Birthdays are a time to celebrate and love who we are! As kids, we would have party hats and games, eating cake until we got sick. In our young adult years, birthdays were a rite of passage, defined by excess and recovery days and exploring the freedom that comes from growing up. In our thirties, we celebrate change and growth–from new homes, to relationships, and blossoming families for many of us. By the forties, it feels like arrival. We cheer on success, stability, confidence, and start to enjoy the comfort of knowing who we are for REAL.
The 50’s? Man, this decade has been a RIDE. Children launching, bodies dramatically changing, and unexpected losses can be mixed with opportunities to grow, explore, and shine. There is a disruption and to our generation, maybe some questions of who we are and what is next.
As I consider what Gen X expected from our 50’s, I am amused by the caricatures we learned from. Blue-rinsed perms and caftans are hardly the reality of our people. Each of these characters was my age or YOUNGER in these photos, and two of the golden girls were played by actresses nearly a decade older than their characters…why? They were living in a retirement community, taking odd jobs rather than at the peak of their careers in their 50’s! There is nothing familiar in them as role models as I see my peers as bold, curious, adventurous, and facing their fears in pursuit of joy!
I suppose that’s why I was more of a “Murder, She Wrote” girl–Jessica Fletcher was 58, and while she was no youthful fashion maven, she lived independently, had a midlife (and very successful) career change, and was generally a baddie.
She. Didn’t. Settle.
Perhaps I am a seriously late bloomer, but I know I am not the only one. I speak to people often who are filled with ideas and beauty and deeply feeling souls who are nowhere near done yet. Seekers by archetype, they crave knowledge, connection, and growth. Some are lucky and found their true north and confidence to pursue it younger–my path has been the road less taken.
My personality has not always been something I celebrated. Confidence was, in my younger years, a costume I wore to perform whatever role I found myself in. Many moves as a kid, chasing acceptance in social groups nearly every year of elementary school forced me to become who others wanted. Often bullied and hurt, I pretended to shrug it off while adapting myself to fit in.
Through my 20’s and 30’s, I felt defined by the title I had. Much of how I spent my days and presented myself was based off the role. Employers tell us we should be “this way” to succeed, the kiddie carpools and PTA’s are rife with competitive motherhood. Stay-at-home moms become overachievers, working moms stress trying to do it all, and all because we have this ideal of who we are supposed to be. When our kids are old enough and more independent, many of us miss the years when our roles were better defined and necessary. I, for one, immersed myself in mommy hood because it did come with jobs and expectations. When the kids got older, I often was the “fixer” and not someone who shared my own worries and apprehensions. Part of the grief of the empty nest (don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the heck out of the time with Himself) is wondering what is next. While our kids will always need us, what version do they need?
Two decades (or more) is a long time to “be” someone then be a sort of non-essential worker. It’s retirement from carpools and activities, but for me (and many clients and friends), it leaves a space for reflection on what is next.
Unfortunately, what is out there for our “research” ranges from “you should look like JLo in your 50’s and here’s how,” to getting AARP the day you turn 50. America Ferrera’s soliloquy in “Barbie” probably sums up a woman’s journey to herself best…
One very powerful and beautiful thing that happened to me in my fifties was education. Not a traditional student success story, my constant curiosity had me “try on” a lot of experiences and roles in adulthood. It was a casual introduction to the enneagram (the ancient diagram of nine personality types) in 2019 that was the catalyst to going back to class and learning just exactly how powerful authenticity and vulnerability can be. Bonus that my coaching education came with peer-mentor sessions and lot of free coaching while we learned.
Personality just IS. We aren’t good or bad or whatever, we are EQUAL TO. The expectations laid in our childhoods, the rules of a job, the societal standards we are supposed to look/feel/act like do not allow for our unique stories. We live like chameleons, camouflaging our most vulnerable selves rather than celebrating all that brought us to today. We spend our lives becoming what others expect, often at the expense of our own expectations and priorities. If we live parroting the negative narratives of our youth back to ourselves, what will we miss?
I am 54. I am not done. I have my own history and quirks and foibles. I am authentically confident in who I am and what I can accomplish. I f%#k up, I learn from it. I forgive easily, because I know we all have our own stories. I will not settle, I will celebrate…
THIS is 54