“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” —George Elliott
During the early days after my youngest left for college, I struggled. I missed mothering my children. Countless nights, I tried to stay positive, lying awake in bed thinking about all of the things I should have done with my kids and everything I could do with my new life. George Elliott’s words echoed in my head: It’s never too late. I told myself, It’s not too late to start fresh . . . to do the things you’ve always wanted to do . . . to fulfill dreams . . . to be all you can be . . . to live the life you’ve always wanted.
Yet, I was getting nowhere fast. It was like being on a treadmill where you walk-and-walk to stay in place. Stop and you fall, so you keep walking. But you can walk until the cows come home, and you’re still in the same place you started.
The reality is, I stood still on a mound of indecision and self-doubt. My dreams had been on hold for so many years, I was unsure of what to do first, afraid I would make a mistake or fail, wondering if at this stage in my life it was even worth the effort.
My daughter would cringe. Her philosophy has always been—Leap, and the net will appear. She believes you can do just about anything if you put your mind to it. It’s worked for her. She’s accomplished the impossible with absolute faith in herself, courage, strength, and optimism. But it’s easy to be brave and optimistic when you have your whole life before you. It’s not so easy when you’re staring at the golden years.
The struggle is real
Standing at that proverbial hump in my lifetime, I couldn’t help but wonder . . . if I haven’t been able to do it in 50 years, what makes me think I can do it now?
I heard this same refrain recently from my brother. He’s a professional artist who’s been working on the same pet project—an autobiographical graphic novel—for years. He told me that, when he turned 50, he threw his hands up in the air and was ready to quit because he felt there just wasn’t enough time left to finish. Then he thought again. Time had nothing to do with it. The reason he hadn’t been able to finish his novel within the first 50 years was because he had been too busy living life.
Me, too. I had been busy. Sometimes when I read my old journals, I’m amazed by how much I crammed into a day. I raised two kids . . . chauffeured them everywhere they needed to go, actively participated in school events, gave parties, cooked, cleaned, baked, sewed, shopped, gardened, made curtains and homemade bread . . . and held a full-time position as a corporate administrative assistant for almost 20 years. It’s no wonder I had no time to paint or draw, finish college, climb mountains, or write The Great American Novel.
Back when I was young and on the precipice of something new and exciting, the possibilities felt endless. My desires were strong. I had a clear, yet simple, vision of what I wanted in life—marriage, children, and a beautiful home.
Fast forward through the years, I was living my dream to some extent. But nowhere in that dream had I planned on what I would do when the dream ended nor did I give any serious thought to doing all the creative things I deep down craved. My skills and talents had been put on hold. Girlish aspirations were forgotten. The chaos and reality of living every day was enough to keep me busy and easily diluted any ambitions I might have had beyond being a wife and mother. My status in life took precedence and replaced illusive and fragmented dreams with a more-tangible reality.
My aha moment
The beauty of being older and facing the opportunity to be what you might have been is that you have the luxury of wisdom and experience. With age, comes a confidence and clarity that wasn’t there during earlier years. We see life from a better, more-mature perspective. Some things we once thought were so important mean nothing now; while other dreams have held their value well and are worth pursuing.
“Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.” —Laini Taylor
My transition from taking care of my kids to taking care of myself was so subtle, I can’t even pinpoint the day I woke up and realized that having an empty nest was not the end of the world. I just knew I was going to be OK.
With all the distractions and mental clutter that took up so much of my time before now gone, I could focus on myself, my own needs, and the things I had always longed to do . . . and I could do them at my own pace. There was no need to leap. I could fix my mind on a goal and take baby steps to get there. No rush. I had all the time in the world.