Turning 50. The Start of My Dangerous Years.
It was my 50th birthday in February. As I wrap up 2017, I wanted to reflect on all the changes I made this year—some planned, some by necessity, and some by happy accident!
I launched into this year with great anticipation because the fiftieth year came with meaning and baggage from an early age.
When I was seven years old, I remember standing by my Mother’s side while she was having a conversation with a neighbor. The neighbor lady was wondering over my Mom having such a young child and said something like “she must keep you young”. I piped up “Yeah, but my Mom is really 50!” There was some embarrassed laughter and sheepish smiles but I knew I was in trouble.
When we got home I got a big talking. First off, I learned that it’s NOT ok to talk about someone else’s age—specifically if they are a woman and it implies they are not a teenager any longer. But more potently, I made the connection that my Mother was older than the mothers of my friends—and that it meant I might not always have her around and that life is a limited engagement.
From my 7-year-old point of view, 50 looked like a dangerous age.
Here we are 43 years later. Mom is heading into her 94th birthday. And I am winding up the first of my own dangerous years.
During my first 50 years, I was determined to not believe the common tropes of age—easy to do when you aren’t there yet. There is still perspective to be gained about age--I’m still in the apex of my powers.
Despite my desire for this year to be very intentional, life brought me lots of unintended change.
Here is a run-down of this year’s intended and unintended birthday.
Keri and I took a trip to Europe as a combined celebration of our 50th birthdays. We planned to indulge in, and say yes to, anything and everything that tickled our fancy.
Keri treated me to a rare Scotch tasting. We relaxed on a leather banquette and watched the barman mix a pair of golden drinks that I secretly wished were for us. Surprise! The citrusy cocktails arrived a second later with the instructions to finish them as they were designed to open our palates to the tasting—the citrus had a smoky overtone from a scant scotch float. We were then joined at the bar by Caesar who guided us through the tasting, teaching us how to experience maximum joy from our sips, and sharing the elemental qualities that made these samples so special. Keri got on well with our instructor and was able to detect the various notes in our drinks. However, as a non-drinker, Keri got tipsy for the first time in her life. We left the tasting feeling rosy and warm and tottered down the street until we found ourselves in a shop that specializes in cashmere—we both purchased cardigans that cost a small fortune! We call them the Whiskey Sweaters. Afterwards, we headed to the food-halls at Harrods for caviar and champagne! This day set the tone for our trip.
I took long meandering walks in the morning while Keri slept in. We then spent our afternoons and evenings going from one beauty spot to the next, stopping for beautiful meals, extended tea times, ice cream, and crepes. We took a day trip to Reims and toured the oldest champagne cellar in all of France (Ruinart) and shared a couple of bottles of their best with two chefs visiting from Berlin. Keri had a polite sip while I replenished the rest of the glasses. Our guide made reservations for us at Le Jardin Brasserie where we ate a lavish lunch and then took a cab to the cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims. In a country full of magnificent architecture, this one brought me to tears with its sacred beauty—dedicated to Joan of Arc. We couldn’t stop staring but needed to tear ourselves away to catch the TGV back to Paris.
If it sounds like we spent all our time eating and drinking—there is some truth to that. I regret nothing! Keri and I used all this table time to people watch, talk about our impressions of what we saw, and generally relax. It was a wonderful start to celebrating 50.
It probably sounds strange that sobriety is the gift I gave myself on the heels of a trip where wine and food figured so heavily. I didn’t plan it and I didn’t intend it.
What happened was I got sick on the airplane coming back. That last glass of wine accompanying my in-flight meal tasted sour and metallic. I spent the rest of the flight gripping my stomach. When we finally arrived home, I crawled into bed and slept for 18 hours. I didn’t want to eat and I couldn’t drink anything but water or tea. As I laid in bed, it occurred to me that my body wanted something different than what I had been giving it the first 50 years of life.
I haven’t had a drink since April 1st.
I think the people who socialize with me wonder when I’m going to start drinking again. I have no idea if I will or I won’t. I can say I have no plans to start again. The epicurean in me misses the ritual and fun of selecting just the right wine or cocktail. The writer/artist/thinker in me doesn’t miss drinking at all.
