personal growth

The Inchworm in the 200 Meter

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On your mark

Our oldest son, a high school freshman, joined the track team last month. For most people, having their child participate in an extra-curricular sport is no big deal. But our kids, while not being completely unusual (well, except for Joe’s inexplicable obsession with K-pop), have struggled with sports. We provided and paid plenty for opportunities in activities like swimming, baseball, soccer, and golf, but nothing has stuck. I decided to accept that they were geeks, and sports were not their passion.

As winter gave way to spring this year, Joe expressed an interest in joining either baseball or track. We had been trying since the fall to steer Joe toward running for two reasons. First, he has these crazy long legs (he’s five inches shorter than his father right now but has the same inseam). Second, baseball requires mad hand-eye coordination while running requires, well, legs. We felt track would be a much better fit as a first sport for him, but no kid wants to be told what to do by his lame parents so he had been resistant. When he told me he was set on baseball, I gently reminded him that track is a co-ed sport where the uniforms are tank tops and short shorts. Ding. Ding. Ding. Winner, winner, chicken dinner! We were suddenly track parents.

I had no idea what that entailed, honestly. If I had known that track was going to require Saturday morning alarms set for 6 a.m. and meets in distant towns that ran from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. in unpredictable and often downright cold spring weather, I might have given baseball a second thought. Still, a couple weeks ago we headed out for his first track meet and got to be spectators as our child participated in something.

Joe is our little inchworm. With his ADHD and his sensory issues and learning disabilities, he’s been a bit behind the pack from the beginning. His growth and development in most areas has been slow, steadily moving an inch at a time while other kids leapt forward in great strides. Joe approached the meet with the laissez-faire attitude and lack of competitive spirit he’s always shown knowing himself to be that inchworm. He ran his three events and finished last in each heat. We decided to count our blessings as they were. He was attending daily practices, taking responsibility for his uniform and gear, talking to different students, and committing to weekend events that encroached on his precious free time. Those are impressive feats for a teenager whose typical weekend events include marathon texting sessions, non-stop You Tube video viewing, and competitive carbohydrate consumption.

Toward the end of the meet, a fellow teammate backed out of the Men’s 200 Meter. The coach dropped Joe into the event in his stead. We had planned on cutting out a bit early, but bellied up to the fence to witness his last race. The starting gun popped and he was off. It looked like we were headed for another participation-ribbon run but, as he rounded the last turn, something clicked. Maybe he was tired of finishing last. Maybe he just wanted to be done more quickly. But, for whatever reason, he turned it on. We watched and cheered as he passed two other runners to finish 6th out of 8. It might not seem like much, but to me it was everything. I was teary eyed. He blew me away. I could not have been more proud if he had placed first in the fastest heat against the best runners at the event. It didn’t matter. He had progressed before my eyes, and it was beautiful.

After that race, I caught up with him. He was tired, but I had to ask. What was behind the change in that last 100 meters in his last race at the end of a long day? What was up with the afterburners? He told me he just decided to push himself and see what happened. He had his answer. His swagger had increased tenfold. He had found his motivation. Running with people is fun. Passing people every once in a while while doing it is more fun.

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Not in 8th anymore

Since that first meet, Joe has made continual improvements. His coaches have him working on his stride and pacing. He’s learning to use his upper body to add momentum. He’s using the starting blocks to his best advantage. He’s finished heats in second place, not eighth, and he’s done well enough to advance to more difficult heats where he is now finishing in the middle of the pack. My kid, who a few weeks ago told me he would finish out the season but didn’t think this was his thing, told me yesterday that he may do track and cross-country next year. I smiled inside but didn’t let on because, well, I wasn’t born yesterday and am not stupid.

Full disclosure. There have been times in Joe’s almost sixteen years when I wished he would hurry up and reach his stride. When would our inchworm start moving a little more quickly? I reasoned that at some point he would have to go at breakneck speed to catch up. Well, he’s running now, but he’s still an inchworm. He’s making incremental gains in his own time on his own schedule because an inchworm moves the only way he can, the way he does it best, slowly. He’ll never be a jackrabbit or a cheetah. It’s not his deal. I’ll never be able to speed Joe up to reach the milestones I had met by his age. It’s not happening. Instead, he’s teaching me to slow down, to be patient, and to trust that everything will work out as it should. I believe the world gives you what you need. I’ve spent most of my life running around without purpose in large circles and getting nowhere. It took an inchworm who runs track to show me how to gain ground with intention.

