43 Augusts ago, I came into this world. My parents said I came out screaming and feisty, which is not unlike me at 43. I am spunky and my indoor voice is around 100 decibels. But I digress.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting in the past few years. Way more than I ever have. Let’s call it a bit of midlife unraveling? Maybe it’s the fact that for so long, we were on the move. There’s a lot of bandwidth dedicated to wondering where you are going to sleep, eat, etc., each night. Now that we’re digging some deep roots in one location and I’ve channeled my inner homebody, my brain has opened up space for rent, and reflecting on this next chapter in my life has moved in.
And as a self-employed creative, writing is how I process things, hence the blog post dedicated to my reflections as a 43-year-old. All this to say: enjoy my nonsensical ramblings!
It’s been anything but a straight path thus far in the fish bowl we call life, and for that, I am grateful. If I gave 14-year-old me a glimpse of my stray-from-the-norm future, she would have BALKED. Calling 12 different states home by the time I’m 43? Owning a few camper vans? Criss-crossing the country at least 30 times? Living a mountain vagabond life? Writing for magazines and publishing a book? Cleaning toilets on a daily basis? Living in Alaska with an outhouse? I am my wildest dream. Most of the best discoveries happened from an “I don’t know where this is going, but I’ll give it a try.” I credit (blame?) Justin for that.
And while my livelihood comprises many things—including cleaning toilets—I wouldn’t trade it for the alternative lifestyle. There are times I feel like I am riding a bike through an obstacle course while my hair is on fire. But, I’ve learned my limits and have practiced saying no. I continue to test and stretch my capacity, but am more aware. I am no longer expecting perfection of myself, in any way. There’s a balance between grit, resilience, persistence, and self-kindness and grace. Life will always be a process of self measurement against self goals.
I also recognize I might be sacrificing and higher pay, a 401K, paid vacation, health benefits and other things that go along with traditional career success, but I cherish the freedom and autonomy linked to how I spend my time above anything. I love being able to go for a hike in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon or to travel out of town for large periods of time. For me, there is no price on time.
What about the fact that I live in Alaska now? Justin had to fight tooth and nail to get me to acquiesce. When he first came to Alaska for school/work in 2003, he called me and told me he wanted to buy land. I emphatically said no with a laundry list of reasons. He was a grad student. We were in our 20s. We were broke (wait, some things never change?). I just started my medical writing career at a great company. Even though we didn’t live near family (we lived in Phoenix at the time), Alaska was just so far away. Our families would be livid. But somehow (osmosis?), I fell in love with Alaska just as much as Justin did. And 16 years later, I agreed with him that we should buy a place in Alaska. (For the record, he still chides me for not buying that extremely affordable piece of land back in 2003 … but whatever).
I’m also really proud of my outdoor adventure odometer. The most outdoorsy thing my family did was our once-a-summer BBQ outside at our backyard picnic table. Oh, and the beach, but I don’t really count that. Much to my parents’ chagrin, my childhood play time included exploring the woods, climbing trees and coming home with poison ivy too many times to count. But it wasn’t until my 20s that I discovered my love of backpacking. Since then, I’ve logged at least 6,000 miles. I still get myself in pickles here and there, but I am way less careless and more prepared compared with my first outdoor experiences, like that first backpacking trip in 2001 when I got lost in the Grand Canyon, pulled out my emergency blanket and headlight to read through the snakebite kit, you know just in case. Or my first kayaking trip down the Lower Salt River in Arizona, where I felt more hydraulics than a rollercoaster and had to be rescued by a motorboat.
Another cool realization: the glimmer of my lifelong dream became a reality at age 42 when I started calling myself not just a writer, but an author too! I feel I’ve been blessed with a bit of talent and have done the hard work to get here. If you count the “Raisin” story I penned and read for my forensics club in 5th grade, I’ve been writing stories for 30 years. “Writer” is the identity I’ve always held closest to my heart, even that road has been curvy. When I was a junior in college, I was fired as the editor-in-chief of my school newspaper for no good reason other than I ran too many controversial stories and editorials to make the Catholic college uneasy. It was a gentle firing. I mean, they told me on the night of layout it would be my last issue (Wednesday at 11pm – I literally lived in the newspaper office from Monday until the wee hours of Thursday morning when the newspaper went to print). That event helped open my eyes to other opportunities. Then I switched from newspaper writing to medical writing after college, a career I sort of just stumbled upon and maintained through my 30s. These days, I do very little medical writing, as I focus on freelance writing in the outdoor industry, a dream I chased since my 20s.
I could ruminate on the surplus of good fortune that has come my (our) way, but I’m also aware of the struggles and that I am who I am because of adversity. And to some, my path might have looked rudderless, but I am exactly where I want to be at age 43. Maybe I don’t love the grey hairs, aching back, worsening anxiety, continued battle with insomnia and folds in my body, but I embrace who I am. And I’ve never been more interested to see how a story (my story) without a plot takes shape.
If I could go back & chat with that 14-year-old, I wouldn’t warn her about the road ahead. I would just tell her: “Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to fail. I promise it’s going to be a cool and unpredictable ride.” And most importantly, “Try not to worry about what’s going on in the lane next to you. Just be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. Don’t just exist. Live.” (Thanks Oscar Wilde for that last bit of inspiration).