No matter how much I enjoyed it in the moment, drinking did not make me more creative, give me insight, or improve my life in substantial ways. If anything, the aftermath of a glass or two of wine was a tax I didn’t realize I was paying against my energies.
Like I said, I have no regrets. Regardless of what I wanted and enjoyed before, I crave something different for myself now.
I don’t talk about this a great deal because it’s precious and private, but on this occasion, I think it’s worth sharing that I have a mystical life that coexists with all the rational, physical world things I engage in every day.
That mystical life is in the form of the vast internal ocean of my soul. And in that internal ocean, I hear the whispers of Mermaids.
The Mermaids want what they want—most of the time they only want to be heard.
To hear their song, I need to detach from the world. Not talk to anyone. Oftentimes, just leave my normal routine and escape to a body of water—if I can’t make it to the ocean, I go to a lake. If I can’t make it to a lake, a percolation pond will do. And when all else fails, I take a bath or long shower.
It may not make sense, but this is personal time to listen to my inner voice. I can’t start writing without at least taking a shower. There is something about water that allows me to hear the Mermaids singing.
Stealing away to receive their messages is every bit as important as paying my bills or showing up to my job—it’s my duty to my soul to give in to the expansive feeling of being so close to so much current, oxygen, depth, life.
My meditation practice over the decades has been spotty. Even when I attended a Zendo regularly, I found it difficult to meditate on my own. I showed up, but I fought the process. It always felt hard.
A few years ago, I read a book titled “Catching the Big Fish” by David Lynch. I was intrigued by his Transcendental Meditation practice and how it figured into his creative life. I picked it up again after Keri and I returned from Europe. I googled Transcendental Meditation and found there was a training center in Mountain View. Keri and I attended the introduction. They showed some videos about the benefits which included cardiovascular health, deep rest, focus etc. But even before I saw any of that, I knew I wanted to go through the training.
I wanted what David Lynch described. I wanted more expansiveness. More creative space. I wanted to feel my feelings and not just be jerked around by them. I wanted to feel still.
I didn’t know what to expect but all I can say is that I’m no longer a reluctant meditator who struggles to meditate. It’s part of my day. While it hasn’t wiped out stress or adversity, I feel there is a delay in my reactions that allows me to take a deep breath and see things from a different perspective.
People say they feel a difference in me. I can feel the difference too. I feel like I have more of myself back from the world.
Growing my Professional Life
Motivated to make a significant change in my professional world, I decided I would finally invest in two areas of coaching that had the most impact on me. Even before I got my original coach training, taking the Myers Briggs and StrengthsFinder assessments changed the way I saw myself.
The information and understanding I gained, well, things started to make sense—especially why some strategies were failing so spectacularly for me.
I’m a highly introverted, intuitive, relationship oriented, creative person. I am far more interested in what is going on with people (and how to help them) than chasing the details that seems to be the meat and potatoes of the professional world (as it was presented to me).
For years, I tried to suppress my dreamy, intuitive self so I could be productive, results oriented, and ACHIEVE! It always made me sick, sad, and want to RUN AWAY!
I could see this happening to the people around me too. Even if their struggles were different, I could see the same suffering I experienced. I wanted to make a difference. I knew with the right set of tools, I could.
I invested my summer in getting certified in both modalities.
What I love most about what I do is that I see how people change right away if only by abandoning the things that never worked.
When I see someone own their talents and lean into their genius, I know I’ve picked the right path.
Along with infusing pleasure into my fiftieth year, I wanted to do something epic. A couple years ago, I saw an article about climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan. From the article, I couldn’t tell if it was hard or easy. It seemed to be both epic and attainable—I read some people even charged the mountain in a single day.
Mt. Fuji is considered a sacred site—a living God in the form of a mountain. I wanted to connect with it.
I lobbied my older sister to come to Japan with me and climb Mt. Fuji. It took a little effort to get her to buy into it, but eventually, the begging and pleading worked and she said yes.
Regularly she would share something about the difficulty and that she was worried should couldn’t make it. I assured her that mere mortals did it every day and it would be fun. Also, she was an experienced backpacker and I was training as often as I could to climb. I was sure things would be fine.
