fear of 50
by ellen winner
birthday cards started arriving in the mail a full month before my birthday.
Not just one or two, but three and four a day, every day.
inordinate profusion of colorful envelopes in the mailbox made our daily
mail look like the beginning of holiday catalog season. I cant
tell you how loved I felt knowing how much my best friend
cared that I am older than she is! Heres a sample of her empathy
: Many people think 50th birthdays are very seriousExcept
me. I think your 50th birthday is funny as hell!
turned 50 years old! How did that happen?!! I always figured there would
be time: time to change my career, time to fight for the causes Im
always ranting about, time to write the book, or three, whose sheaves
of notes crowd my file drawers like forgotten photos waiting for albums.
Then last year I turned 49 and the big 5-0 began looming over my head
like the stone grey clouds of an imminent storm. It was a milestone
that threatened to become a millstone around my neckmy increasingly
crêpey neck. Crepe used to be a fabric, now its a neck texture!
This cards encouraging: Pull your ears back and suck in
your belly! Lets see what you looked like twenty- five years ago!
wanted to lose 50 pounds by the time I reached 50. Now I just want to
be ok with how and who I am at 50. I know that sounds like a copout,
but my friend Cathi, whos a colonel at an Air Force base, also
just turned 50 and she looks fabulous. She works out religiously to
keep her size miniscule figure and really does have abs of steel. She
does 300 sit-ups holding a medicine ball. Can you imagine?! She says
even that doesnt change skin and gravity. She says, Yeah,
I could wear a bikini, but Id have to walk around with my arms
straight up the entire time! Shed appreciate this one: There
are worse things than another birthday......try slipping into a bikini
in front of a security video under bad lighting.
you remember setting your hair in orange juice cans or those pink spongy
curlers? Wowyou are old! Wow. I did use those pink, spongy curlers.
Where has the last 30 years gone and what do I have to show for it?
What do I do now? And who in the hell is that middle-aged woman in the
mirror? When I graduated college and charged out into the 70s in my
hip hugger bell -bottoms and tie died t-shirt with flowers in my long
straight hair, I had no idea what to expect or what changes I would
mid-life malaise started late last summer when my husband and I drove
from Tampa to Daytona Beach to meet with friends from college, some
of whom I hadnt seen in nearly 30 years. I havent been to
my college reunions, so I fretted over what to wear that wouldnt
make me look too fat and whether I should get my nails done so I would
look successful. I arrived at the beach house with my insecurities intact
and joined the group standing around the pool. Our hostess Annie was
visiting from Spain, where she lives with her martial arts instructor
husband and their son. Annie lived on my hall in the freshman dorm,
and I remember her as a hippy artist a cross between Goldie Hawn
and Sandy Dennis from the movie Out-of-Towners. (Now Im dating
myself!) We used to sneak back into the dorm together after midnight
runs to the Dunkin Donuts. That was back when I could actually eat donuts.
asked Annie what she had been doing all this time. She said she wasnt
painting anymore. In fact, she told me that one of the two art professors
at our small university had loved her work, but the other one didnt.
Then one day her roommate mentioned casually, Have you noticed
that everything you do is maternal? You paint pictures of mothers and
children, or just children or relationships. Annie retorted, That
cant be right, but she looked through all her work and found
that it was true. She thought, The professor doesnt like
my work and this is all I can do. Then she thought about the work
of popular artists like Andy Warhol, Peter Max and Jackson Pollock.
Im just not good enough, she thought. So she stopped.
She said, When I stopped doing what I did, I just dried up.
She hasnt painted once in the last 30 years. She made me think
of all the things I had wanted to do, but instead ended up doing what
I thought other people wanted me to do. Annie and I lived what we thought
we should be doing, instead of using our gifts. Annie and I were afraid.
along the line, we lost our muse and found fear: fear of failure, fear
of success, fear of risk and loss, fear of not being quite good enough.
