Fifty is not just a number, and anyone who says otherwise is either misguided or forty. When I turned fifty, my younger daughter announced she was moving out. I’d spent decades in a nurturing role, and now suddenly, life as I knew it had come to an end.
Yes, I know: Empty Nest Syndrome. It’s a catch-all term to describe the maelstrom of emotions we experience when our kids leave home. We go from relief to sadness, from elation to despair, but one thing is consistent: Whether you chose to be a stay-at-home mom or you work outside the house, you find yourself wondering, what happens now?
For me, it wasn’t about filling the hours. Nor was it about needing an outlet for those nurturing feelings that had no place to go. It was about creativity. My kids were my greatest works, and shaping them had been an ongoing process. When the last fledgling flew the coop, my creating was done. So what did I do? I started baking. It didn’t last long. Let’s just say my waistline wasn’t happy and leave it at that.
The point is, many of us try to fill the emptiness with hobbies, such as gardening. A friend of mine took up skydiving. Well, I don’t have a green thumb and I’d rather keep my feet on the ground, thank you very much. There was, however, something I’d been toying with. Please excuse the birth analogy, but for as long as I can remember, I had a novel in me struggling to come out. I’d always done a little writing, but a whole book? The idea was daunting, so over the years I kept pushing it aside. I had one excuse after the other. I had no time. I was a two-finger typist. Who in their right mind would publish me? The truth was, I was afraid–afraid of starting something new; afraid of failure.
When I turned fifty, that all changed. It was then I began to reexamine my life. As much as I had loved mothering, I hadn’t accomplished even half of what I’d wanted to do, and if I didn’t start soon, it would be too late. Question was, was it already too late? Was I too old?
My husband reminded me that Annie Proulx and Sue Monk Kidd were over fifty when they published their first novels, and Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her sixties. I was impressed, with him, as well as with them. He’s a software engineer; how did he know that? That’s another thing about turning fifty—you start discovering new things about your spouse. “Just write,” he said in his engineering voice, and so I did. I adapted his pragmatic attitude, swallowed my fears, and dived right in. Of course, it helped that the kids were gone and I had more time. Plus, with word processing, even a monkey could type.
I started my first novel at fifty, completed it at fifty-one, published it with Harlequin at fifty-two. Since then, I’ve written five more novels and a short story collection, but I’m no longer going the traditional route. My latest offering, Sex, Lies & Hot Tubs (and yes, it’s about a woman turning fifty), is self-published as an ebook, which takes the bite out of that other issue, the possibility of it never being published. By self-publishing, I’m at the helm. I control the content, the cover, and the price. And that’s another thing I discovered–I like being in control.
I think the biggest block to our success is ourselves. Because of our fear of failure, we can always find excuses for not doing what we want. When you turn fifty, so many of those excuses no longer apply. You just have to take the plunge. Or, as my husband would say, “Just write.”
And no, fifty isn’t too old. I’d say it’s…just right.