Standing on the Brink of a New Decade

BlogHer Original Post

I will turn 40 in about two weeks.  In my case, this means I've been sort of crazy for the past year.  Right after I turned 39, I suddenly decided that I had exactly one year left in which to grow up and accomplish all the things I thought I ought to have accomplished by 40.

The trouble (or the saving grace) is that I've never really been one to make lists of goals as far as what and where to be and when.  So I didn't really know what it was the clock was clicking down to.

Now here I am, nearly a year later, feel considerably more relaxed, having reinvented myself in the past six months as a writer of fiction (which I'd never been before last summer).  I foresee being quite happy to work on that for next 40 years of my life.  You know, along with the day jobs, the parenting of small children into responsible adults, the devoted partnering with my spouse and all those other things that fill my life to the gills.

Still, I was more than pleased when BlogHer offered to hook me up with a mentor ten years my senior.  If anything cushions the blow of arriving in new decades of life, feeling unprepared, it's someone who has been there, herself, for a decade and can hand you--if not a roadmap--her notes about how she made her way through it.

And so, forty-something reader, I give you Gena.

Here are some questions I immediately wanted to ask Gena, as soon as we were paired up.  And here are some of her answers:

What did you want to be when you grew up, at about age 20?

I wanted to be "someone." I had taken communication classes in college but I was disappointed that college wasn't what I thought it would be at 18.  I was discouraged out of a photography program. One part not enough money and one part the instructor did not want women in his class, he was teaching professional photography.

So part of the time was spent regrouping my spirits and figuring out what else I wanted to do. I knew I wanted something more than a day job. I also wanted something more for myself. I will say that the 300lb belly dancer that appeared on The Gong Show helped to restore my sanity and might have saved my life. She was the most inspirational person I had ever seen. Seriously. That woman had moxie. If she could do that on television I could do anything. I do believe in long distance, invisible and just-in-time mentorship.

I wanted to be centered. Authentic. Anchored intellectually and spiritually.

Did anything like that actually happen?

Me being a belly dancer? Sadly no. Did I regroup? Yes, eventually. I always seem to be around methods of communication. I participated with a radio group at a college radio station. I found other interests, public access television and other creative paths. It took about 20 more years for the Internet to kick in and I had to wait for blogging. I've come to accept that I am a conduit and I'm trying to learn how to do that without boring people. 

I think, if you are lucky you evolve into multiple people. There were periods in my 20s that at times I was a negative or defensive person. I really wanted a different life than the one planned for me, i.e. get a job. I don't know why but I knew that getting a job was only a part of what I was supposed to do.

The more I reached out (beyond myself) to new experiences I seemed to meet people who showed me a different path. I met a 78 year old woman who was proud to have been a Flapper in the 1920s. In her later years when she was not traveling she records materials for blind students or taking classes for new interests. That dame also knew who was having a party. I'm racking up role models who are busting the mold so that I don't have to step into one.

Are you happy or disappointed by what did happen (or a mix of those)?

It is more an appreciation that I survived myself. I did meet some of my personal goals. I tried new things. I think it is important to keep learning so that you don't wind up a stagnate old biddy. I've seen some of those people. No thank you, I do not want dust on my brain. I have no love for airplanes. But if that is what it takes to see a new place so be it. I never wanted fear to keep me from doing something.

I reclaimed my love of photography. I have been inspired by a lot of people that literally kept me alive during a broken heart or two. I write. It is challenging but I'm working my life day by day.

What do you want to be now?

More creative. More tolerant. Less fearful. Being connected to a spirit beyond myself. Taking time to witness a day that will not come again.

How are you making that happen?

By not measuring myself to other people. You can feel like a flat out failure if  look at your peers and think "What the hell did I do wrong?, Why don't I have that?"  For example, I was feeling bad that I can't buy a home at this time in my life. The flip side is that I had the good sense not to buy a home when they were giving the suckers way under false pretenses. It is a part-time job to remember that my instincts are good, even if I don't understand why. I also have two or three people I really, really trust if I question a situation.

I'm saving for my future and thinking about where do I want to live next? How do I want to do it? I'm also thinking about how I can give back or contribute. I want to participate in something but I don't know what.

What are you really glad is behind you?

It isn't behind me. It is incorporated into me. Yes there are experiences I wish I did not have. There are people I would have loved not to have met. Those experiences taught me what I needed to know. How to protect myself better, to fight for my needs or establish boundaries.  Or how not to let other people define who I am and what I want out of my life. It is about transmuting ickyness into a positive outcome that I can live with. This does not work for the true life horrors; that requires deep work. I guess what I am saying is that if you can survive the darkness you will appreciate the good times. I wouldn't be who I am without the bad experiences blended with the good ones.

What are you really looking forward to?

Taking a trip to a new place doing something I've never done before. Maybe a writer retreat or a meditation joint. Or a cooking camp. Not ready to jump out of plane just yet. If I could find an old timey swim suit or swimming long johns then maybe snorkeling.

What about you?  How does your past inform your present?  Your future?  Are you on the brink of a life shift that makes you stop and pause?  Seek counsel?  Have you learned something in the past decade you would like to pass along to those coming up behind you?

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