The Exhortation Proclamation

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The peacock that sits on my desk to remind me to display my feathers

Once upon a time, in the days before voicemail or texting or the Internet, I kept a box filled with handwritten letters from boyfriends. The box was inked red and white and once contained a small, boombox from Radio Shack that played my New Wave cassette tapes. The empty box became the depository for letters I received from boys, and it housed them safely until I needed a walk down memory lane or a reminder that I was worthy of love. Some of its contents were pages long, penned in perfect cursive and detailing elaborate stories as if letters written by a soldier during war time to his sweetheart back home. Some pages were filled with song lyrics or poems. Some were hastily scrawled notes on scrap paper recalling someone came by to see me. Some were actual store-bought cards with a sweet handwritten sentiment inside. And some were missives written from all the way across country that arrived weekly in the mail because writing was far less expensive than long distance phone calls and miraculously made the 1500 mile separation seem shorter. As a collection, those letters told a story of a young woman I didn’t recognize, a young woman who somehow garnered attention she didn’t understand.

When I became engaged to my husband and we were in the process of moving my things into his house, he asked me to get rid of the box. In his youthful insecurity, he felt there was no need for me to keep letters from old boyfriends; after all, he was my future. And in my youthful insecurity, I decided to acquiesce rather than risk a fight over a past that was long gone and could not be recovered. At 26, I had no idea tossing that box into the dumpster that sunny afternoon would be one of my only regrets and, at 47, my husband feels miserable for having asked me to do so. We live, we learn.

Even though that box and its beautiful expressions of youth were buried in a landfill in 1994, pieces of those penned creations had been read often enough they were indelibly etched into my memory. One sentence from one letter in particular struck a chord.

“If you came across a beautiful peacock with its feathers kept tightly closed, exposing their brilliant iridescence to no one, would you not exhort it to do so?” 

He had written it while sitting at the main desk in the University Memorial Center on the University of Colorado campus during the Odyssey of the Mind conference, noting with humor that the youth in the competition might be better termed the “oddities of the mind.” He had been trying to coax me out of my shell, and I had been railing against the notion that I even was in a shell. He was an incredibly bright, friendly, funny, and confident young man, and I thought he was the greatest thing since the invention of the Sony Walkman (look it up, kids). That he liked me enough to spend any time with me was an anomaly. Yet, he sat there, writing this note to try to convince me of my worth while I sat in complete denial and thought to myself with naive pride, “I know damn well what I am worth and there is nothing wrong with me the way I am so stop telling me how to be.”

As I continue to inch my way towards my fifty year milestone, I find myself drawn once again to that unforgettable sentence. It has taken me almost thirty years to understand that young man was attempting to hold a mirror up to me, to force me to look into it, to see how much I had going for me, and to help me understand what I was missing. Alas, I was not ready for that message then. Hell. Even though his sentence runs through my brain on a loop these days, I’m still not sure I’m ready to hear it. I spent so long being afraid of failure that I couldn’t even fathom reaching for success. It’s a sobering thought made worse by the current understanding that my inability to hear what he was saying cost me decades of ignorant struggle against myself. Some of us are slow learners, indeed.

Still…I’ve been thinking about the peacock I’ve been hiding and I’ve been working on relaxing those feathers a bit, fanning them out a little at a time before pulling them back in to keep them safe. Every time I sit down to practice my drums, they open. Every time I allow myself to entertain the notion that I could write a book, they unfold a bit more. When I think about going back to college and pursuing a new career, I feel them display a little more. And each time the sunlight hits them, I come to becoming the me I was destined to be before I learned to be fearful instead. With each flash of their brilliance, I get more encouragement from those around me and I warm to the notion maybe there is something to me worth appreciating.

So, if you ever come across a stubborn peacock who is acting like a chicken, please write them a letter and exhort them to embrace and display their beauty. You never know when those words might be just the thing needed to open their eyes to their own possibility — even if it takes them nearly thirty years to get there.

