Why Turning 38 Scares Me {a rambling personal post about time and life}

(First off, to accompany this post and to commemorate my 38th birthday, I took some self portraits at the studio while trying out some new lighting techniques, to practice and learn.  Why?  Because I’m a photographer and this is a photography blog.  At first I thought, well this is weird, I guess I could have gotten a friend to model for me.  But really, shouldn’t we all have photos of ourselves?  If nothing else, to prove we were here to the people that follow?  I want to remember who I was at 38.  And I bet my kids will want to see it one day too. And maybe my grandkids too.  Oh and I had a fun vintage dress hanging out in my closet that wanted to feel meaningful. 😉 )

Hi.  This is me.

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I just turned 38.

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At a recent celebration for my 38th birthday, I was asked if I was “afraid of 40?”

 

40!? Forget 40! I’m afraid of 38!

 

I have been referring to myself in my head as 38 for months now. I even once told someone I was 38 and quickly said “wait no!  I’m not 38 yet, I’m 37!”  This birthday is affecting me more than any other birthday ever has. It’s so close to 40, the proverbial “over the hill,” which I used to equate with “old,” as the jokes and the black birthday party decor with fake tombstones.  But it’s not old.  It’s half-life over.  For the past 40 years, you have been climbing the hill of life and you are now at the top, looking down over the other side is the rest of your life  (if you’re lucky enough to live to the average life expectancy for your gender).  But yet, I still feel so young. In my heart and in my head, I am still a young adult who is now somehow in charge of two human beings (?!), married and self employed. I don’t feel old, and even though I *know* 38 is not actually “old”, it USED to be old. In MY mind, it used to be 100% adult stage, 100% grown-up, nice savings-and-401k age, I-know-what-I’m-doing-with-my-life age. But now I’m here. Or at least, I’m almost there.  Very soon, I’ll be that age that used to be old in my own head.

 

And you know how I feel about it? I am scared. I am scared that my life may be more than half over already. There is still so much left to do, so many places to see, things to experience, and memories to make.  What if I never accomplish anything “great?” What if I never have a positive impact on the world?   What mark am I leaving? I am but a speck of dust in the history of time.  Once my life is over, the world keeps turning and memory fades and then there is nothing left, as if I wasn’t here at all.

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So yeah, 40 scares me.  38 scares me.  I am in a big hurry, I am frantic, I feel like time is running out. I am anxious that I will not do the things I want to do while I am alive.

 

Because how lucky am I to have lived to the age of 38 and be in good health (knock on wood)? We spend so much time planning for the future, what will I be when I grow up? What will my career be? How will I pay for housing, food, etc.?  Will I be successful?   And then you get to that point and you think, wow, this is it for the rest of my life, now what? And then “now what?” becomes the same thing every day, the routine. And then now becomes later. And then later becomes too late.

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I’ve been grappling with these thoughts for quite some time. How do you bring purpose into your life when life is filled with everyday mundane necessities? How do you make a positive impact around you? What does it mean to succeed and be successful? What is my greatest accomplishment to date? What would I like to accomplish by 40? By 50? By 60, and hopefully, 70 or 80? At what point does health start to decline so that it’s challenging to accomplish much of anything? How many years does that leave me? 10? 20? 30?

 

At the same time, is it selfish to think about MY productivity, MY accomplishments, MY impact? How privileged are these thoughts? That I even have the ability to have them. Because my survival is not at stake. My basic survival needs are easily met. Food, check. Shelter, check. Oxygen, check. Water, check. Once basic needs are met, one can relax and ask “ok, what do I worry about now?” I will worry about whether this life, that is easily sustained, is meaningful. I will worry about whether this life, that was given to me out of no urging of my own, has purpose. I will worry about whether I am successful. I will worry about hustling. I will worry about making a difference. Why? To feel good about myself? Does it mean that someone fighting for survival is not leading a meaningful life?

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At the same time as coming face to face with the BIG question, what is the purpose of life? What is the purpose of MY life?  I have decided that I am a late bloomer. It took me a long time to come into my own, into my own skin, into my own head. (Why? Because I’m a people pleaser – for so long I did what I thought others wanted of me. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I didn’t voice my opinions out of fear of ending up in a debate with someone as that terrified me, confrontation terrified me. Speaking my mind, terrified me.) And I have made a transition in the last year or so, as I go through the most challenging experience of my life. Isn’t it funny how that happens? Our most intense personal growth occurs as a result of intense hardship. I am a soft heart and deep conversation lover. A one-on-one connector and a feeler. I would much rather sit and talk about finding purpose in one’s life and following your own heart and dreams than be reading People magazine and caring about what someone I don’t even know wore to the grocery store.  It is so clear to me what matters and does not matter in life, of what matters and doesn’t matter to me.  But at the same time, should I just be leading a life that makes me happy, or should I try to do something greater, something that impacts others in a positive way?

 

So now, as I turn 38, I ask myself:  When I die, at whatever age, will I be happy with how I lived my life? Will I be happy with the choices I made? Will I be happy with how I defined success for myself?  Did I do enough to make a difference on the world around me or did I focus on meaningless stuff that fills every nook and cranny of society around us?

