I am officially qualified to speak on this subject because, indeed, I did turn fifty last fall. I threw a big party, complete with a fancy cake, many, many cocktails and a DJ (because a live band was deemed a bit too much for my residential neighborhood – even here on an island where anything goes). The evening was fun and seemed like a good way to welcome a new decade. So far, so good. “Fifty & Fabulous” sounded like a pretty good slogan to me.
But just a few days later, the trouble began. Weird aches and pains, unusual thoughts floating in my head, new “features” presenting themselves on my face and body. Where did all these unwanted arrivals come from? Had they already been there and I was just now noticing (with my newly obtained, higher strength reading glasses)? Did they all take the same flight and get here overnight?
I could only identify one legit person of interest – fifty itself. After all, it was what all these miscreants had in common. Suddenly, fifty didn’t seem quite so fabulous anymore. To the contrary, it seemed quite unwelcome. Maybe even bordering on frightening.
But before we go any further, let’s review how I got to fifty in the first place, shall we?
Those Pesky Milestone Birthdays
It’s not like 50 springs at us out of nowhere. We’ve have literally decades of practice with milestone birthdays before then.
21 – The age we all dream of reaching as teenagers, because … hello, legal drinking age. (As a teen who missed the legal drinking age not once but twice due to changes in the laws, this one hit close to home back in the day.)
30 – Uh-oh. Not quite as welcome as 21, and the first time an approaching birthday starts to cause a tiny flicker of angst in the pit of one’s stomach. Is my career on the right path? Should I be in this relationship? OMG, I’m not in a relationship! Is that my biological clock I hear ticking? What am I doing with my life?
40 – Eek…starting to make 30 look damn good, this is the first serious birthday shocker. It also comes loaded with questions. Why haven’t I accomplished everything yet? Are those wrinkles I see? That grey hair is just a rogue strand, isn’t it? Is this really who I’m going to wake up next to for the rest of my life? What am I doing with my life, anyway?
Each milestone arrives like clockwork. And except for 21, the others come bearing gifts in the form of increasing angst and uncertainty. Twenty-one just brings booze.
Knowing all this, I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised by fifty’s arrival and what it had in store for me. Yet I was caught completely off guard.
Forget Fabulous, 50 Is Sort Of…Frightening
Who knew 50 would have a scary side. Not this chick. Man, was I wrong.
While I’ve never been a woman obsessed with her looks (damn if I can even find a lipstick when I need one), I now find myself struggling with the deep lines etching themselves on my face. And an insidious, creeping weight gain. Fast metabolism, where for art thou?! I beseech you, return!
And I’m sorry, but how is it I can kitesurf all day and feel great, yet cause a significant (and totally new) ache in my knee while doing something as mundane as raking up some weeds? Granted, I was knee-deep (literally) in mucky water at the time, but still. I hardly think this would have occurred when I was 42. I’m blaming this latest injury on 50.
Finally, there are the mental shenanigans. I most certainly didn’t expect creeping self-doubt to be part of turning fifty. But damn if I’m not engaged in intense internal conversations on the daily. Always ruminating. Always seeking answers to some big, lingering questions constantly floating around in my head.
What does my retirement look like, anyway? Where will I live when I’m 70? 80? 90? How long can I maintain my current lifestyle? What happens if my health declines? If I live abroad, can I still join AARP for the discounts? (Ok, just kidding on that last one…sort of. I heard they do offer great benefits to members.) The perplexing questions go on, but you get the gist.
And the strangest part about all this mental uncertainty is that I didn’t give any of this a singular thought before I turned 50. Not even as late as, say, the day before. But then…bam! A switch was suddenly flipped on my birthday last year. One night I’m doing rum shots with friends by the swimming pool, three days later I’m obsessing about my body’s degradation and my murky future. (The two days in between were, of course, reserved for hangover recovery…which now sadly takes multiple days instead of multiple hours.)
But It Doesn’t Have To Be
And for a few months, I’ve really let this whole “turning 50″ business affect my life. It was a constant nagging presence that infiltrated every thought…”damn I’m 50” or some other more vulgar variation ran through my head on the daily. Annoying as hell.
But you know what? Obsessing about a stupid number is exceptionally boring. So, I’ve decided to liberate myself from the idea of defining anything – especially me – by any number. Fifty or otherwise.
Because life, at any age, is amazing, awesome and adventurous. Well, at least as much as you let it be. No arbitrary number should ever have the power to define who you are, how you live your life or what you believe yourself capable of.
The big questions will likely remain unanswered, so why obsess? Nobody has a crystal ball. So just try your best to enjoy the here and now.
The aches and pains you feel? Part of your physical body getting older, unfortunately. But also easily remedied with an anti-inflammatory. Yes, you’re a grown-up now and should definitely have a prescription for this close at hand. In fact, it should be right next to the Xanax bottle in your medicine cabinet. Welcome to your golden years, people.
And as long as you’re staying active and making healthy choices (club soda in lieu of tonic, people!), your body’s shape or size is what it is. (Your weight is another number that shouldn’t really define you.) Accept it. Love it. Embrace it. There’s a certain wisdom in respecting everything your body has given you over the course of a well-lived life, including the cellulite and stretch marks.
Besides, they didn’t get there because you were a boring prude living in a constant state of self-denial (eat the damn cake), did they? I didn’t think so. And anyway, no badass woman has time to obsess over how she *wished* she looked. Let’s leave that for the insecure ladies, shall we?
All of this isn’t to say you should ignore fifty. By all means, throw yourself one kick-ass party if that’s your thing. Live it up. Drink the rum shots. Eat the cake. I did, and it was fun (excluding, of course, the subsequent multi-day hangover).
I’m just suggesting that you avoid wasting a single second viewing your self-worth or potential through the lens of “being 50.” And most definitely, don’t use fifty as an excuse to shy away from a big life change or trying something new.
And always remember, at the end of the day fifty is neither fabulous or frightening. It is just a damn number.
Also published on Medium.