40: Shades of Gray

shades of grayWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

No, really. What do you want to BE?

Because, let’s face it, whatever you’ve been doing in your twenties and thirties, probably isn’t what you still want to be doing in your forties and beyond. (If it is, congratulations, you can stop reading now because you are way ahead of the pack).

I know this is true because in the past few years I’ve been watching friends and acquaintances around me turn 40 and each time, within months of their birthdays, many of them have initiated one type of major life change or another. Some of them have changed careers; some have started families; some have ended marriages; and some have finally worked on turning their dreams into realities.

Forty is reality.

It’s time to take charge of life rather than allowing life to take charge of us. Out with what society expects of us; out with what we’ve been groomed to do or be our whole lives…what is it YOU want to be?

In February, another good friend turned 40. Even though she and I both are writers (or at least aspiring to be so) I turned to Hallmark for the occasion. I couldn’t resist, there was a card that really resonated with me. Inside it said:

40 Is when you deserve to celebrate yourself and take pride in your strengths without apologizing.

It’s when you start to be respected in the world, make an impact and get listened to.

It’s when you let go of everything fake and pursue what’s important to you for real.

It’s when you realize that knowing what you know, you wouldn’t go back.

I figure, if Hallmark’s printing this stuff, I can’t be the only one thinking it.

The only problem is, I’m finding “figuring out what to pursue” a bit of a gray area.

Let’s face it, in our twenties most of us acted whimsically and egocentrically. In my twenties, I definitely pursued experiences and relationships that seemed exciting and daring but not necessarily mature, or well thought out. I was a bit of a lost soul on a mission to find myself.

By the time I turned 30, I had absently fallen into a conservative but lucrative career; had settled down with a very stable and grounded man; was living in our (then Republican) Nation’s Capital; and was starting a family. Definitely more mature and thought out. Things were going just as life had dictated they should.

For the remainder of my thirties, I shifted away from fund raising and into kid raising; from being nomadic to becoming a home-owner; from just thinking about a writing career to actually beginning one. Yet still, my compass was spinning, my path uncertain. I sought greater clarity, I needed to figure out who it was I planned to be before confidently charting my children along their paths.

So what happened? I turned 40. The great What Next.

I am happily married, so that doesn’t need changing. I have two great kids, who seem pretty stable in their bodies and surroundings, good there too. My husband is on a rewarding career path that compliments his skills (but he isn’t 40 yet, so that could change). But what about me? What’s my career path? Where should I step once the kids demote me from Commander-in-Chief to chauffeur?

Writing certainly has surfaced as a highly fulfilling, sometimes cathartic, occasionally lucrative pursuit for me over the past few years. Add to this the multiple events, coincidences, possibly even divine interventions that continue to point me farther down this path and it’s easy to conclude that my next chapter should involve writing. Not just writing for hire like I’m doing now but actual writing to publish, something I own that’s part of me. But how can I be sure I have it in me?

For my 40th birthday, a few of my oldest-and-dearest pooled together and gave me a deeply soul-searching gift. It was a gift in three parts, sort of a choose-your-own-adventure kinda thing; crafted out of my own indecision. The gift was presented as a beautiful, hand-painted card with three mini cards tied inside. Each mini card had one option with an internet link. The options were:

  1. Review and critique of my written work at a venerated, downtown writers’ guild.
  2. Sessions with a Writing Coach, to help me sort out what kind of writing I should do and how get down to it.
  3. Sessions with a Life Coach, to help me figure out if writing is even a fit for me at all.

It was a big gift. A big, generous, albatross-around-my-neck sorta gift; the kind that could only come from friends that have known me for a very long time, through clarity and primordial fog; under blue skies and gray.

I’ve spent four months deliberating about this gift. I am such a Libra wanna be.

The decision shouldn’t be so paralyzing. Really it’s down to just two options, #2 and #3. Option 1 is out because I don’t have anything to critique. In fact, as of last week, I thought I had narrowed it down to just option 3, the Life Coach. Logically, if I can’t even figure out which option to choose, someone else better help me figure out the next part of my life.

For now, it’s still a bit of a gray area, 40’s like that.

Which option would you pick? When you’re feeling indecisive, how do you find clarity?

The image used in this post is attributed to Kevin Dooley


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. slightlywonky
    Mar 28, 2013 @ 20:56:54

    I hope that this gift is just a START of your journey of self-exploration. We’re all a “work in progress,” aren’t we? The fact that you’re not sure where you’re headed makes you a PERFECT candidate for working with a coach…life, writing, whatever. You’ve built up a lovely family/home/life for yourself…it’s only natural that you might say “veni vidi vici….what’s next!?!” (as only the daughter of a Latin scholar could say…) You’ve accomplished SO much. Free yourself up to explore! 🙂


  2. EG
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 10:30:55

    How fortunate is your friend with the card, to have such a friend as you? One of my favorite parts of the Smithsonian exhibit of Julia Child’s kitchen was that I learned she didn’t start cooking until 40. Wheee! Your next chapter could be anything, although I suspect words may always be an ingredient.


  3. Caitlin
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 12:50:35

    Fantastic title! I am half way through “What Color is your Parachute?” so it clearly hits home also.


    • growingmuses
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 07:15:07

      Uh oh, is it because you no longer thing your parachute is registrar colored? Clearly noticing Lots of thought and tweaks going into your career lately. How’s the new stand up work station?


  4. Pete
    Mar 29, 2013 @ 23:48:26

    Writing Coach.

    You clearly already know what’s important in life. We should be making more time for friends and family. Period. We should be making a positive impact in the world that fits our capabilities, now that we can be honest about what strengths and weaknesses we have. We should make sure we aren’t burden on the next generation. We should continue to expand our boundaries and experiences and never stop learning. You know all this. Take the writing coach.

    Or challenge yourself to write something within a few months to take to the writers’s guild!


    • growingmuses
      Mar 30, 2013 @ 07:13:07

      Ooo, the challenge of producing a written work! I think this is why the Life Coach seems like a good idea, to help me find my mojo and really hone my focus. thanks for your good reminders, Pete. And as always, thanks for reading.


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