Fifty things to do before...? Nah just let it flow.
Every time there is a big life ‘event’, expectation is societally heaped upon us in so many ways. Weddings, graduations, significant birthdays…
There is so much to do, to achieve, to prove. As I approached my 50th birthday, I was inundated by the multitudinous book recommendations, articles and websites dedicated to listing 50 ‘must do’s’ by the time you are 50: ‘Bake your own bread!’; ‘visit a crop circle!’, ‘dance a tango!’, ‘go to Graceland!’, ‘read Hemingway!’, ‘work in a soup kitchen’… and on and on. Whilst there may be much reason to celebrate and to reflect on the opportunities life has to offer and what we have to give, sometimes it’s all about just BEING in the experience rather than ‘creating’ one.
In the run up to my birthday I must admit I got swept into this mindset - particularly post Covid and all its limitations. I started to organise a big party, booked to walk the Camino trail, planned a week learning French in the Alps, joined an English Channel swim relay team, thought about a hot air balloon experience… why? Because I was 50, and that’s what you do. Apparently. (Huge caveat: when you live in relative affluence in a free society). As the weeks ticked on, I didn’t dread getting older, but I did start to get anxious about all this ‘stuff’ I had planned to do. The waves of panic started to break – having not seen most old friends for over 3 years, how could I speak to them all in one night?! With chronic fatigue, how would I walk the Camino or swim the Channel?!??! How could I go to the Alps when I had teenage children at home doing mock exams? How had I got caught up in this?
I took a step back and reflected on what being 50 really meant to me. It meant being confident in my own skin, not feeling beholden to others or societal expectations, and knowing where I needed to be. It meant really outgrowing FOMO and following my heart. It meant finally coming to terms with needing time to rest, heal and be well. Being at peace with my place in the world, allowing time for true creativity and spending my resources on things that really made a difference. This is a year I need to be home and be with my family. So what happened when I just let things be?
Well firstly I experienced the elation of cancellation!! My own take on ‘cancel culture’ - the joy of saying ‘no’ and not feeling guilty about it - but more than that, I started to really experience what happens when you create space for things to happen. I came out of the Camino, the Channel swim, the Alps. When I stopped trying to cram things into my life in my 50th year, I unexpectedly became a bookseller and a swimwear model (so random). I joined collaborations dedicated to really making a difference in the world – from supporting parents of young adults to enabling safe transition of chemotherapy drugs across the UK. I partnered with writers and coaches from around the world and have been invited to swim with a world record holder in Manhattan.
More fundamentally, I have shared pancakes with new friends, reunited with old friends, spent individual time with those that mean more to me than anything, relearned trigonometry and ionic compounds (!) with my daughters and watched the sun rise from within the sea. I have shared ice baths, sunset walks, chilli hot chocolates, pottery painting, swooshes*, sushi and reiki with those that hold my soul in their palms. None of which were originated by me, but that I was able to gratefully accept by having space.
So for me, this is what reaching 50 is all about. Starting to feel the mark you may have made on the world, and seeing the hope for the future. A time for reflection and renewal and seeing what comes your way. Experiencing hope and change instead of milestones and markers.
Fifty things to do? Nah…just let it flow.
*a swoosh in open water swim terms is where you don’t have to swim, you literally go with the flow. It is about entering a river upstream and letting the current carry you one way, gloriously allowing you to observe, smile and feel. Being able to be with nature rather than fighting it.