I was horribly shy growing up. I hated meeting new people as I was terrible at starting conversations. I worried about what I would say, whether I looked “normal,” etc. By normal, I mean, Did I blend in? Standing out is something I was never interested in. My motto was: “Don’t make waves, just stay in the background.” I have always been comfortable with that — sure there are no accolades, but there is also no criticism. All of that is fine unless you want to do something with your life, like write, for instance. Anything except for journaling needs an audience, and that means putting yourself out there — your work will be criticized (which means YOU will be criticized), but hopefully your work will also be liked by your target audience. Art as self-expression is a double-edged sword. Until you are confident enough to accept that what you do won’t ever be liked by everyone, you should probably be happy keeping it to yourself or your family.
As I approached the golden age of 50 not too long ago, I figured I was fine with the whole ‘getting older’ thing. My husband had had a particularly hard time with it –but I believed I went through my “mourning lost youth” period when I turned 39. On the morning of my 39th birthday, I balled my eyes out.
About a month before my 50th birthday, however, my perspective changed. I couldn’t believe I was turning 50. Where had my 40s gone? What had I accomplished on a personal level? Yes, raising three kids is important and I treasure all the time I spent with them — (a lot of it in hockey arenas cheering them on) — but if I want to get stuff done, I’d better start now. I have a few measly decades to accomplish things and when I turn 60, I don’t want to look back at my 50s with regret wondering where the time went. So, what does a mother do when she has a ton of things she wants to do and doesn’t know where to start? She makes a list of course!
Not only did I make a list, but I also broke it down by year so I knew who was — in theory — doing what, when and what kind of free time that would leave me.
A lot of my list revolves around traveling, and that involves both money and time — two things I’m still short on. I anticipated that problem for the first few years of my 50s, so I put smaller travel goals in there (ie., go to New Brunswick for a holiday — check! St. Andrew’s by the Sea, 2014. Beautiful, I might add). There are non-travel things I want to accomplish too: write three novels before I’m 60.
So, here’s the thing: I have been dicking around for years with my fiction writing, not paying any attention to time. But I always thought that “someday” I would publish something. But when the looming deadline of death rears its head, you realize you haven’t got all the time in the world and it’s time to stop caring about what other people think, and start caring about what YOU want to get out of life.
This new look on life has been absolutely freeing. Not that I plan on deliberately making a fool out of myself so practice and continuous improvement are a part of this plan, but I no longer worry about how I will react if someone doesn’t like something I’ve written. I have a mission, and fulfilling it to the best ability I can, is the most important part of it.
I am almost three years into this new plan. For the past two years, just before my birthday I pull out my To Do list and review it, wondering if I have been able to tick off a few goals and take a look at what I have planned for the coming year. So far, I have accomplished most of the goals I laid out for myself for the first two years. There are some that were on the list that no longer interest me, so they got crossed off. There are others I’ve added as new interests develop.
The key to this list is having a “deadline.” It has helped me accomplish things that I have been pushing aside due to fear of (negative) judgment or sticking out. Artists already know this and they must have a gene that helps them launch forward in the face of possible public criticism. But for the rest of us with hidden artistry beneath, we have to realize that it’s more about rising to a personal challenge than pleasing everyone. With that attitude, you can develop the confidence to try things you never thought you could.