 

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It’s so easy to fall into the hustling, go go go, busy, more more more, goals, vision boards, life plans, planning, etc. But we are all going to die. You are going to die, and I am going to die, and you over there, and that person there. ALL of us. So why do we walk around acting like we’re not? Worrying about things that do. not. matter.  When the time comes – POOF – gone. Just gone in the blink of an eye. POOF and not even smoke is left. It will be all gone.

 

So here I am, 38. Thirty Eight. 3-8. Two years from FOUR decades old. What have I done? I have followed the path that I thought was right for me. I went to law school and then when I realized it wasn’t for me in the long run, that it wasn’t the best use of my personality and skills, I left to pursue creative endeavors.  And I got married and had two kids.  So . . .  so what?  What now for, hopefully, 40 more years?

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Last year I was checking out at the grocery store, when I saw this LIFE magazine – 100 Women who Changed the World. $14. $14 I paid for a magazine, insanity. But I needed to have it. I needed to know about these amazing women and I needed it for my daughter, and my son for that matter. I displayed it proudly on a side table in the front room of the house, because I wanted to advertise that I am woman, and I am proud, and I believe in the coexisting strength and softness of women, and that I believe women can accomplish anything and more. But I had yet to actually sit and read about these women. As my birthday drew near, I was drawn to the faces and stories of women that changed the world – in a world of 7 BILLION people. How does that happen? How do you live a life that so impacts the rest of the world?

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Then I started thinking about the people who have influenced ME, who have impacted MY WORLD.  Is it enough to make a positive impact on just ONE other person’s life to make your own life meaningful?

So with all of this thinking (seriously sometimes I wish I could turn it all off and be happy-go-lucky, but that is just not me), I’ve decided to interview and photograph women, strong women who are accomplished and who inspire ME – who have impacted MY life.  Because I want them to know that their life was meaningful to mine.  And I also want to have conversations with them, learn from them, and hear their thoughts on what it means to live a meaningful life that impacts others.

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I’m not sure what I’ll call this series yet, but when I post the first one, I’ll let you know.  And I’m not sure how often I’ll post, I’m sure it will be inconsistent as is the story of my life at the moment.  But when I am inspired, when I connect with these women, I will post and I will tell you about them, and they will share with us, and you will love them too.

There is so much more to say about all of this, but it will all come in time.

xoxo

Rebecca

Ps. If you think about this stuff too, you let me know, and we’ll chat. <3

Pps.  I must also add that I LOVE being a photographer – I find so much meaning in capturing such amazing moments in people’s lives, in creating images that clients will look at for years and pass on to the next generation.  I truly believe that photography plays an important role in our lives and I feel blessed to be able to provide beautiful images to clients <3

 

 

10 comments
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  • Camille Salangsang MorehenFebruary 23, 2016 - 7:59 am

    One word…ACCEPTANCE!!! No anxiety until you hit my age…my advice? Don’t have a bucket list!!ReplyCancel

  • Jamie Suedkamp HilsFebruary 23, 2016 - 12:11 pm

    LOVE this!!! I will be 38 this year & it too scares the hell out of me!!ReplyCancel

  • Lorraine ReepFebruary 23, 2016 - 1:30 pm

    I would guess that you are more of a “Live it!” List kind of woman. You’ve already begun to think about making your mark; having impact that will long outlive you. At almost 62 (I also tend to think of myself as my next age!) I can assure you that this urgency will increase as you realize that much of life is outside of your control, but you have amazing opportunity with the things you can! Happy birthday, beautiful!ReplyCancel

  • Jessica ChapmanFebruary 23, 2016 - 2:22 pm

    Awesome article!! Very inspiring:).ReplyCancel

  • Patty SuedkampFebruary 23, 2016 - 3:42 pm

    Oh, Rebecca, that was absolutely the most beautiful heartfelt post I’ve ever read. you are beautiful, strong, and an inspiration to all who know and love you. I feel sad for those who don’t. You have inspired me, that’s for sure!ReplyCancel

  • Camille Salangsang MorehenFebruary 23, 2016 - 6:07 pm

    Bucket list is your journey!ReplyCancel

  • Monique Scollin ParolineFebruary 23, 2016 - 11:12 pm

    Great read, as usual. I enjoy reading your thoughts. I’m 40 now and just so proud. I finally feel happy and fulfilled but still struggling with how to make my impact on the world.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly CanovaFebruary 24, 2016 - 12:08 am

    I love this! If you ever want to talk about turning 55, just let me know lol…Miss seeing you xoReplyCancel

  • Maggie McCarthyFebruary 24, 2016 - 1:47 am

    I love you, Rebecca. I love who you are, what you have become and I love your strength. Thank you for letting me be a wee part of your life’s journey! <3ReplyCancel

  • Michelle SmithFebruary 25, 2016 - 5:43 am

    You still have a couple of years, but I can tell you that your 40s will be amazing. There is this wonderful freedom being 40 brings. You are doing great things that will have an even greater impact. : )ReplyCancel