In wishing a friend a happy 50th birthday the other day, I said “Welcome to the best decade yet!” and as I thought about that response, I realized I really and truly meant it. Welcome to the Fabulous 50s!
Do I mean that my 50s are my literally best decade thus far? Are they simply my best because I am making them so? Did this happen to me, or is it a product of my own mindset and actions?
The other day I was reading Pamela Druckerman’s book There Are No Grownups (which I didn’t like very much, by the way), about life in your 40s. Druckerman referenced the French idiom bien dans son âge, literally “well in his age,” or as she described it, roughly meaning to live well or be the best version of yourself no matter how old you are.
I don’t feel that I had the wherewithal, or perhaps the wisdom, to do this in my earlier decades. My teens and 20s were spent in a state of perpetual discomfort, not having any sense of self or belonging or place. And while my 30s and early 40s had some definite pluses — earning a master’s degree, starting my career in higher education, and making some lifelong friends along the way — I didn’t feel like the best version of myself in a life that had never felt like the life I was supposed to be leading.
So what changed, then, in the intervening years between then and now? I changed my life. As I entered my mid-40s, I put behind me the life that didn’t feel like my life, and I made a new one, by myself and for myself. I learned to be free and independent and safe and vulnerable and strong. I took on greater challenges in my career. I became a runner. I became myself.
And then, when the time was right, I opened my world to share with B, and we fell in love and built a home together and survived hardships and tragedies and became fur-parents to a giant hairy beast of a dog, and ran marathons and an ultramarathon. I started a doctoral program that I’ll be 56 — FIFTY-SIX! — when I finish. I have the very best, dear, forever friends. I aspire to be my best self, even as each new year, new challenge, new wrinkle appears. I feel like I’ve found myself, my place.
This doesn’t mean that I have on blinders to the obstacles that life puts in front of us, or that I deny the difficulties that can come in our 50s. One day this week was a “straight from work into the tub and then pjs” kind of day, for example. When I was 51, my mom died. I lost a beloved pet this year, and I have family, friends and loved ones around me who are beginning to bear the toll of illness and age.
I have to avoid certain foods that don’t agree with me. I seemingly have no control over an unforgiving few pounds that mysteriously disappear and reappear. The crinkles at the corners of my eyes look like the crow ran a marathon there, and my neck is beginning to make its case for year-round turtlenecks à la Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. My job is perhaps the most challenging it’s ever been. But beneath the struggles I feel vibrant and joyful, and most days I even like the way I look.
In another 10 years, when my friend turns 60, I hope I’ll be welcoming her to her 60s with the same joy and optimism I’m feeling about this decade. I hope I’ll still know and believe in myself and not be afraid to be myself, my then-60-something self. I hope my friend and I will both be living bien dans son âge.