“What makes you happy?” my therapist asked. Aside from my children, I had no answer. Strange to some, I know. I had lost my identity. I willingly gave up my law career to be an at-home mom. I thought I was giving my children what I wish I had had growing up—a Norman Rockwellian fantasy I had created of how other families lived.
Being a full-time mom is an honorable endeavor. No one can give to children what their mothers can give them. But putting all of your eggs in the motherhood basket has risks. Children grow up and, if you’ve done your job correctly, they become independent.
So at 50, I felt rudderless. Could I really go back to practicing law? Would anyone hire a middle-aged woman who had been out of the legal workforce for 15 years?
The answer was yes. I started out as a contract employee, proving myself project by project. Although, actuarily speaking, I was on the downslope of my life (some call it the “third third”), I still have much more to give.
Emboldened by my small successes, I gave myself a gift on my 50th birthday: I set out to try 50 new things. Some were small, some involved huge lifestyle changes. I got my motorcycle license, much to my children’s and judgmental acquaintances’ dismay. I told my kids that they were welcome to get motorcycles when they turn 50 also! I moved away from my people-pleasing habits and toward pleasing myself. I found my authenticity in the process.
The list I brainstormed included travel and adventure (even if it was exploring a nearby neighborhood on foot); making it a practice to listen to TedTalks, lectures and inspirational podcasts to expand my mind; taking classes (some universities offer deep discounts or free classes to senior students); going on spiritual retreats; practicing minimalism; and surrounding myself with people who helped me be the best version of myself that I can be.
What is a life if it is stagnant and boring? Middle-age is the sweet spot before true physical decline for the majority of us. I now wake every day with the mindset of drinking fully from the cup of life. We guard our money wisely, but generally not our time, which is the only commodity one cannot get back.
I seek to live and love out loud, and to drop the rocks (like shame and fear) that held me back for so many years. The five top regrets former nurse Bronnie Ware heard from her dying patients were:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others
expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
I am working hard to ensure that these regrets are not mine at the end of my life.
The only person I can control is me. I cannot control what anyone else does, but I can control my responses and enforce healthy boundaries. I delight in this chapter of my life and encourage you to do the same. Every day on this earth is a new chance and opportunity for growth and joy, of any magnitude. It’s your life; it’s up to you what you do with it!
–You can learn more about Maria’s book and journey at www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com, and her @FiftyAfter50 Facebook page, Instagram account and Twitter feed.