“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell
In just a few days, I’m crossing over. Good-bye forties, farewell first half of life. The big one is here—I’m about to turn fifty.
I’ve never felt daunted by any previous birthdays, but my fiftieth has had me, at times, in a mild state of panic. What does it mean to turn fifty? What lies ahead? How will this change the way the rest of the world sees me? How can I make the most of the time I have left? Because there is now no denying that what remains is limited—time to not only to be alive, but also to be healthy, energetic, and able to do all the things I want to do. I have lately been feeling a unique kind of pressure to make the right choices; my fear of reaching old age with a suitcase full of regrets about what I did or didn’t do when I had the opportunity has been a lingering presence all year long.
In a nutshell, I don’t want to blow it.
I’ve also never been one to create a master plan for my life. I’ve made big plans for business, creative projects, and even dinner parties, but not for the totality of my life. I’ve never had an age-related goal (married by 25, homeowner by 30, etc.) and have rarely tried to predict exactly where I might be or what I might be doing beyond a few months. This has been especially true since my divorce, when I was inspired to take an entirely different approach to my future.
Since then, I’ve steered my life in a way that is less about focusing my sights on specific hopes or dreams and more about setting my compass according to my values—the kind of person I want to be and what I want my life to look like. But even then, I try to hold onto any plans as loosely as possible. Experience has shown me that there are other more mysterious forces at play, and, if I’m willing to let go of the desire for control, there’s a very good chance things will unfold in ways more magically, abundantly, and beautifully than I could have ever orchestrated.
As my husband and I get settled in our new home and community here in Milwaukee, I’ve been watching him connect with an assortment of friends, colleagues, and classmates from years past. He is catching up with people he hasn’t seen in thirty, forty and fifty years, hearing about the highlights of their lives as well as those of other mutual friends. I’ve been involved in many of these conversations, and they have inspired a pulling upward of perspective. I’ve been imagining myself on a cloud above the earth, only it isn’t just the physical entity of our planet but all of time. It is a dynamic universe filled with moments and memories and experiences – mine included, many of which haven’t even happened yet, of course—and I’m up above, watching all of them collide and twinkle and carry each of us along different paths and trajectories. This decision went this way, that one turned things completely around. Those are the points of no return. These are the things we’ll never get back. And over there—that’s what is still entirely possible.
After hearing a few too many stories of lives being consumed by things like lawsuits, family estrangements, and addiction, I keep thinking about the finiteness of our existence.
This week I’m turning fifty, but the day might come when I turn seventy, and what will I be looking at then when I let myself float up above the atmosphere and take stock of the time I’ve had? What do I see now? Has my general approach—values first, pursuit of dreams second—served me or hindered me? Which regrets and heartbreaks from my past are still in need of redemption or transformation for my future?
The funny things is, my birthday will arrive and then it will be over. After all the build up, the angst, and hearing David Byrne’s “How did I get here?” in my head over and over again, it will happen. I’ll be fifty. And that will be that. But what is true about turning fifty has, in fact, been true all along – I don’t know how much time I have left. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Each day my work is the same—to make sure my compass is in alignment with what I love and value most, open the sail, and let the flow of life carry me toward my future, whatever the future may bring.
About the Author: Christine Mason Miller
Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.