I wrote this list of what I’ve learned by fifty during the last week of my forties. I was inspired by Anne Lamott’s post a few weeks prior on turning sixty. I thought I would comment on what it feels like to be turning one decade younger.
What I’ve Learned By Fifty
#1 I don’t actually know much of anything for sure, but I do have some insights that are true for me.
Coming from a linear upbringing on the east coast, going through the American school system and having my particular family, set me up to present myself as certain about everything in my life, even though, in reality, I have always been terribly uncertain.
Part of my own healing journey has been to allow myself more and more, to live in the unknown and find off the beaten path methods to discover and create. As I allow myself to get comfortable with more uncertainty, I feel free, and, consequently, more alive. It is in the unknown that we open ourselves up to being surprised with our creative process and with life itself. Willingness to let go of set ideas offers more of a sense of presence which allows a deeper experience of all of life.
#2 Traveling while I was young, especially internationally, has expanded and informed my entire life for the better.
Luckily for me, I came from a family that saw great value in living and/or traveling abroad. By the time I was ten, I had spent time in Puerto Rico, Lebanon, Syria, England and Scotland. As a matter of fact, my most joyful memories of childhood were at my grandparents’ house in Beirut, before the war.
It was an extremely privileged life and we would walk down their stone steps, right into the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. My grandfather would take my to the King George Hotel for peace melba ice cream sundaes in the evening. We went to see Ella Fitzgerald at the Balbek Ruins. And yet, it was on this trip, which lasted an entire summer, where the seeds of my own activism were planted.
My family and I went for a few days to visit Damascus, Syria. I remember when we got out of the car, we were surrounded by children, my own age and younger, trying to sell us Chicklets gum. I asked my grandfather why they were so aggressive, so intense. He explained to me that they were trying to make enough money to buy bread for their family so they would have food to eat that evening. The shock of it blew my mind. I had never wanted for anything my whole life, and the full body realization dawned on my impressionable heart that there were children in the world who had nothing.
So often, we hear and see bigots and racists spouting blind patriotism. And yet, these same people have never traveled to other lands and opened themselves up to even experience other people and cultures. They have not even tried to understand. Of course, this also happens in our own country, between different classes, races and ethnicities.
The expansiveness of travel has informed my being more than anything. I create not for myself, or my country, but for all people. Traveling at a young age taught me that we are all connected and the place where we are born is pure luck of the draw. We Westerners have tremendous luck and privilege…..Which takes me to Point #3
#3 If you have been fortunate enough to be born into or with privilege, the only appropriate thing to do with it, is to use it to level the playing field for everybody.
Is this clear enough?
#4 I consider long-term breastfeeding of my daughter one of my greatest accomplishments.
It challenged me to the max, it went against dominant culture at the time and it was exhausting. However, the bond that we formed, and the extraordinary young woman she is, certainly has at least a bit to do with that ongoing act. And, when we hit rough patches during the teen years, I am fully convinced that it was the depth of that bond that happened in those early years, that brought us back to each other again and again. Love wins.
#5 No relationship is a failure, even if it does not last.
This is an awareness that I have resisted and come to late in my life. For many years, I saw myself as defective because I did not create sustainable partnerships in romantic relationships. I’ve been married and divorced three times, over the three previous decades of my life.
In my twenties, I married a sexy, handsome Egyptian. We met in New York and traveled to Cairo together in the winter of my twenty-second year. Against family wishes, I married him. The marriage was doomed from the start. Values clashed as did cultures and neither one of us could see our way through the mess. In retrospect, I see the entire thing as a lesson in self love, self respect and a window into my father wounds that it would take years to begin to heal.
In my early thirties, I married my daughter’s father. We met in a twelve-step meeting, where we were both seeking healing from family wounds and were each attempting to ready ourselves for adult lives. We wrote poetry together, made each other vegetarian dinners in our tiny apartment on Santa Fe Avenue and eventually created a perfect baby girl together. We went to India on our honeymoon and I came back and wrote my first solo show about the journey. He was my best friend. I thought we would be together forever. However, beneath the surface, he was battling a brutal and severe mental illness that would take him over completely and spit him out, just barely, many years later.
My last marriage was the one that almost killed me. I married the man because he is a wild creative genius, and, I thought, my soul mate. Instead, I found someone far more broken than me and I was running out of time and steam in terms of being a savior angel for a wounded man. A few days after my 44th Birthday, I was sitting in my studio and a message dropped into my head. The voice was clear as a bell and came from the deepest realms of my being. It said ” You need to leave this marriage, or you will manifest cancer within a year.”
And so, despite the “oh, shit” voice, which was going into panic and shock that I would be starting over, with my daughter, yet again, I moved out of our beautiful east side house, ten days later with $5,000 to my name. And the ending of that relationship took me to the kind of bottom/phoenix from the ashes for one more final and powerful time. And I knew, after that, that I would never give my power away to a man again. And, that led me to several years of deeper healing than I ever knew was even necessary.
I finally fully landed in myself, around the age of 45. The fact that I landed in myself at all is a miracle and taught me that if we use all the heartbreak as food for awakening, we become more powerful than we ever know.
#6 I am teaching my daughter, that as a woman, she must learn to make and manage her own money.
I am grateful that I have become willing to step up as a leader and a powerful woman in all ways, including financially. I’m grateful to others who have modeled to me that I must value myself in this way, to make an impact in the world and take care of myself and the people that I love.
It took me quite a while to let go of conditioning that told me I must depend on a man or that I would never be prosperous as an artist. These past five years have been about claiming my unique giftedness, my power as well as embodying true prosperity, which is about a lot more than just money. It feels great to embark upon this decade knowing that I can ask for my worth and own my life financially, doing what I love. I’ve written more about the relationship between creative people and money here, along with a writing exercise to explore your relationship to money.
#7 Telling the truth about my age, is an act of power.
I will not be bound by the patriarchy. My best is yet to come. I am grateful for women who are empowered mentors who are rocking 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and beyond.
#8 I love you all and am doing my best.
However imperfect I am, it has to be enough. So many of us have wasted years in rigid perfectionism and/or controlled by buckets of shame because we could never live up to an ideal, our own, or anybody else’s. As a story coach and director, I see, over and over again, how we all struggle to trust that our voice, our story and our very lives themselves are enough. We are so much more than enough. We are miraculous creatures.
There is so much suffering in these old painful and illusionary beliefs. They are simply not true. If you are wasting your time trying to be perfect, real moments will pass you by. Perfectionism is a way to torture ourselves – and I refuse to partake. I am more ready than ever to enjoy the sensations of today, whatever is left undone.
Paradoxically, that attitude allows me to get more done in the realms that really matter. It is through love of self, not hateful perfectionism, that I connect to my creativity, my financial abundance, my source of joy, my empathy and my love for others. In short, I connect to my full humanity. And at fifty years of age, that is where I intend to spend the rest of this journey.
You are all, at the end of the day, my own heart. My devotion is to our collective awakening, that we may know each other as our dearest self.
Whatever age you are – what is the best piece of wisdom you have to share? Share your age and wisdom (proudly!) in the comments.
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