In advance of the trip, our guides sent a lengthy packing list that included carrying clothing for all conditions and enough food and water for two days. They reminded us in great detail there are a million different things that you can encounter on Mt. Fuji including torrential rain, freezing temperatures (even in summer), and choking humidity. This is in addition to a nearly vertical climb that takes you to 12,000+ ft over a short course of less than 6 miles. Be fit! Be prepared!
When the day finally arrived, we lugged a duffle bag full of very necessary stuff to pack up the mountain.
Getting to the base, Fuji looked massive. I heaved my pack, filled with water and rain gear, and almost fell backward.
As we made progress on the trail, my pace slowed so I could manage my pack that swayed precariously as I tried to traverse lava boulders that sometimes had me climbing with hands and feet. After only a half hour, my chest was pounding and I was sweating profusely. I knew I was in trouble. Valerie slowed down so she could make sure I was ok. One of the guides peeled off from the rest and stuck with as we very slowly made our way up to 10,000 ft. By then I knew I was done.
From there I could see the peak of the cinder cone with a tiny procession of colorful dots leading up to it. I let go. Getting up there wasn’t going to happen—at least not on this trip.
Our guide made arrangements for us to stay at the 7th station hut overnight. I kicked off my boots and watched hikers come and go as I drank tea in the tatami mat covered common room. Even though the hut looked like something from the Showa era, there was wifi and TV.
Nobody seemed to be taking the climb very seriously (or suffering from it). I chatted with a woman who walked to the 7th station and was waiting for her husband and sons to descend from the summit. She was rather dressed up and carried a fancy purse—she didn’t even wear hiking shoes!
One older man was doing some traditional exercises. When he stopped, he lit up a cigarette and took a deep drag.
I looked at my enormous pack full of so called necessary things. Why did this feel so ridiculous?
What is really needed to commune with a living God?
Valerie and I slept in a small berth with a futon enclosed by a curtain. At 4:30 AM, the light switched on abruptly and a man hailed us with “Ohayōgozaimasu” and let us know it was time to get up to see the sunrise.
We pulled on our jackets and walked out to the ledge where there was a forest of clouds spread below. The full moon could be seen sliding behind the cinder cone. Simultaneously before us, the clouds gradually became golden and the sun peeked over the clouds.
We learned a little later there was a second shrine on Mt. Fuji a few hundred feet away from our hut. Fuji’s the main shrine (the cauldron of the sun) is at the peak. This smaller shrine is dedicated to the mountain itself and is located inside a cave that can only be accessed by crawling on your stomach.
I worried that I’d be too big for the opening and that my shoulder would give out and I’d be stuck. That I’d fail to meet the mountain.
I pushed every thought aside and got ready to crawl into the dark, downward passage.
It was damp and my hands and knees took a beating from the sharp lava that made up the passage. But after a few feet of crawling, the tunnel widened and the cave opened up into a chamber large enough to stand in. I stood for a moment in the cold, dark, silence and took in the fact that I was inside the living God of Mt. Fuji.
I shined my light forward and saw the tiny, well cared for shrine at the very end.
There were gifts of money and sake around the base. I left a few coins, said a prayer, and made my way to the tunnel. I could hear my sister calling for me. When I emerged, she said she had been calling for a while and was starting to get freaked out that I wasn’t responding.
I don’t know how far I’d gone in. It didn’t seem like a long distance. Regardless, it was long enough to put a barrier between the outside world and my audience with Fuji-San.
There is more than one way to meet a living God.
My climb up Mt. Fuji made it clear that I needed to make even more changes. None of the changes I made or experiences I had would do me any good if I had a heart attack!
Even though my doctor gave me a clean bill of health, we both acknowledged that my weight was a problem that I needed to take seriously. I tried overhauling my fitness a few times but doing too much, too fast led to injuries that sidelined me. Also, I couldn’t find a way of eating that didn’t feel miserable.
While I was in Japan with Val, before and after our Fuji adventure, we jetted around at top speed. We were on the go early in the morning until trains stopped running late at night. No matter how hard or fast we went, I noticed how little my sister ate at any given time. Always small portions. We ate the same things, but hanging around with her, I found I just ate less and that was fine. We walked an average of eleven miles a day trying to get in all the sights. We took afternoon siestas and then headed out for more. We were so busy that we truly only ate when we were hungry.
