Fifty and Fearless
Ever since I hit my fifties, I’ve been more determined. ‘Fearless’ might make a good alliterative title, although it is essentially inaccurate. I’ve fought fear my whole life. Fear of not being good enough mostly. It’s complex. I won’t bore you. The funny thing is I’ve never much cared what people thought of me, even when I was a child. I had few friends, was routinely bullied for being different or for what my mum looked like (she has an over-active thyroid and ended up having a thyroidectomy; bulging eyes is one of the side effects of the disorder. I’m sure you can imagine some of the names she was called, and which were directed at me). I developed a thick skin and in later life, a bolshy attitude, although that’s not to say it didn’t impact me.
A little into my forties I had a bit of a midlife crisis and ended up divorced, homeless, and doing a job which paid less than half of my previous salary. It was a sobering period which took its toll on my health – both mental and physical – and yet the outcomes have been almost wholly positive.
Cue my fifties. I didn’t have a bucket list, as some people do, although I did get to visit the Outer Hebrides in a camper van, which had been on my ‘want to do’ list for a while. The year after my 50th I gave up my job in Inverness and an early morning commute, which had begun to take its toll. I spent an enjoyable year working in Sutherland as a community outreach worker and then decided to take the huge gamble of going self-employed in my own food business. I’ve wanted to work in food long before I was offered a job as a second chef in 1995 – and was forced to turn it down. Now I was doing something on my own terms and loving it. Sadly, my continuing poor health/disability has meant pursuing the dream in measured proportions rather than full, tilt, boogie, yet it is still something I love and am proud of doing.
Other things that have needed me to get my brave on are writing and painting. I am in the process of completing my first novel and will be doing a five-week stint with Life Long Learning at Dundee University, from this week, to try and get it ship-shape. Another bravery of mine has been sharing my poetry again. When I was in my early 20’s I won a couple of competitions and had entries placed in others, as well as being published in magazines. As life progressed and my fear and lack of confidence increased, I stopped sharing my work altogether – other than with close friends and family. Recently, however, I’ve been sharing work via Twitter for #TopTweetTuesday, run by Black Bough Poetry, and it’s been quite liberating. I’ve even submitted a poem to a magazine – something I’ve not done for a very long time.
I started painting again too, mostly as a diversion from the anxiety that’s possessed me with everything that’s gone on in the last year. I am not an artist and can’t draw particularly well at all, but I love messing about with paints and so I’ve been brave and put brush to canvas. I have even publicly displayed my work via social media. Something the pre-fifty me would never have considered doing.
Next week I will be taking ballet classes again, for the first time in nearly 50 years. I was kicked out of ballet school the first time around. My mum told me that they couldn’t afford to send me to tap, ballet and swimming so I had to make a choice. She knew I would never stop swimming, so it was a done deal. What I didn’t know at the time was that the ballet school proprietor had asked my mum to remove me from the class. Apparently, she’d accused me of stealing – when some money had gone missing from the girls changing space – and said I was too clumsy to make a dancer anyway. The latter was certainly true, the former was, I suspect, based on my working-class roots. As you can imagine, that rather tainted my experience. I have not got any more graceful in the last (nearly) five decades and the bolts and screws in my foot will certainly not assist my levels of grace, but it doesn’t matter. I am going to be doing something I always enjoyed and won’t worry if I am clumsy and graceless.
I sometimes wonder what my life would have looked like and what I might be doing now had I faced my fears down earlier, but I was a different person then. It’s only the people I’ve met and the things that have happened which have given me confidence to be the ‘me’ I am now. I have always been determined – some may say stubborn -and I think that has helped.
There are many inspirational women who have only started doing something for themselves in their forties and fifties. As women, we’re tied up with family and work; we have responsibilities that sap our time and our energy and so we end up frustrated, often worn out and with little energy to try new things or follow our dreams, yet it is possible. With determination. With courage.
We may not all paddle board the UK’s canals like Jo Moseley, or cycle around the world like Jenny Graham, or even start our own business, but we can all have our own challenges and achievements. Those things we wish to try or accomplish: a long-distance walk, writing a book, taking up woodwork or a host of other things you’ve promised yourself you’ll do when you ‘find the time’ or the courage. From experience, I would suggest that you will always have demands on your time and it will always be scary to try something new that you may not be good at. Face the fear and do it any way. Do it now. Not when you retire; not when you ‘have more time’.
If the last year has taught us anything, it is that life is both short and precious. The time to do that thing you always wanted to is now. So, whether you are thirty or fifty – or even older – face the fear and do it anyway. It’s never too late.