In just over two months, I will turn 50, which is both exciting and terrifying in equal measure, because as absurd as it sounds I have been totally caught off guard without a plan for the next 40 years. The way I see it, I have two choices: hold on to and grieve for what was or navigate my way toward the start of an exciting new stage, embrace the uncertainty of what might be and redefine what it means to be me.
As luck would have it, my 50th year coincides with my first year as a part-time parent. Both kids are officially adults, finished school and (in theory) less needy of my full-time attention, which presented me with the perfect opportunity to sell up, pare down, and take off on a Golden Gap adventure. I set off on this adventure knowing that I was looking for something but unsure what that something was or where I would find it. Now, here I am, two and a half months in, sitting in a little hilltop town in Croatia, pondering if I am any closer to uncovering those answers.
I am aware that it’s not the norm for a 50-year-old woman to take off on a six-month solo adventure, gallivanting around the world, and while a part of me feels all Helen Reddy — “watch me roar” — another part of me feels like I should pull my head in and do something sensible and adulty. But after 20-plus years of juggling parenting, partnering, careers, and caring, surely I’ve earned this rite of passage to reflect, reboot, and regroup in preparation for the start of a new chapter.
After 20-plus years of juggling parenting, partnering, careers, and caring, surely I’ve earned this rite of passage to reflect, reboot, and regroup in preparation for the start of a new chapter.
For centuries, rites of passage have been used to mark the transition from one stage of life to another. They celebrate milestones and act as place markers for both endings and new beginnings. So why are they so conspicuously absent from the second half of our lives? Maybe it’s because the unspoken inference is that there isn’t much to celebrate after 50. Or perhaps it’s self-fulfilling?
If we don’t make time to consciously acknowledge and celebrate milestones and transitions, then by virtue of that, we have nothing to celebrate! So it might seem extravagant, but my Golden Gap is more than just an adventure. It’s a rite of passage, marking my transition from full-time to part-time parenting and celebrating my own golden jubilee.
This traveling alone thing has opened my eyes and my mind in ways I could never have imagined. Most notably to the fact that (both literally and metaphorically) there is more than one way. The first half of my life followed a well-worn path. School followed by university, career, marriage, kids, and divorce. A path that unfolded more by default than design, navigated using societal compass points rather than consciously piloting my own life. I was so focused on the first half of my journey that I neglected to think about what was next and now here I am, knocking on the door of 50, feeling simultaneously liberated, elated, and alarmed. Tradition suggests that I should be winding down not up, but I just can’t accept that my greatest successes are behind me.
For the past two decades my why has been my family, but as that role transitions, I have felt decidedly whyless and sadly lacking in passion and purpose. When did searching for your passion even become a thing? I don’t recall having to brainstorm it as a child. At around age 8, I remember telling my mum, “When I grow up, I want to be a ballerina, a flute teacher, and have 100 babies.” Simple.
As time marched on and life unfolded, the list of dreams from my youth got filed away, ready to resume, when the time was right. Until one day, I woke up and realized that the right time never came — or if it did, I missed it. What happened to that life I was destined for? The one I always thought I’d have time to make happen. Maybe I missed the boat on those additional 98 babies and the professional ballerina gig, but the rest is still fair game. I am ready to embrace the uncertainty and dare to reimagine whom I might yet become. The right time is now and in the end, I suspect that I will regret only the chances I didn’t take.
As extravagant as it might seem, my Golden Gap rite of passage is giving me the space to reflect both backward and forward. To clear the clutter and rediscover what it means to be me. I have always loved to write, but only recently did I realize just how valuable it was for me as a tool of self-discovery. As I write, I am both therapist and patient. Words give a voice to my thoughts. Through writing, I am able to muster all the fragments of memories and use words to securely corral them into a story for safekeeping. Stories allow us to weave together memories of where we’ve come from, give meaning to who we are, and provide clarity around where we’re going.
Tradition suggests that I should be winding down not up, but I just can’t accept that my greatest successes are behind me.
I am certain that stories need to be a part of my why. I want to embrace my love of writing, give a voice to all the untold stories inside me, and encourage other women to reimagine a second half via their own stories that fill them with passion and purpose. My story is uniquely mine, but it also echoes a million others. The details might be different, but the themes remain the same. And that is another magical thing about stories: They make us realize that we are not alone. They connect us. Maybe the stories that I share will resonate with others who will be able to weave a few threads into their own stories or extract a little piece of advice or inspiration that resonates and plants a seed of an idea that might grow into something amazing.
And so here I am, approaching the halfway point of my Golden Gap and feeling a mashup of mixed emotions. I always thought that it was the unknown that I was scared of, but on reflection I think that I was more afraid of the known coming to an end. A part of me is still pining for the familiarity and security that has warmed my world for the past 20 years, and a part of me feels liberated and excited by the infinite possibilities of all the unknowns that lie ahead.
Angela Galloway is a writer traveling the world. She is working on her first book and sharing her journey at angiam.com.au.