This is FiftyDec 17, 2021
What a year it has been. As I approached and then crossed over that often dreaded birthday milestone, I wasn’t really sure I felt ANYTHING in particular. Is that because age is just a number to me? In many ways, I absolutely believe that. But I’d lost my Dad just 10 months (to the day) earlier, and if anything makes you start thinking about your own mortality, it’s losing a parent a few years earlier than you probably should, but being old enough to realize none of us live forever. I spent many days looking around my office, working through his estate, thinking that my poor sister would have her work cut out for her after I’m gone! I was 49, and I think that was when it really hit me that 50 was a-coming!
I’d had grand plans to take an African Photo Safari for my 50th. I took a dive trip for my 40th and treated myself to underwater photography lessons with a well known local photographer. So for 50, I wanted to really do it up big big BIG. In my usual fashion, I’d procrastinated everything about planning the trip. I figured I could just throw money at it and it would all work out. The next thing you know, we’re in the middle of a Global Pandemic. That’s the sound of tires screeching to a halt, the big giant pause we all took, waiting and watching how this would shape our world. It’s still shaping our world, and the last year has shaped mine more profoundly than I ever thought possible.
No, not because of the pandemic. More like in spite of it. A year ago I was riding the high of a hugely successful Photographic Competition year. I earned a diamond medal for my artist work, and a platinum medal for my Photographic work. I had an artist piece earn recognition as a Grand Imaging Award finalist, and I was preparing to receive my Master of Photography degree from Professional Photographer’s of America. In fact, The photographer was turned subject on December 6th 2020, and as my good friend was making my portraits for the degree ceremony, I got the shocking call about my Dad’s passing. I took a bit to process that, and then had to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that come with grief, guilt for not taking the trip to Maine I kept saying I would take, or for not making more frequent phone calls. I always thought there was time. All this along with being responsible for everything one has to manage after a death. From 1800 miles away. I became even more resourceful, somehow learned to manage my time to the minute to get all the things done, keep working, keep making art, and keep it together.
They say you are only given what you can handle. Or the old adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Sure, that’s true. But I think the real beauty is riding these waves of “what in hell is going on right now?” and coming through the other side of it better off. Not that I am better off without my Dad, totally contrary. So many things have happened this last year that I just wish I could call and talk to him about. But I can’t. I’ve had to define new relationships, end some toxic relationships, and strengthen the truly meaningful relationships along this road. THAT my friends, is a blessing. Realizing at 50 that you aren’t invincible, that you truly are stronger in numbers, and having the right people walking the path with you makes all the difference.
I wish my Dad were here to see what 50 brought me. Just as I was settling most of the details of his estate, I got the absolutely exciting news that I was going to qualify for a voluntary buyout opportunity at my full time job. After 23 years of service, I was getting a chance to walk away with a financial safety net - one that would last long enough to allow me to finally focus on pursuing my dream of being a full time photographer and artist. As this was a voluntary program, I did have some pros and cons to weigh, but the decision was all but a foregone conclusion. This was my chance! After struggling to carry professional legitimacy as a part time photographer for many years, I signed the agreement and started running full steam ahead to my new career.
I worked days at my full time job through the end of September, and spent evenings and weekends aligning the foundation of my new full time business. It was a lot of work. Who are we kidding? It's still a lot of work! Those 6 months were the most exciting time as I ramped down and transitioned my responsibilities to a replacement, and ramped up marketing, networking, relationship building, and started structuring my ideal work weeks once I was my own boss.
I recognized that being responsible for my own schedule was going to be both a blessing and a potential pitfall. I picked up Hal Elrod's "The Miracle Morning" early in my work transition and shifted my wake up time to a consistent 5:00-6:00 AM most days. I introduced the recommended formula of meditation, positive affirmations, visualizations, reading, journaling, and exercising. With new habits forming, I was feeling hopeful and looking forward to October, when I would be able to craft each day around my business.
Finally September 30th arrived, and I passed over an anticlimactic end to my career. Due to the pandemic, we were still working remotely. There was no tearful day walking around saying my goodbyes to colleagues that had truly become friends. There was no farewell celebration. No cake, no fanfare. I was on a Zoom call, my team asking me questions about networking and cybersecurity, right up to and then past 5:00 PM. Finally we said "Well, I guess this is it. It's been quite a ride with all of you, but I wish you all the success going forward." That was a mutual sentiment. And with that, I logged out of Zoom, shut down my laptop, and with a gentle close of the screen, I'd ended that chapter of my life. Then I sat there thinking "Huh, that's not how I imagined my last day would ever go!"
We did get together for lunch the next day, after which I drove to the office to turn in my laptop, corporate card, and ID badge. Again a perfunctory task completed with no fanfare. The receptionist walked me through turning in my company property. "Sign these papers, give me your badge and card, put your laptop over there. Thanks, you're all set." And I walked out of the office for only the 6th time in a year and a half, and for the very last time. I was grateful I'd had 5 in-office days in July so that I could see some of my colleagues before my last day. As I walked back to my car, I unexpectedly had to hold back tears. While I had absolutely no doubt I was making the best decision to follow my dreams, it was still emotional to simply walk away. I dropped into the driver's seat and just let the emotions flow for a few minutes. Once I regained my composure, I drove home to finish packing for a celebratory trip to Costa Rica.
That Saturday, October 2nd, I boarded a plane, COVID test kits safely packed for our return trip, and settled in for the relatively short flight to Guanacaste. That trip represented so many things. It was the first trip I took for pleasure since January 2020, before the pandemic hit. We were going diving, something I love to do, but had been away from for over two years. It was a true vacation, a perfect and beautiful place to shift my mindset from employee to entrepreneur. I rose with the sun and followed my Miracle Morning routine. I read on my balcony, facing the ocean, while the howler monkeys and the birds talked back and forth all around me. By 7:30 we were off to the beach to catch the skiff out to our dive boats. We were back in time for lunch and I reveled in an afternoon nap most days, often to the backdrop of thunderstorms.
And THAT became fifty. My 50th birthday was in the middle of that same week, and my friends made sure it was a special day. We took a fast boat for a bumpy hour long ride to Bat Island to dive with Bull Sharks! At dinner they made me wear a tiara and a sash, and had the resort staff bring a birthday cake for dessert. What a way to cross another major life event! It's just not often you celebrate the end of a career, the start of a full time business, and turning 50 all in the span of a week. But it didn't end there. We opted out of our last 2 dive days to explore the other things Costa Rica has to offer. We toured coffee plantations and chocolate farms. We took a dip in the chilly and refreshing pool below a breathtaking waterfall. I'll never forget seeing sloths climb up and down trees in the rainforest. It poured (of course) while we were in the rainforest, but that didn't stop us from birdwatching and searching for tiny, colorful tree frogs. On the way to our final day of adventures, I found out that, for the second year in a row, one of my Artist entries in the International Photographic Competition was selected as a Grand Imaging Award Finalist! Then it was on to the eco-adventure park for zip lining, lunch, and a visit to mud baths and hot springs high in the hillside.
I returned home happy, rested, and with a completely changed perspective on my future. I'd been visualizing it for weeks but now it was real! It is liberating to make changes that truly put you in the drivers seat. I am limited only by my drive and determination. This is Fifty.
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