On one shopping trip, we went into a store with the most beautiful selection of bento boxes. As we browsed I shared my observations about how we were eating and moving and how I really wanted to make a change and improve my health. Valerie said she would be there for me and bought me a lovely bento box to help inspire the new changes in my life.
Since we returned I made two small changes that I’ve stuck to—bringing my lunch to work with me (in my bento box!) and making sure I get at least a half hour of cardio exercise a day—no gym membership, complicated diet, or other horrible, taxing health ritual. To date, I’ve lost over 15 pounds. It hasn’t been hard—I don’t use a lot of mental or emotional energy on this.
I’m on my way to a healthier body. I feel better every day.
I Got Coached
I employed four coaches this year to help me work on different aspects of my life—my business, my spiritual life, my strengths, and to help me plot of course of where I wanted to go in my dangerous years-- I needed tough allies to help me make the most of 50 and beyond.
Are you wondering why someone with as much training and practice in coaching needs to hire a coach? Why can’t I just do this for myself?
One word: Ego.
The ego wants us to be safe at all costs. While the ego might desire for us to “look” good, smart, and brave, the moment it looks like we could fail, the ego will do everything to get us to stop. Ego comes bearing “advice” as to why we should wait, get more information, and consider all the benefits of NOT doing something. It’s safer and easier to stay in your comfort zone than to venture out.
Ego, with its pal Fear, can be freaky little liars. Honestly, Ego and Fear want what’s best for us—no need to hate them. It’s just that they aren’t very helpful at helping you grow beyond the borders of what is known and routine.
No matter how good you are at self-coaching, you will always need help getting beyond ego. Top performers (CEOs, athletes, performers, etc) all hire coaches to help them.
No matter how much someone knows, a coach will help them make the most of that and push them beyond.
Also, why wouldn’t I give myself what I give to others? Seriously.
I Hired Some Help
I have a full-time job in addition to my coaching and writing work. There are many details (that are not coaching or writing) that I need to do to keep clients happy and my pipeline of writing moving smoothly.
I finally took my own advice and hired an assistant. The few hours she helps me every week frees mental space that I can now devote to writing or working with clients.
I’ve never had anyone to help me like this before—handing over work that I know I can do myself was something I had to get over. Very worth it!
Discarding, Keeping, Building
When I did my own review of my Myers Briggs type, I recognized my need to have more order and space in my physical surroundings. I’m a little undone by untidiness (even though I’m not terribly tidy). I decided to give that to myself as well.
I did a big declutter. I’m surprised I didn’t kick off 50 with that, but I think a few things needed to ferment and evolve to get to this state.
I removed the furniture I’d been using in my office from my 30s and 20s—a large, colorful cabinet desk found a new home, along with a hodge-podge of plastic storage cabinets. In their place, I installed a bookshelf that allowed my collection of books and curios to be in plain sight so I could enjoy them. I gave myself a comfortable chair and stool to recline in while writing or reading.
Keri and I also replaced our well-loved, but broken-down couch with a new one (with pet proof upholstery), and removed the various objects in our common space that had served a purpose before, but now needed new homes.
Now, every time I go into my office, I feel my shoulders drop. The energy in my personal space feels luscious.
But, re-energizing my personal space is minor compared to the internal declutter I’m still engaged in.
Despite the many changes I’ve undergone this year, I still managed to have a stress crisis that sent me to the doctor. The body is the ultimate truth teller. There are still a few things in my life on the inside that need decluttering.
I think you will see some changes in what you see from me in the next few months. I will be making bigger offers than I have in the past. And because we all have a stake in making this beautiful world a better place for everyone, I will be asking for your support.
I’m looking forward to the next 50 years. To writing and creating. To owning and developing my strengths. To supporting others in discovering theirs.
2018 is on the way. Even if you aren’t landing on a big round number birthday, you can still live dangerously!
If you haven’t taken the StrengthsFinder assessment—do it! It’s clarifying, life-changing information that will set you on a path of living from your personal power and genius.
I want to help you make the most of your strengths and your life! To get started, go here.