July 26, 2023

The Thrill & Terror of Starting Over at 51.


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“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” ~ E.E. Cummings


I was an elementary school teacher for 17 years. A darn good one, if I do say so myself.

My students were my passion, my purpose. Many of them spent more time with me than they did with their own parents. I have never worked as hard at anything as I did in my effort to ensure that my students not only learned, but felt safe and loved when they were with me.

After 17 years, I quit, for so many reasons. I simply could no longer be the teacher I wanted to be and refused to be anything less, so it was time.

That was four years ago. Since then, I have floundered. Studying for and beginning a new career as a personal trainer, only to allow my doubts and fears to get in my own way, once again, and make me question myself enough that I quit a pretty decent job.

I worked a couple of jobs in retail, which was embarrassing for me to admit when anyone asked me what I was doing for work, even though they always replied positively. It was and is nothing I should have been ashamed of…but I’ve always excelled at shaming myself unnecessarily.

I did some freelance writing, which I truly enjoyed but it was extremely inconsistent and I wasn’t confident that, with my lack of experience, I could pursue it full time.

I worked for several months as a Curriculum Coordinator at an organization that offered tutoring services to a local school district but left due to a severe lack of integrity from those in charge who cared more about simply enrolling the maximum number of bodies into the program for profit than truly providing quality services.

I am currently preparing to take a test for a Nutrition Certification, which pairs well with my personal training certification, should I decide to pursue that avenue again.

I quit my last retail job two months ago due to an extremely toxic environment. However, I knew taking the job that it was simply a way to feel somewhat useful and that I would never stay long term. I simply couldn’t. Because my heart and head have been telling me since I left teaching that I have more to do, more to offer.

All of this to say that I have a habit of taking jobs that I don’t really want and don’t mean anything to me because it is less scary than braving the unknown and going for it…whatever “it” is. I have endless support from my husband who has done nothing but encourage me and then not express what I know must be disappointment when I take the easy route again, also knowing that it won’t be long before I am sharing my unhappiness once again and we repeat some familiar conversations.

I am endlessly inspired by individuals who are pursuing a passion or talent or really anything that gets them out of bed in the morning, looking forward to their next step. I am simply not willing—and frankly don’t feel mentally and emotionally capable—of taking a job with the sole purpose of earning a paycheck that comes with no risk or reward. And I do recognize that I am extremely fortunate to even have that as an option when so many do not.

So, here I sit, at 51 years, five months, and four days old wondering what’s next. What is my next act? I’ve applied to countless “safe” jobs, feeling deflated each time I hit the “submit resume” button, and simultaneously relieved that I do not receive a call for an interview and confounded that I do not receive a call for an interview as I know I’m qualified.

Yet, I feel in my bones that I must pursue something that gives me purpose each day, a reason to get up early when the bed is soft and warm. I despise the notion of having an 8-5 job that takes me to an office where I spend my day watching the clock until I can go home.

I feel an almost desperate need for days that start whenever they need to start, end when they end, and require me to reach deep to find the passion and purpose I felt as a teacher. When I tell people what I do, I don’t want to feel embarrassed as I did with so many of my jobs over the last four years. I picture my face lighting up as I describe what I do and why and would you like to try/ read/train/see it?

I have a list of ideas. In most of them, I am an entrepreneur of sorts, likely working more hours than I have in a long time, but it’s okay because I am doing the work of someone who is energized by a drive to find what I am meant for next and to share it in whatever means will affect the lives of those who come to realize they need what I have to give.

My boys are now 17 and 19 years old, so my days of “momming” all day have drastically changed. My husband has a career of his own that, while not anything he ever envisioned for himself, he excels at and is rewarded in seeing and hearing of the impact he has on others.

It’s my turn, again. My turn to do something that feels worthwhile. That is, at least more than 50 percent of the time, something I want to be doing.

I’m not afraid of hard work. What I am afraid of is this feeling of becoming irrelevant. Of living the remainder of my days in pursuit of nothing more than a paycheck, and getting to the end wondering again why I never did that thing I wanted to do.

I am also afraid of myself because, through experience, I know that my own doubts and fears of both failure and success have stopped me from doing or saying or trying so many things. I have enough regrets to fill my little universe—I do not wish to add more.

So, somedays, I am excited about the really endless possibilities that lie in front of me, while other days, I am paralyzed by the choices and decisions and end up not making any progress toward my next act.

I do not yet know what will ultimately push me over Indecision Cliff into Action Valley. I know that the courage and strength I need will be found in taking that first step and simply getting started.

I have every intention of becoming who I really am. I just need to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.


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