 

Fired Up, Ready To Go, And Not Ready To Make Nice

 

fullsizerenderI have known since November 12th what I would be doing tomorrow. Since the moment I learned there would be a peaceful march for women’s rights the day after the inauguration, I knew where I was heading. I will be walking through downtown Denver with my friends and hopefully tens of thousands of other people who might not be friends yet but are comrades in arms.

Since election night and on the way to this day, a funny thing happened to me. I have found some traction. For a while, I had been slipping around, wanting to experience some gains in self-esteem and to make some forward progress but not having any luck. I’d been reading books, talking to a counselor, and doing some emotional work around that goal, but I hadn’t made much of a dent. It was a continual case of one step forward and two steps back. But in thinking about and mentally preparing myself for this march tomorrow, something at long last clicked. Years ago when reality television was novel and I watched The Apprentice, I never could have imagined that Donald Trump would be a catalyst for my personal growth.

I’ve heard ad nauseam that those of us whose candidate lost on election night just really need to get over it and move on. We need to embrace the new administration and give them a chance. My father said yesterday that I have no reason to put the cart before the horse or jump the gun on what might happen, no matter how things appear to be shaping up at this time. But, if I recall correctly, there were deeply concerned conservatives after Obama’s election and re-election, and they didn’t sit idly by and keep their mouths shut for the sake of unifying our nation. There were protests, marches, and loads of signs with photos of Obama and catchy phrases like “Undocumented Worker”or “The zoo has an African lion and the White House has a lyin’ African.” So, my dear conservative friends, please excuse me if I fail to take heed as you tell me to suck it up and deal with my loss as your party so gracefully did when Obama was elected twice.

Still, even with my myriad concerns about the newly inaugurated president and his chosen cabinet, my march tomorrow is not entirely about what you might think. It’s not about losing the election or being angry how that came about. It’s not about refusing to move on and pouting like a big baby, as I’ve been accused. And it is not about delegitimizing our new president. (I will leave that in his capable hands.) My march tomorrow is about legitimizing myself and validating my beliefs and my opinions through my actions. I spent the first 48 years of my life being a “good girl” and keeping my mouth shut. I grew up being told children should be seen and not heard. I learned early not to rock the boat, to be grateful and keep my problems to myself, never to trouble anyone, and not to think I was a big deal. And that is how I have carried on during what I hope is just the first half of my life, as if nothing I thought, said, or did was important or necessary.

Early this morning, I saw this video and it reinforced my desire to move forward boldly with belief in myself. Tomorrow I usher in a new phase in my life. Tomorrow I make my existence felt. Tomorrow I speak my mind publicly because I believe what I have to say is valuable and important even if others don’t appreciate or agree with it. Tomorrow I prove to myself that my views on love, patriotism, and our world matter, and that I matter too. I can channel the energy, strength, and activism of the suffragettes and merge my voice with theirs as we together continue our fight for equality. Although I am part of something much larger than myself tomorrow and every day, what I do matters for something. I am fired up and ready to go, and I am sure as hell not ready to make nice anymore.

Call Me Stretch

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My tallest self

This year, as part of my never-ending quest to grow, I decided to take a photo a day. The way I have it figured, it should help me accomplish two goals: 1) capture the year in photos and 2) find my photographer’s eye and improve my artistic skills. So today, as I was driving home after depositing my sons at school, I noticed that the morning light was damn near inspirational. God bless Colorado and its bluebird days after storms.

Knowing I had a photo to take and about five loads of laundry at home that would convince me not to venture out again, I stopped at the large park across from our ‘hood and trudged out into the 4-degree temps in my not-quite-pajamas-but-some-people-might-still-think-I-am-wearing-pajamas outfit and my snow boots and my long down coat with my steadfast iPhone. (Did I mention I am taking all 365 photos via iPhone?) While wandering through the park as quickly as my short legs could carry me, I collected myriad photos of evergreen trees tinted white, the crisp and glittering snowy ground, the frozen wire backstop on the baseball field, and a squirrel sporting a frosty beard a la Santa Claus. After I felt satisfied I must have something worth sharing and determined my right hand might be headed towards frostbite, I swung around to head back to the car. Then I saw it. The photo of the day. The sun was behind me, and there in front of me was the tallest me I have ever seen. In real life, I’m a measly 5’4″ tall. I’ve always wished I was taller. Both my sisters are. And I get tired of standing on counters to reach things on the top shelf in the cupboard. So when I saw my lean, lanky, and impossibly tall shadow cast before me, I had to immortalize the moment. I’ve never felt that big. Ever. I’ve never felt anything but small. The image spoke to me.

