I turned 55 last month. For some reason I was so eager to hit this milestone. I know one must be grateful for each day, but this birthday felt extra special. While my 40s were pretty turbulent, the 50s, despite their attendant troubles and concerns, have been easier to sail through.
A woman in her 50s is a force to contend with, and I mean that in a positive way. You don’t want to mess with her because she can love you with passion, but when crossed, act like you did not exist at all.
She is more patient and tolerant, but also done with accepting excuses. She will leave the building with no need for closure, entrusting that God and the universe will sort circumstances at the right time.
Here are 10 things we hope to have mastered on the road to 55.
1. You learn how to fortify your boundaries. People will try to test you. Sometimes these are the people closest to you. But because you have learned patience and try to live the way of peace, you exert all efforts to settle things amicably. Unfortunately, not everyone will be of the same mindset, so you are left with no choice but to be firm, stand your ground and fortify your boundaries to keep your heart from breaking.
2. You expand your tribe, or return to the tribe of your childhood. I’ve done both. Over the last year, I have made new women friends who nurture and care. It’s exhilarating to be around women who are kind and who share similar values. I have also spent more time with childhood friends, rediscovering who we were.
3. You try new things. Take yourself out of your comfort zone so that you can grow in ways you never would have imagined. This means conquering childhood fears and finding wonder again. For me this meant conquering a fear of heights and water. I still won’t scuba dive like my dear friends do, but being by the water has been such a refuge for me.
4. You laugh at yourself. At 55 your ego becomes porous, and laughing out loud becomes an antidote to the days when the blues get the better of you. Find what makes you laugh, what brings the smile back to your soul, and go do it!
5. You walk, hydrate, repeat. Nowadays, it’s not really for vanity, but for health. If you don’t use it, you will lose it. Your muscles start to atrophy and your bones begin to creak. Carve out 30 minutes for exercise each day.
6. You spend more time with your parents. You’re in your 50s now. How much more time do Mom and Dad have left? Sunday evenings are now for my mom, and they are some of the most precious moments of the week. I’m now considering scheduling in a midweek ballroom dancing date with my mother, whose energy at 86 far surpasses mine!
7. In the same way that our parents will only be with us for some years more, so will our adult children before they go off and build nests of their own. If you haven’t yet, teach them now to stand on their own, covering everything from household chores and life skills to investing their money and managing cash flow.
8. You pray unceasingly. I used to have bouts of anxiety; I suppose it comes with having had a multitude of losses. But prayer has been my steady anchor. We get to a point where we talk to God like our parent and best friend rolled into one. And unlike our human support systems, He never fails to steady and calm the anxious heart and nervous spirit.
Don’t be a doormat
9. Love, but don’t be a doormat. Love has countless permutations, and is found in the most unexpected places. However, a genuinely loving relationship requires constancy and commitment. Be kind. Walk your talk. Don’t break promises. When you find yourself in a relationship where you keep losing your peace, you either accept it lock, stock and barrel, or take a break, assess, and do what you need to remedy the situation.
10. You realize that self-care is not selfish. It is essential to surviving this decade and the next. Always remember that you cannot give what you don’t have.
I’ll leave you with these lines from my favorite author, Isabel Allende. “I never had time to think about my beliefs until my 28-year-old daughter Paula fell ill. She was in a coma for a year and I took care of her at home, until she died in my arms in December of 1992. Paralyzed and silent in her bed, my daughter Paula taught me a lesson that is now my mantra: ‘You only have what you give…’
“The pain of losing my child was a cleansing experience. I had to throw overboard all excess baggage and keep only what is essential. Because of Paula, I don’t cling to anything anymore. Now I like to give much more than to receive. I am happier when I love than when I am loved. I adore my husband, my son, my grandchildren, my mother, my dog, and frankly I don’t know if they even like me. But who cares? Loving them is my joy. Give, give, give—what is the point of having experience, knowledge or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world and with the divine.”