Ahead by a (half) Century: thoughts on turning 50

Entering my 50s in Back to the Future 80s style!
Entering my 50s in Back to the Future 80s style!

I am normally skeptical of traditional milestones, preferring to believe that we each find our meaningful moments as they organically present themselves, as opposed to at a prescribed time. So the magnitude of turning 50 has taken me by surprise: it feels epic.

Some obvious observations that have been lurking in the back of my consciousness have suddenly taken on a fresh sense of urgency: Ageism is real! Experience is valuable! You are lucky to still be here! Grey hair is cool! 

In fact, I have managed to turn the big 5-0 into a rationale for essentially doing whatever I want for the past year: Move on from my job at the company I co-founded? Sure! Start a new venture? Let’s do this! The list goes on: attending favourite conferences, armloads of vacation time, giving my treasured garden a much-needed overhaul, and to top it off, throwing myself an extremely fun birthday party. If this is a mid-life crisis, then as it turns out I’m a fan, and not getting over it anytime soon.

In short, I have been shamelessly living it up. And I’m so glad and so grateful to have had the resources and good health to be able to do so. In many ways, a great deal of my indulgences have been while holding the memory of friends who have not been able to remain at this party of life for as long as I have.

If you told me 30 years ago that I would celebrate my 50th birthday by gleefully dancing to the same music that me and my University pals (not to mention with those same university pals!) did on weekend nights, I would have laughed at you. I could scarcely have imagined what a truly wonderful thing that would be.

Kim, Jackie, Andrea & Madeleine, Spring 1989
Kim, Jackie, Andrea & Madeleine, Spring 1989

As it happened, our regular bar band in Kingston, Ontario in the mid-late 80s was none other than The Tragically Hip. If I had known just how resonant the lyrics “No dress rehearsals, this is our life” would become to me – along with pretty much anyone who ever heard them – later in life, I wonder whether I would have – what, listened harder?

Reflecting on those days and nights, if I had known just how special and fleeting they were, I would definitely have danced way more. Not to mention been kinder, tolerated less personal insecurity and taken the treasure that was a higher education far more seriously.

Jackie, Andrea, Kim and the birthday girl, December 2017
Jackie, Andrea, Kim and the birthday girl, December 2017

The freedom that I had in hindsight is truly breathtaking. I hope that I made the best of it, and it leads me to consider what I might be taking for granted today.

If you had told me that my daughter would be wearing the same dress that I wore to my graduation ball in 1989 to my 50th party, I would have fallen over. And yet here we are. So much of life is so much more than we can imagine in the present moment. I am awestruck by how blessed I am.

With my husband Tom (ahem, I mean Tim!) and our daughter Gigi - recognize the dress she's wearing?
With my husband Tom (ahem, I mean Tim!) and our daughter Gigi – recognize the dress she’s wearing?

For all this, I still wrestle with a “dress rehearsal” mindset: When I achieve this future thing, I will be happy/satisfied/successful.

Here’s what I ask myself today when I start to fall into it: What if you already have a version of this thing that you believe that you need in order to feel a certain way? Or maybe you just need to relax into where you are right now and let it come to you in its own, sweet way and time?

I have also recognized a shift in my thinking around the entrepreneurial notion of making things happen, aka hustling, blowing sh*t up, moving fast and breaking things and so on. What has replaced what now seems like an overblown sense of personal agency is a feeling of deep curiosity: what wants to happen? A perception of things coming through me or around me, rather than exclusively of my own creation: more of a dance than the imposition of my will. It feels gentler, less stressful and more inclusive and respectful, not just of others, but of – for lack of a better term – the Universe.

In addition to expressing gratitude for a life so full of love and opportunity, I would like to offer an invitation.

To some of you, 50 may seem impossibly ancient, and to others wonderfully youthful. Whether you hold one of those perspectives or something different, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me in celebrating ageing.

The older I get, the more I realize how cool it actually is. I am also embracing it as an opportunity to relinquish whatever lingering self-criticisms I have around my appearance and abilities. I feel wiser, more centred, and as fabulous as ever.

To revisit my earlier Tragically Hip reference, I encourage you to consider reframing the idea of being “older” rather as being Ahead by a CenturyIn other words, there is no magical, perfect future state that you have “rehearsed” for: you’re already there.

Be at peace with yourself. Keep the dress even when you think it’s gone out of style. Life is a mystery: let it reveal itself to you.

Special big ups to DJ Craig Siemens for his passion for 80s music and the willingness to share it so generously. 

In memory of Gordon Goodell, 1967-2016.

One comment

  1. Felice Lam says:

    Happy birthday, Madeleine!

    Thanks for sharing your reflections with us. I’m very thankful that I was able to be part of your celebration, so thanks for including me.

    “Be at peace with yourself.” Well said.

    Stay amazing! 🙂

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