I spent part of my laundry day thinking about this new year and how I could bounce back after what was perhaps not my greatest year yet in 2016. I thought about where I was coming from and where I might want to point my feet next. I thought about the photo I had taken earlier, and it occurred to me that the photo is the embodiment of what I want for myself in 2017. What I need to do this year is stretch. I need to reach higher. I need to be the bigger person. I need to cast a long shadow. I need to realize that I am not limited by my 5’4″ frame. I need to believe I am larger than life.

I have been meaning to get back to writing over the past year but have been more adept at making excuses than recording thoughts. So I am going to continue to take photos as planned for the next 359 days. Then I am going to post them here with a few words or comments or reflections or lines of utter nonsense just to get myself back into the habit of writing every day, no matter how mundane my daily photos might be, no matter how prosaic my thoughts about them are. It’s about the process and the effort, the journey and not the destination. I have to start sometime. I lose a part of myself when I stop writing, and I miss me, dammit.

I have sold myself short for too long. I printed out this photo and put it on the wall next to my desk. Just like my shadow that photo, I am going to be huuuuuuge this year.

 

More Birthdays = More Birthday Cake

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.” ~George Burns

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Slightly younger me

Midlife is weird. You never think about it until you’re in it and by then you don’t know what the hell hit you. Right around the time I turned 40, I began feeling this sense of urgency, like life was heading into its final stages and I was running out of time. I became stressed out by the act of aging. Every day I would notice something new in my body, a twinge of pain in my wrist or a soreness in my toes as they hit the floor in the morning. I wasn’t so much young anymore. My body was in slow decline, and it became the focal point of my attention. So, I went at life like a bat outta hell. I had things to accomplish before it was too late and I was too old to do all the things. I put exercise and eating right at the top of my list and became so concerned about them that they morphed into a job rather than something to enjoy. I would compare myself to others my age to see how I was holding up. It was all about not looking or acting my age, as if my age were a brick wall I was swerving around. And, in that fog of temporary insanity, I traveled through ages 40-46, too busy crossing things off my to-do list to be in the moment and too tired from doing all the things to enjoy every other part of my life. I missed tuning in for some of the best years of my sons’ lives by being too focused on silly, self-imposed goals that in the end didn’t bring me as much satisfaction or joy as I expected they would.

Partially because of the disappointment of not finding what I was looking for during my furious race to be everything I was supposed to be in my early forties, around age 46 I entered the who-gives-a-shit-because-I’m-just-gonna-die-anyway phase. During this phase, my husband and I started sharing complaints about our bodies and how they weren’t acting the way they used to. It went from a general noticing into a full on festival of physical misfortunes. Despite our constant complaining about them, our aches and pains weren’t getting any better and our sharing these details (while making us at least momentarily feel better in our not-aloneness) kept our focus on them. This, in turn, led to a depression of sorts. If the period between 40 and 46 was my Bust-It-Out phase, the two years between 46 and 48 were my Give-It-Up-Already phase. I mean, it’s not as if twenty-somethings couldn’t tell by looking at me that I was old, at least by their standards. I wasn’t fooling anyone, so why bother? I swung right from busy and focused on outward appearances to sluggish and apathetic about everything. I ate too much, drank too much, and checked out, trying to come to terms with the knowledge that I would in fact die at some point, whether or not I had everything checked off my bucket list. And who the hell would care about what I had accomplished or not accomplished anyway?

I’m 48 and midlife crisis is mostly finished with me now. My friends who told me I would feel much better on the other side were right. The shoulda-coulda-woulda thoughts are gone. I’m not wasting another minute feeling bad about something I want that others think is inappropriate. I’m on the precipice of IDGAF, which is pretty freeing. I’m not running around trying to accomplish goals, nor am I just sitting around thinking my best days are behind me. I’m living my life where it is now, grateful for the opportunity to do just that. What I’ve learned in the past eight years is that midlife crisis is an evolution. If you’re lucky, you go through it all the way and don’t get stuck either too busy with the future or too depressed about the past to live life in the present.

