Feet First

Me, getting ready to leap. I’m looking for the net to catch me, but not seeing one.

Today is my 50th birthday.

I feel a little shocked that I’m 50. Remember when you were a kid and how somebody who was 50 years old seemed ANCIENT? But I have enjoyed a couple of opportunities to smile when someone tells me I don’t look it – it’s a great compliment. But I’m doubly blessed because I don’t feel it either. My opportunities are many, my hopes are high, my life is so good.

My friend Amie and I met in the 5th grade. Yesterday she asked me for some perspective, based on my experience as a traveler. She has the opportunity to go to a three-day conference that celebrates life and imagination and inspiration. It’s out of state and, like the smart and careful woman she is, Amie is doing research before she makes her decision. We chatted about our birthdays, and she told me she had recently gone to a nearby city with girlfriends to celebrate her own.  She asked, “Help a 50-year-old out!” How did Amie get to be 50 too?! After considering it for a while as I planned my response, I realized I’m grateful to her for the impetus to think this through.

She wanted to justify the expense of the trip, when the money might be better spent on something more pragmatic. She asked if I ever get buyer’s remorse, and what does an investment in myself do for me. She asked, “How do you jump in feet first?”

First of all, I love that it’s the impression I’ve given her: that I jump in feet first. But then, I suppose I do tend to commit to new, big, scary things without a whole lot of deliberation. Amie asks this question like I’m an adventurer, and I love that idea of myself. It reminded me of one of my favourite quotes:

“Leap, and the net will appear.” ~ John Burroughs

It also reminded me of comments from friends and family over the years. I’ve looked into the dubious faces of people afraid for me, as I quit multiple jobs, in my 30s moved 3000 miles to go to college for the first time, took my little kid to Egypt for fun, hiked in the mountains for days all by myself. But Amie wasn’t being doubtful, or scared for me, or challenging me. She wanted me to help her do the same thing. It’s a profound compliment and validation for all these years of leaping into the void and hoping for a net.

If anyone else is curious about what is going through my head when I make risky decisions, I’ve include my response to her below:


I had a chance to read the website you sent me. This sounds absolutely perfect. I’d want to go except that I have to be in Boise that same weekend. One suggestion for you is that the topic of the workshop is to learn how to live guided by curiosity instead of fear, and your first big step toward that end would be to follow your curiosity, and buy a plane ticket.

Your “fear,” to me, sounds like you are aware of the unknowns, and not sure about making a decision without having all the facts. Such as…. what’s it like to get home after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars and have nothing concrete to show for it. This is a big obstacle, but with time it gets better. When I start thinking like this, I look back over my life and remember the times when I was really scared because I didn’t know what would happen, and I ask myself how it turned out. The answer always is that it turned out fine. Here I am, smarter, kinder, more informed, still optimistic, with food in the fridge and a roof over my head, and my kid still loves me.

So if we can agree that a weekend out of state will turn out just fine, then what are the reasons to choose it over something else more practical?

1) Practical things are always there. You will never, ever in your whole life, get them all accomplished and paid for.

If you followed the reasoning to its logical conclusion, you would wait till your life was over to go out and do fun stuff, and that doesn’t make any sense. Plus, you make this kind of decision all the time anyway, like going out with your girlfriends for the day for your birthday. A weekend out of state is a bigger choice, but no less valid.

2) You owe it to yourself, to your family, the planet, God, to live your best life! Be your full self and go gather experiences.

You asked if I ever had buyer’s remorse. Nope. Never. And it’s not like I’m obstinately refusing to be regretful, it’s that when the experience is over, I’m so glad I did it. The amount of worry and stress I go through before a trip is redonkulous (that’s a real word) compared to the lack of it afterward.

For example, when Tara and I went to Ireland last Spring. I had no money coming in and was living off my IRA. Tara and I seriously discussed cancelling the trip and forfeiting the already-purchased plane tickets. But we had so much curiosity about what it could be like, and we also had experience living on very little money. Tara had saved their tips from working at the smoothie shop, and we realized we could scrimp in Ireland as well as in Oregon, and just did it. The ways we had to cut expenses became part of the adventure, like learning how to ride the city busses and staying in the cheapest Airbnb I could find in Dingle, which turned out to be a paradise. The payoff was more than we could have dreamed. We learned so much, we were surprised and educated, we were awestruck by sights, we met wonderful wonderful strangers. How much are you willing to spend for a gigantic amount of joy?

This conference would be heaps of goodness. The speakers seem packed full of joy and their goal is to give as much of it as they can to you. The whole place will be filled with other people who want to embrace that feeling, and it will be contagious. You will be inspired, you will meet interesting and fun people, you will learn things about yourself, and you will be empowered. How much are you willing to spend for that?

3) This workshop caught your eye for some reason.

There is something going on inside of you that is making you consider attending. What is it? Should you honor your own instincts and follow through? Could acting on this thought be a way to train yourself to listen to your inner voice better? Maybe the timing of the workshop, combined with your ability to go, signals some kind of open door for you into a new chapter of your life. (Amie has three healthy, strong, kind, talented, inspiring, mostly grown-up kids who don’t need her as much as they used to.) Maybe you want to find out what that next chapter might be all about, and this could be a clue.

I usually have loads of anxiety before doing something big – just think of all the things that could go wrong. But it’s a choice to look at it that way, when I could also say – just think of all the things that could go right!

