year, I would no longer be able say I was “in my 40s” or check the box on a survey marked “40-49.” Instead, I would be 50! Five. Zero. The Big Five O! The number sounded daunting.
I didn’t want to think about it, and yet, it was all I could think about. The idea of turning 50 permeated my 49th year. Every conversation I had with friends or family, even on the soccer sidelines of my kids’ games was punctuated with comments about my next birthday. From complimenting (“I can’t believe you are going to be 50!”) to commiserating (“So you are joining the club …”) to freaking me out (“Wow! That’s a big number!”), the comments were unavoidable.
Worse than talking about it with other people were the internal conversations I had with myself. If 50 was officially middle age, then half my life was over (and that’s a pretty optimistic assumption!) I was on the back nine, and what had I really done? Had I used the first half of my time on earth wisely? Had I become the person I had aspired to be when I was young?
Throughout the year I became very reflective and questioned my choices.
As my birthday drew closer, I vacillated between wanting to spend the day under the covers in denial and throwing a huge bash. Until I said, “Screw it!” I was going to be 50 either way, so I decided to embrace it with cake and tequila.
It’s not that I didn’t love my life, because I did. I had amazing kids, a wonderful marriage, a great extended family, and lots of friends. I was healthy, an active member of my community, and had been making strides in my freelance writing career. But there were so many things I hadn’t done. Places I had yet traveled to, goals I hadn’t achieved. I didn’t write a book or even have a feature in a major publication. In fact, I hadn’t even held a full-time paying job in 20 years.
Looking back, it wasn’t just my impending old age that made me contemplative but also the new stage I was entering. I felt like I was being fired! My oldest child was graduating college, and my middle child was graduating from high school. Even though I would still have my son at home, my role as primary caregiver to three children was changing. I felt sad and scared, worried without their daily presence my life would feel less full. Though I felt lucky to have spent this time with my kids, as I approached 50 I started second guessing my life and wondering, What if?
As my birthday drew closer, I vacillated between wanting to spend the day under the covers in denial and throwing a huge bash. Until I said “Screw it!” I was going to be 50 either way, so I decided to embrace it with cake and tequila.
I hadn’t had a real birthday party with lots of guests and decorations since I was 9 years old. Not since my wedding had I been the center of a big celebration. I worried that I would feel awkward trying to chit chat and mingle; I had always been kind of shy in crowds. But I also felt giddy, like a little kid. It was fun having a reason to shop for a new dress and get my hair and makeup professionally done. My friends and family seemed excited, too.
Although it wasn’t a surprise party, the night held many revelations for me. After years of being a behind-the-scenes kind of person, more at ease taking care of others and planning events, I was surprised how comfortable I felt in the spotlight. I enjoyed having the focus on me for a few hours. As guests arrived, I felt like I was taking a tour down memory lane. Family and friends from so many different parts of my life were there to celebrate with me. I felt happy, and any doubts I had about what I had done with my first 50 years faded.
Yes, this was the end of a chapter, but not the end of the story. In fact, in some ways, it was just getting to the good part. … Being 50 made me bolder and braver.
Yes, this was the end of a chapter, but not the end of the story. In fact, in some ways, it was just getting to the good part.
After the party, I don’t think I looked a day over 50, but I felt different. Though my 49th year was filled with contemplation, my 50th was one of determination. I stopped thinking about what I hadn’t done with my life and started actually doing the things I always said I wanted to do but hadn’t because I didn’t have the time or the confidence. Being 50 made me bolder and braver.
With my daughters out of the house, my life was emptier and so I re-filled it.
I spent more time with my husband, my son, my friends, and my parents. I saw my high school and college friends more often. We started taking a lot of the trips we had put on hold while the kids were young. I read more books, saw more Broadway shows, and went to more movies. I became more focused on my writing and even went to several work-related conferences that I had skipped in years past. When my daughters called home, we’d talk about their lives, but we’d also talk about mine because I had a lot to say, too.
It turns out that 50 is pretty fabulous. And please don’t ask me what I am doing for my 60th. I’m too busy to think about it.
This article originally appeared in The Fine Line.