I’ve been observing older people recently, looking for those who model what I would like to become now that I’ve emerged through the rebirth canal of midlife. What I’ve found is that, like most things, aging largely comes down to attitude. If you think you are old, you are. The minute you start putting labels on what you can or should do at your age, you are screwed. Age is a number. What comes with it, a natural slowing down and some measurable physical changes, is unavoidable. But how you approach those changes is a choice. I have seen 65 year olds who seemed 85 and I have seen 85 year olds who would pass for twenty years younger. The older people I admire most are grateful for their journey. They work at seeing the good around them. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They aren’t afraid to try new things. They don’t care what anyone else thinks. They take care of themselves but they don’t obsess over it. And they never put unnecessary limits on themselves. They are comfortable in the wrinkly, saggy skin they’ve earned by treating their body like the soul vessel that it is and they don’t let its appearance stop them from putting on a swimsuit and getting into the surf. They know life isn’t over until it’s over.

These days, I find I’m not as concerned about the number of candles on next year’s birthday cake. I’m just excited about the possibility of cake. img_2535

Dream A Little Dream

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.”  ~George Eliot

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My new toys

When I started on this journey to improve my self-esteem, I knew three things would be crucial to my success. I needed to make time for the things that feed my soul. People who know they are worthy take care of themselves without reservation or guilt. They know that what matters to them matters. Period. So, writing was going to have to become a priority in my life again because writers write. I also needed to find space in my head for positive thoughts. I needed to find self-acceptance and self-appreciation. For me that meant a long overdue return to my yoga mat because yoga teaches balance, patience, and flexibility of both body and spirit. Most of all, yoga teaches you to let go of shit that doesn’t serve you, and I have a lot of shit to send packing. Finally, I needed to go out of my comfort zone to foster a new sense of self, one filled with possibility in place of fear. I needed to let go of who I thought I should be and embrace who I actually am. It was time to become Emmet in The Lego Movie and unlock my true potential.

In third grade, like many children in the US, I was forced to play the recorder. (To this day, if I hear a recorder playing “Hot Cross Buns,” I break out into cold sweats and struggle to keep from dry heaving.) I suffered through the experience knowing it was a stepping stone. In fourth grade when it came time to choose a real instrument, I went to my parents resolute. I told them I wanted to play the drums. The answer to that request (a common answer to that question for many parents, I imagine) was a giant, unequivocal HELLS NO. Drums are expensive. Drums are unwieldy. Drums take up real estate. And, of course, drums are loud. They asked me if I had interest in other instruments. I thought about it, suggested the French Horn with a question in my voice, and was told that might be a bit much for a starter instrument. I then weakly suggested maybe the oboe, as it was infinitely more interesting than the commonly chosen flute but still small and portable. My dad suggested I take up the clarinet. He played clarinet, and I could use his. After all, clarinets and oboes are both in the woodwinds family, right? At this point, being my independent-minded, nine-year-old self and being tired of being told what was appropriate, I told my parents I didn’t want to play anything anymore. And, in a move more self-defeating than rebellious, I gave up on music, unaware I was giving up a piece of myself in the process.

Although I never learned to play them, I never put the drums away either. I hear the drum beat in everything. I drum on the steering wheel with the radio rather than singing along. I marvel at the mastery of Stewart Copeland, Neil Peart, and Dave Grohl. During concerts, I focus on the drummer and bang my hands on my hips rather than clapping with the other fans. I go into an altered mental state when I blast Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in my house, air drumming and tossing my hair around like Animal from The Muppets during the raucous chorus. I drive my sons crazy making them listen to drum solos in songs. It’s a little weird, honestly.

At the beginning of the school year, my youngest son signed up for Drumline as one of his electives. I began to live my drummer’s dream vicariously through him. Every day I would ask him about it. I bought him drumsticks for practicing. I asked him to show me what he was learning so I could copy it and learn along side him. When the teacher assigned him to the bass drum, I tried to imagine my little guy holding that big old thing and banging on it. It made me giddy. Not long after that, I was reading the self-help book about badassery when it occurred to me I could do something I hadn’t done before. I could dream a little dream for me. What if I decided not to live my drum fantasy through Luke? What if I decided to be my own drummer and live to my own damn beat?