Wherever it comes from, fear changes the way we live. Look at turning
50 this wayin the big antacid of life...you may no longer be an
seems to be the point in life where it becomes easier to look backward
than forward. As I look back, I realize that my life happened anyway,
despite my being the Queen of Denial. Life happens to us whether we
are afraid or not and whether we are prepared for it or not. So, here
I am turning 50. My life sure hasnt been what I expected, but
I realize that the things that have happened were not the ones I was
I left college, I had no idea that today I would be faced with 28 emails
a day from people who want to lower my mortgage or enlarge my penis.
The only spam I wanted to get rid of then was in my diet!
never expected to get divorced but I survived it. And now
I celebrate 23 years married to my very best friend.
never expected to battle infertility. But I wonand now I have
two great kids to show for it.
sure didnt plan to be the recipient of the emergency adoption
of a newborn baby when I was 39. I might survive that.
was never afraid of breast cancer- but I beat that, too. And now
I can celebrate my two (much perkier) breasts!
never expected to fall off that trampoline while checking out the
neighbors landscaping over our fence six years ago. My daughter
said she was the only kid in her class who got to call 911 that week.
The doctor said I would never run on my broken knee again. So, I really
celebrated running my first 5K with my daughter last fall.
lived through career successes and failures, automobile accidents, major
surgeries, and raising childrenand I have the scars and gray hair
to prove it! And the prescription drugs! Turning 50 has made me change
how I look at things. I actually like this card:
worry, youre not having hot flashes. Its your inner child
playing with matches!
mother always tells me that she liked her 50s best. She said,Theres
not as much responsibility for the kids, no worries about getting pregnant,
and youre still young enough to be able to do what you want!
Heres a card that lists many good things about getting older:
Neutral colors are in so your gray hair goes with everything. Stroking
chin hairs while thinking makes you look smarter. Hot flashes save time
you can undress in less than 30 seconds. Forgetfulness keeps your
friends interesting cause they always have something new to say,
and its worth buying DVDs because you can watch a movie again
and again as if youd never seen it before. Not to mention the
many benefits of AARP!
challenge is to keep looking forward. Luckily, I have things to dogoals
to keep me moving forward! And, with the stock market and the social
security system in the states they are in, Id say motivation to
keep moving forward is not a problem! Its that nasty little voice
in your head that says, You cant. or What will
people think? that keeps us from doing what we want to do, what
is right for us to do. My friend Lydia recently told me, You know
Ellen, I always keep my promises to everyoneexcept to myself.
our fears may not be a matter of trekking through foreign lands alone
or eating worms like they do in reality TV. It may entail smaller things
that take a lot more commitment, like keeping your promises to yourself.
celebrate turning 50, be adventurousdo something youve always
wanted to do but never have. Er....cuz, , you dont have
all that much time left here, ya know.
look at that one. Thats it. My fear of 50 is the fear that my
best 30 years are gone and that the outlook for the next 30 years is
not quite as exciting. And the next after that?......... Facing our
own mortality is a tough thing to do, but some of us work better on
a deadline! The next 30 years is all I have, and I cant count
on that, so it is sure time to make the best of every day!
50 youve become a national treasure! Unfortunately, Congress has
cut the budget for your maintenance. Thats okay. I am quite capable
of my own maintenance, thank you. I have indeed survived all those years!
So whats the point of those fears Ive clung to? I can appreciate
what I have accomplished so far, but Im so looking forward to
my next 50 years because there are a lot of things I really want to
do. I have a book to write, an invention to market, causes to fight
for and trips to take. I have promises to keep. Turning 50 is like crossing
a river, even though you cant get around ityou can get over
it. Yep, time to start swimming!
Ellen K. Winner
years in Florida (above) and nearly 20 in commercial real estate, Ellen
Winner took her mid-life crisis to heart. She decided to find
her passion and relocated with her family to Western North Carolina
(below) to write and create a resort for dogs and their people. She
performs Fear of 50 in Powerstories Theatre production of Clarity
Cometh. This story is excerpted from the new book Powerstories: Inspiring,
everyday women share personal victories by women, about women, for women
to be released by Jada Publishing July 2004. For more information about
Powerstories Theatre and workshops for women and girls, see powerstories.com.