All In Good Time

Recently, I was having lunch with a young friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and we were having a nice time catching up on each other’s lives.  She told me what her plans were for the immediate future, and then added wistfully, “But I’ll be thirty soon, and I’m not exactly where I thought I would be by now.”  Now this was coming from a young woman who has already lived in several foreign countries, is bilingual, and preparing for a career in international service, so at first that remark seemed a bit odd for someone who has already accomplished so much.  But then I remembered how I felt when I was in my twenties, and I understood exactly what she meant.

I remembered when I had also thought that there were certain milestones I needed to reach by a certain age if I wanted to be successful and happy. At the time, my idea of success hinged on publishing several books of middle-grade fiction, or at the very least, working as an editor or writer for some local publication, and I wanted to accomplish this before the age of thirty.  And I remember how very disappointed and ashamed I was when that didn’t happen.

The thing is, life rarely works out according to plan.  It’s true that sometimes we just don’t work hard enough to reach our goals, but other times, circumstances we can’t control get in the way.  Industries change, economies crash, our health can fail:  all sorts of unforeseen barriers can pop up between us and what we think we want to do.  So it just doesn’t make sense to pin all our hopes and dreams, and even our very sense of self-worth, on the idea of achieving specific goals according to a specific time line.  Real life doesn’t work that way, but I think that’s a lesson that takes a while to learn.

Now I believe that life isn’t anything like a check list of accomplishments that need to be crossed off as we go along.  I believe it’s more important to follow our dreams and passions, always give our best effort, and still be ready to adapt as circumstances require.  That doesn’t mean giving up, it just means realizing that there are many, many, ways to be happy and successful, and to stop limiting ourselves to a preconceived notion of exactly what we need to accomplish and when we need to accomplish it.

I never did publish a book of middle grade fiction, but I am a published author, and I have found different ways to work as a writer.  Some of my goals may never be realized, but I have also been so lucky to experience so many wonderful things and do so many things I never thought I could.  (I still remember the total awe I felt when I first stood on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, because that was something I had never imagined I would do.) Life always holds something unexpected for us, sometimes bad, but sometimes surprisingly good.

IMG_5640I don’t remember exactly what I told my friend that day, but the gist of it was that I advised her to stop thinking in terms of timelines, and to just keep pursuing both her personal and professional dreams as best she could.  I told her she should be proud of all that she has already accomplished, and not waste time regretting the things she hasn’t been able to do.  Because life is for living, not for measuring or judging.

Happily Ever After

wedding pic 3It’s impossible to reach middle age without also reaching some rather significant milestones in life, and I’ve had my share of big ones (graduations, becoming a mother, publishing a book) and small ones (shedding the extra fifteen pounds I’d carried around for decades, starting this blog, etc.)  This weekend, I’ll be reaching another large milestone, because Sunday is my 35th wedding anniversary, and I don’t think that managing to stay happily married for over three decades is any small feat.

When I think back to my wedding day, which was memorable mostly for the record-breaking heat of 110 degrees with a heat index of 120 degrees, I honestly can’t believe that it was thirty-five years ago.  The time has just flown by, much faster than I ever could have imagined.  We had planned to celebrate with a trip to Ireland and England, but then my daughter and her boyfriend decided that this would be a good year to get married, and the thought of financing both a wedding and an overseas vacation didn’t seem like such a good idea.  (We hope to go next year, instead.  Who says you can’t make a big deal out of a 36th wedding anniversary?)

I’ve learned a lot of things in the past thirty five years, and most of it has to do with the delicate art of compromise.  I am a minimalist who gets nervous when I look around a room and see too much stuff, while my husband is what can best be described as a “keeper.”  We learned early on in our marriage that separate closets were a must.  Our child-raising styles were similar, thank goodness, but our decorating tastes were not, and that became one of the many areas where we learned to compromise.  I said “yes” to the plaid sofa and love seat combo in our first apartment, but “no” to the velvet tapestry of the dogs playing poker.  It took awhile, be we figured out how to be a part of two very different families, how to manage our finances in a way that made us both happy, and how to play to each other’s strengths in deciding who does what job.

I suppose after living, more or less peacefully, with my husband for thirty five years that’s it only natural for me to want to give my daughter a bit of marriage advice.  So far, I’ve resisted the temptation, but if I did, my advice would be simple:  be true to yourself, be loving toward your spouse, and always make your marriage your priority.  Know there will be good days and bad days.  Sometimes he will annoy you by doing nothing more than walking in the room and breathing your air, because that’s what happens when you live with someone day in and day out.  But if you have chosen your spouse well, there will be far more good days than bad, because you are sharing your life with your best friend, your strongest supporter and the person you would rather be with more than anyone else.  And trust me, the years will just fly by……

New Horizons

IMG_3601Ever since I started this blog, I’ve spent a little time each day reading other blogs.  It’s what bloggers do.  I’ve found some great ones on all kinds of subjects, but I spend most of my time searching for, and reading, blogs about being middle aged.  And I’ve noticed that there is a common theme among many of the blogs that focus on middle age.  Mixed in among the universal complaints of fading eyesight, empty nests, aging parents and way too much sagging skin, there is also a whole lot of hope.

Over and over, I read about people optimistically entering a new phase of their life, shedding the emotional baggage that has been holding them back and finally moving toward the life they really want to live.  The authors are a varied group: people launching new businesses, the newly divorced, those in the “sandwich generation,” recent empty-nesters, new grandparents, people who were moving across country or even to a whole new country.  But their perspective is the same: they feel they are moving, tentatively but hopefully, toward a better future.

As we all know, there are definite disadvantages to being middle aged, and often there is a nagging sense of loss as our family dynamics change and our bodies begin their inevitable decline.  But what these blogs made so very clear was that the negative aspects of middle age are far from the whole story.  Many of us are using this time of our lives to rethink our priorities, to listen to that inner voice that tells us who we really are and what we really want to do, and to finally find the courage to chase our most cherished dreams.

I have always known that I like to write.  As a child, I remember sitting at my father’s desk and using his old manual typewriter to write mystery books, even though I never made it much past the second chapter.  And it was no accident that I majored in English in college, and spent many years dabbling in a free-lance writing career.  But it still took me decades to accept the fact that writing is a fundamental part of who I am, and that I will never feel completely fulfilled when I am not writing.  That clarity was a gift of middle age.


Yes, middle age is a time when we have accumulated some losses, and we do grieve for what, and whom, we have lost.  But it is also a time when we can look hopefully toward our future with a willingness to try new things, a more compassionate and forgiving outlook, and, most important of all, a much stronger sense of self than we have ever had before.  We are old enough to have learned a whole lot of life’s lessons, but also young enough to see that there is still a bright horizon ahead.  And that’s more than enough reason to be hopeful.