Life begins at 40.
The story begins with a little girl born kicking and screaming so much, her father got into a fight with a staff member in the hospital, because the staff didn’t let him see his wife. That’s how I entered the world, with a little bit of pizzazz and attitude. This moment defined a lot of who I would become: assertive, honest, and a bit of a rebel.
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Big Plans at a young age
When I was 9, I told my parents that one day I was going to leave my birth country. They still remember the story. I still remember the smile on their faces, when my practical little self stated I knew I was a child and had no money, but that one day it was going to happen. I was pretty sure of that.
Traveling overseas wasn’t an option for a long time. I was born in South America and our currency was never as strong as the dollar. So everything was 5 times as hard (and expensive). MY family was not wealthy and although I never went without, we also didn’t have extras.
But when I was 12, a family member sold everything she owned. Then she hopped on a cargo ship and headed to Europe. This in a time where a woman traveling solo, on a cargo ship with 7 male and 1 female crew members, was unheard of. She was my inspiration.
So I did what I could. I backpacked the Northeast coast of Brazil at 18. In my early 202 I camped in the Amazon forest. I studied in England, in a study abroad program, in college.
At barely 23, I had the opportunity to move to the US to go to school. I packed a suitcase and had a panic attack 2 days prior to the trip. In reality I had no expectations and I hardly knew anything about the US, but I came. It was the best decision I made. That decision changed everything. It was not easy. I had a hard time adapting culturally. I couldn’t read people’s facial expressions or process what I perceived to be rudeness. In reality it was that direct and pragmatic American way. But I learned to love it so much.
I attended college and got 2 degrees. But I decided to go into corporate work versus working in my field. Additional student loans, education, and low salary prospects were not what I wanted at the time.
But after years of working hard to forge a place in the world, I found myself in the midst of a mid-life crisis in my 30s. All of a sudden, I had a career, an amazing husband and financial comfort. But I felt the free spirited person of my 20s was gone. I could no longer be inconsequential or adventurous. Suddenly I had responsibilities!
So I did like many workers. Every yearI took time off from work, 2 weeks, to travel. I have been to Italy, Ireland, Egypt, Costa Rica, Bahamas, France, Argentina, Antarctica, Roswell for the UFO Festival, national parks around the country, but I still feel robbed of something.
Hitting Middle Age
There are a lot of things people don’t tell you about hitting middle age. It is not just the gray hairs sprouting, the aging face looking back in the mirror that you have a hard time recognizing and getting acquainted to. There are the cognitive changes that happen without your permission. It is the feeling colors are not as bright as when you were a teenager in the 90s. It is the decreased willingness to take risks. You get comfortable and settled and your knees are not what they used to be. And if you are not careful, you can hide from the world and shrivel.
The feeling of mortality
Another feeling took hold of me, when I reached my 40s. That of my own mortality. All of a sudden, the money, the “successful” corporate career (between quotes, because success is such a mutable concept), material things, became secondary to a life well lived. You begin to look at life from the very tangible understanding that it is finite. And that half of it is behind you. Friends and family become more important than status and shallow connections. People say life starts at 40. If you are lucky, you will interpret this as a re-birth. You see it as a chance to be reborn. You can now define the second half of your life. If you are not so lucky, then I hope it is not a life you saw passing without actually living it.
Money and employment are important
I don’t want to downplay the need for money and a job. My whole life I have always been a good and ambitious professional. I have also been so broke. At some point I was almost on the brink of homelessness. Money and employment are important. But they are not everything. They should be a means to and end, not the end. Life is fleeting. People get sick and die everyday. People lose loved ones. My mortality and that of those I love became a driving force to live fully.
My almost mid 40s
Now in my almost mid-40s, I come to realize dreams can be redefined. They do not have to exist in that beautiful, blissful bubble of youth. There is nothing that says that by growing old, I also have to grow boring. There is nothing that says because you are older, with family and a mortgage, you cannot live your dreams.
I accept I am not sleeping in a hostel. Or in a camp tent without a comfortable mattress. I do like, and worked hard for, a few niceties. Plus my back will protest immensely and it’s not worth the aggravation.
Life starts at 40
What I have learned, so far, is that we can repackage our dreams. We can work with the things we worry about, such as that retirement fund, health care coverage, and mortgage payments. However, they should not be an obstacle to live an adventurous life. You can have new dreams and to even *gasp* take new risks. Life starts at 40!
New risks, new adventures
I am in the process of taking one of the biggest risks of the second half of my life. Life begins at 40! I’m about to quit my high paying corporate job. I’m taking a year off to go on a road trip with my father, and going back to school, to finally work on what I wanted to when I was young. It is scary. Everyday, I wake up and change my mind. Everyday, I remind myself my father is getting older and I will regret forever not having this experience with him. But everyday I remind myself that it is the things we are scared of the most, that are the most worth fighting for. I want to live fearlessly, so as on my last breath, I can look back and know “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” R. Frost
The first time I realized I wanted to travel I was 9 years old. I told my parents that one day, I would pack my stuff and leave. And leave I did. I moved to the US at 23 to go to school, with a suitcase and no expectations. Now in my 40s, I am trying to redefine what it means to grow old, in my own way, on my own terms.