Friday, July 11, 2014

Life at 40: Looking Back and Moving Forward

As I sit here on the eve of my 40th birthday, I wanted to take the time to assess where I’m at in life and where I’m going. It’s not just about what it means for me and that I’ve likely lived at least half of my days on earth. My family may even be taking this harder than I am. The fact that they now have a 40-year-old daughter or granddaughter also makes them more aware of their own mortality. My parents are in their mid-sixties and I only have one surviving grandparent, my dad’s mom, who will be 84 next month. Thankfully they are all in generally good health!

I, on the other hand, sometimes feel like I’m 80, not 40. The past couple of years have been particularly hard on me physically. Who knows for sure what has caused my body to accelerate the aging process of late. Maybe all of those sports I enjoyed for so many years (dance, karate, softball, soccer...) are now taking their toll. I’ve had right hip surgery and double knee surgery in the span of one year, been treated for bursitis in my right shoulder, endured many months of physical therapy, and am now dealing with continuous pain in my cervical & thoracic spine. Oh, and I also had sinus surgery last year, too!

From another perspective, I have many friends, who also turned 40 this year, who have given birth recently. I also have a number of friends of the same age who are battling cancer. Considering the way my body feels these days, it’s hard to imagine going through either one of these traumatic events at this age. I respect and admire them for their stamina and courage.

In spite of the aches and pains of mid-life, I would still rather be 40 than 20, or even 30. While I may not have all of the answers, I have far fewer questions than I did at those ages. I’m confident, know how to get what I want, am not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, and have the advantage of having experienced plenty of life's ups & downs. And, like a cat with nine lives, I always seem to land on my feet.

Some of the notable experiences that were part of my first forty years:
  • I’ve lived in at least 25 different apartments or houses.
  • I’ve worked for at least 15 different companies.
  • I've been in four long-term relationships (2+ years) and married twice.
  • While I was a firefighter & first responder for several years in my late teens & early twenties, I watched gunshot victims take their last breath, used the jaws of life to extricate people from smashed cars, and crawled into burning buildings and thought I might not make it out alive.
  • While traveling all over the U.S. and Europe as a flight attendant for Delta Air Lines, I witnessed some really unbelievable drama on the airplane. A personal favorite - the guy who dyed his hair in the lavatory, then went back to his seat with what appeared to be a bloody towel wrapped around his head, causing much concern from other passengers.
  • I’ve partied with the rich and famous while dating a bodyguard and working as the personal assistant to a music industry executive.
  • I’ve been in TV shows, movies and commercials as a background actor.
  • I saved up enough money, sold almost everything I owned, and quit my job to travel around the world for two years.
  • I’ve jumped out of an airplane (twice), been hot air ballooning, and crossed the Atlantic by boat (well, cruise ship really).
  • I’ve visited over 50 countries, 49 states (North Dakota, I’ve got your number!) and over 200 breweries.
Wow, it's a bit overwhelming to read all of that, much less to have lived it! Of course, I've learned a lot from all of those experiences. Basically, although I know you've read many of these mantras before, this is what I came up with almost instantaneously:  Live each day as if it’s your last. Have no regrets. Material things mean nothing. Do what makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or take chances. Take responsibility for your actions. Walk the talk. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends and partners; pick wisely. I'm sure I'm leaving out plenty of others, but these are the primary drivers of my life at this point.

So, what are my plans for the next forty years? I've got to focus on staying healthy; there are so many more things I want to see & do! I will continue to live as untethered as possible, keeping possessions and long-term obligations to a minimum so I have the freedom to take advantage of unique opportunities. I want to explore South America (a six-month minimum trip) and Greg & I would love to volunteer at a national park for at least one season. Plus I have a long list of other places I want to visit throughout the world. One of many personal goals is to write a book (or several) about my travels. I'll strive to learn something new every day. I want to have a positive impact on the people around me. I need to laugh more. I will continue to ask myself, "If you could be or do anything, how would that change your life versus what it is right now?"

While I've faced plenty of challenges, I think the first forty years have been pretty good to me. I am thankful for all of it, as it has made me who I am today. I will close this last post of my thirty-ninth year with my favorite poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.