So last week Thursday, I took my nervous energy and my inability to sit still to my first music lesson. I sat behind a drum kit for the first time ever and I took a risk on myself. I allowed myself to believe that I was worth the expense and effort to learn something that I felt drawn to, regardless of the inconvenience it might present to others. I decided I deserved to try on this dream and see how it felt. Every day since that first lesson, I have practiced stick control, timing, and sticking patterns. I now have a metronome app on my phone, my own drumsticks, and a practice pad. Jeff, my incredibly cool, Buddhist monk (no lie) music instructor assures me I am not hopeless and that with legitimate and regular practice I really can be the drummer I might have been. And, although I am not doing this for them, in the back of my mind I think of my sons and the example I am setting for them as I try something scary and new at the ripe old age of 48. I hope they learn that it’s worth it to stand up for yourself and it’s never too late to follow your dreams and see where they might lead you.

 

Good Enough

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Me and three of my favorite things

The seven and a half years between when I turned 40 and today have been the best seven years of my life. They have not been the easiest. During this time, I learned my oldest son has ADHD and my youngest has dyslexia, and I struggled to gain acceptance and create a better situation for them at school and in their lives. I had a devastating falling out with a person very close to me that caused years’ worth of complications in my family. I began experiencing the unpleasant side effects of early perimenopause. I was depressed for a while. And I went into counseling for the first time in my life as I wrestled with the external changes messing with my reality and the internal battles being waged in my head as a result of aging and staring straight into the face of the midlife beast. As a result of all these things, however, I am more at peace than I ever have been. I live in the moment. I have greater perspective about what is important to me. And I couldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t trudged through the quagmire of muck that now lies behind me.

This morning I saw a meme that riled me up. It said, “Addicted to Bettering Myself.” I’ve seen that saying before, but it has never elicited as strong of a reaction from me as it did today. Today it just didn’t sit well. So, I have been reflecting on it, and I think I finally have it figured out. When I turned 40, I was concerned about being 40How in the heck did I get so old? Is this the beginning of the downhill slide that comes with being over the hill? How can I make 40 better? What do I need to do before it’s too late? I was consumed with answering these questions. I became addicted to bettering myself. I became more concerned about my physical appearance as I noticed more readily the effects of having lived 40 years. I became intensely interested in physical exercise. I monitored my workouts and chided myself when I fell short. If I put on weight at the holidays, I hated myself. I took classes in things I thought I teetered on the edge of being too old for, and I did things that were out of character because I thought my time was running out. I expected more of myself at a time when the events in my life were requiring more of me as well. I stressed myself out racing against a clock I could never stop.

Then an amazing thing happened. I let go. I can’t say when it happened or why, and it doesn’t matter. Suddenly I was grateful more often than anxious. I was tuned in more often than tuned out. I stopped letting others tell me what was best for me. I stopped taking myself and everything around me so goddamned seriously. I chose to let go of control more often. And I stopped looking outside myself for acceptance. I decided that trying to be “better” was more harmful than helpful to me. I accepted that my existence has power, worth, and value even if I never do anything other than breathe. It sounds Stuart Smalley of me, I know. But I decided I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, doggone it, people like me.

I am positive my friends who have escaped the clutches of the midlife monster are nodding their heads knowingly at me now. You were right, Leanna. Things did get better. I’ve let go of the situations, misconceptions, and lies that tortured me for years when I felt time was running out and I needed to be more (whatever that means). I’ve learned to not give a flying fig about most things because most things are background noise we choose hear over the symphony we could be enjoying if we let ourselves.

I don’t mean to belittle people who are addicted to bettering themselves. We’re all on our own journeys, and there is no right or wrong way to travel our individual path. And there’s something to be said for making the most of the time you are given, for being restless and ambitious, for wanting to age with grace and in good health. I have zero intention of going gentle into that goodnight myself. The Grim Reaper had best be prepared for a wrestling match when he comes for me. The difference for me at 47 than me at 40, though, is that he’ll be coming for a woman who doesn’t want to leave because she’s too happy to step out and not a woman who feels she can’t leave because she’s not finished becoming something she never realized she always was…good enough.