For years I had thought turning 50 would be a huge celebration. I had planned to hire a great band, maybe even a famous one. I was going to take singing lessons and learn to sing one song really well. And kill it. Rock star for two and a half minutes. Be the coolest 50 year-old ever. Happy birthday to me.
Except life got in the way. Or I let it get in the way. I didn’t prioritize learning to sing or planning the party to end all parties. I decided it was too much money. Other things were more important than learning to sing. Planning a party for myself was a lot of work. I even started to see it as selfish. And what if I spent all this time learning to sing and spent a bunch of money, and it fell flat? What if I was embarrassing?
Looking for Validation
Truth is, I was looking for validation. From my partner. My family. Friends. What if I couldn’t get the validation I was craving?
When I decided that a big bash wasn’t going to happen, I started to feel sorry for myself. Maybe I wasn’t worth it. Or maybe no one else thinks I’m worth it. And if I’m being honest, feeling sorry for myself felt good. It was familiar. Comforting. It wasn’t my fault. I was wronged. I’m sure you can relate to some version of this irrational negative voice in my head.
And then the universe reminded me of a very powerful quote from Maya Angelou courtesy of Brené Brown: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” As Brené so articulately explains through her research and intimate understanding of what she terms the ‘midlife unravelling’, true belonging isn’t external. We can’t find it in the outside world. We can only find it in ourselves.
I had been looking for external validation. I wanted to be cool. To fit in. To be relevant. I wanted to be worthy of others’ praise and celebration. However fleeting that praise and celebration is, I wanted it – like a drug.
Am I Successful?
I was looking to my partner, my family, and my friends to validate my first 50 years on this planet. Am I successful? Have I done enough? Did I maximize the first half? Was I productive? Do people like me? Will people remember me? And remember me well?
As a recovering people pleaser these questions have plagued me for the majority of my life. Thing is I had learned long ago that those questions can never be answered by others. Or their answers are never permanent. Just when you think they’ve been answered, the self doubt comes rushing back in. So what was going on?
First and foremost, perimenopause. I’ve had a challenging menopausal transition so far. In addition to the many physical and mental symptoms, my confidence has taken a beating. I’ve had to adapt my self-care routines and find new resources for new symptoms again and again. I’ve had to relearn many lessons. Including: I am responsible for my own happiness. No one else. Just me.
Secondly, turning 50 came with pressure. It was milestone I’m grateful to have achieved, but also one that marks a significant passage of time. I had lost the confidence I needed to look back on my life. To celebrate the accomplishments. To address the missteps. Not to judge my performance, but to apply the learnings so that the next fifty can be well-lived. In the moment. With the skills and confidence earned in the first fifty.
Midlife has come with a lot of unravelling for me. Changing careers. Evaluating relationships. Changing relationships. Setting boundaries. Learning who I am and what is important to me. Setting my own expectations, instead of living up to everyone else’s.
Turning 50 threw me for a loop. I was back to trying to fit in, to meeting others’ expectations, because I was disconnected from myself.
When I stopped doing that and turned inward, I found the answer.
I was afraid to try being a rock star for two and half minutes and risk looking like a fool. But more importantly, I realized that I kept putting off planning a big party because that is not what I needed. I needed a celebration outside of the everyday, but deeply rooted in connection. For me, a big party would be a whirlwind of distraction with little opportunity for connection. I didn’t want to be absorbed in planning and making sure everyone else had a good time.
I ended up choosing a small celebration with lifelong family friends that I don’t often get to spend time with. And it was spectacular. I felt loved and truly appreciated. A weekend that celebrated where I came from and who I have become. I was myself. In the moment. Happy.
It would be really fun to be a rock star. And maybe someday I will learn to sing. Regardless, when I look in the mirror the person reflected back is smiling. I like her. And I’m really proud of her first 50 years. Excited about what the next 50 will bring.
In fact, I see turning 50 as the start of the best time in my life.