Being brave is a mindgame. I can jump in feet first now because I remind myself that it’s always worked out in the past. I’m not saying my choices are always right or that every decision I make leads to better things, because that certainly isn’t true. But what I do is take the perspective of “Considering all the catastrophes I envisioned before making that decision, did it ever turn out as bad as that?” No, not that bad. And even the things that surely were mistakes – BIG mistakes – I have recovered from them. When I consider honestly all the risks I’ve taken in my life, most of them turned out for the better. It pays off big time to take risks. The more risks you take, the more evidence you’ll have that proves it to be true.

As for what the investment in travel does for me, I think the best thing I get out of experiences is that I become a better person. When I do new things I’m always learning about peoples’ perspectives that I was ignorant of, or gaining insight into my own assumptions and prejudices. I want to be a person who adds more positivity than negativity to the world, and I need to keep learning more in order to do that better. I can’t learn enough without shaking my life up and doing scary things.

Partway through all of this, I said to Amie that it was starting to sound like a blog post and she encouraged me to write it. After 50 years of working on it, I have a perspective in tune with who I want to be. I hope that hearing about my process helps you have more adventures in your own life. It’s not about travel, or how much money you have. Bravery is required all the time in life, and having adventures becomes possible when you look it it a different way.

25 thoughts on “Feet First

  1. I hope your birthday gathering was a big success. I like the advice you gave your friend. I also tend to be very cautious and pragmatic. I did mention my daughter and I talked about selling my house and traveling until I no longer could. My inside voice says ‘then where do we go?’ Daughter says, ‘we’ll figure it out. Now 70+ is the new 50, right? I love the John Burroughs quote too. I’ve used it often. I guess it depends on how high the stakes are. 50 is young and you make it look younger because you are always active and smart enough to walk away from things that drain you. I wish you more adventures this year. Even the adventure of learning is big. Lot of love.

    1. My birthday gathering was a success! About 15 people showed up and they were all hand-picked so that I would have a relaxing, happy birthday party. Yes, the inner voice that says, “where would we go?” tells me you are also pragmatic and careful. Those are good qualities, and you have learned to be that way through your life experience and I don’t blame you. You are MY inspiration. Somehow, despite all your roadblocks and lack of resources and support, you have made a beautiful home that is safe and comfortable, you raised two kids that love you and help you, and most of all you make sure your own buoyant spirit is the one that guides you, and not the dark thoughts that can come up. Here you are, facing disruption and upheaval in your life, and you say “70 is the new 50!” I only hope I can be as joyful and trusting of myself as you are, when I am 70. I love you, Marlene. ❤

  2. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday Madam..!!
    This is such an inspiring post. I mean, till recently, I got this feeling of being the “Ancient One” upon turning 30. But this post of yours provided a much needed confidence boost, through your own experiences and the lessons drawn from life in general.
    Looking forward to learning more from your experiences, getting awestruck from your travels and more..
    Have a wonderful time ahead.. 🙂

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words. Of course 30 feels old when you remember what you thought when you were a kid! I know just what you’re talking about. 🙂 But after a while, let go of that and just ask yourself how you feel, and you’ll realize 30 feels pretty good! I was very lucky and at age 33 I went to a community college, then at age 34 I transferred to a university in Boston to get my bachelors degree for the first time. The students at the University were mostly 19 and 20 years old, and had just left their parents’ homes. I was surrounded by them every day and I began to forget my age! It was pretty funny that I felt like I was 20 years old too! So any chance you get to spend time with people younger than you – do it!

      1. Yet another gem of an advice from you.. Thank you so much Madam once again.. 🙂
        Well, I intend to take up your suggestion sometime soon, in near future. Not exactly to forget my age, but to do activities and learn stuff for which there is no age limit.
        It is great talking to you.. 🙂 Thank you so much..!!

    1. I’m so excited for you Amie, and thank you for letting me put our conversation into a blog post. I guess you have learned that from having a son as a stand up comedian: sometimes somebody’s art form means they talk about you in public! Anyway, thanks for letting me know you went for it on this one. It feels like you wanted to go the whole time, and were reaching out to me to find a way to go. I definitely don’t want to push you a direction you’re not ready for, but you said you had the money and the time, so I took that as my green light to make a strong case. I KNOW you will not regret it. ❤

    2. What a joy to see this post about two of my favorite classmates from N.M. You both hold such a special place in my heart. The three of us should get together sometime and drink wine.

      1. What the what? Kristina! So lovely to have you here, and what fun it must have been to read about two people you know. I am so glad you left a comment so I knew you were here! And I would LOVE to meet for wine. I recommend going to Amie’s place, since she lives in wine country. Let’s invite ourselves. ❤

  3. Oh yes, feet first and the re-ass-t will follow! 😀

    Dear Crystal, I’m terribly late seeing this post but now I have and I wish you a most excellent second half of your life which is now so much easier to live, after learning so much and understanding more and knowing how to follow the signs and how to weave the net out of thin air if necessary because it didn’t appear. 🙂

    I’m having a party for my 50th planned in second half of May so if you’re in the region (and by this I mean Europe) around then, consider yourself kindly invited. You can also plan around it. 😉 But if that is impossible, any other time will be good. Slovenia and/or Italy are waiting for you.

    I’m sure you had a great celebration and many more are on the way. Cin cin!

    1. Manja, you are a fun person! You really do seem to live a life filled with joy. The idea of agency in risks is inspiring – yes, I think we must have to weave our own nets sometimes. I never thought of that, but it’s quite empowering to change my thinking to include weaving too! 🙂

      THANK YOU for the birthday invitation! May in Europe would be brilliant, wouldn’t it. Hm, I will definitely give that some thought. Even if I don’t make it, I hope your 50th birthday finds you surrounded by friends, family, pets, and so much love. ❤

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