How to Write a Symphony at 50

BY NANCY HALA

Picture this: An auditorium in Chicago, packed with women. My friend and cofounder Sheri is up on stage, talking about this thing we call “middle age,” and the audience is rapt. From my front-row seat, I can actually feel them leaning forward in their seats behind me, eager to hear every word. Sheri is describing how middle age is only the beginning, a jumping off point for making the rest of your dreams come true. It’s not a time to wind down, she’s saying. It’s time to ramp up. This is one of the pillars we live by at STORY, so I’m familiar with everything she’s saying but I’m still riveted, and I know it’s because I can feel the energy all around me. It’s swelling in the audience, momentum like a gathering storm. Oh wow, I think. Everyone in this room really, really needed to hear this. Suddenly she calls me out. “I mean, look at my cofounder Nancy – who’s in her fifties, a mom of two twentysomethings – she’s in the audience right now in her thigh-high leather boots.” People laugh and clap and from my seat I kick up a leg in solidarity to all the 50-year-olds out there in their go-go boots.

After she finished, scores of women rushed the stage, wanting to talk to Sheri, wanting to say thank you. They were all sorts of women – from their 30s to their 60s, from the city and the suburbs, professional women and homemakers, new moms and grandmothers – but they had one thing in common. They wanted more.

Of course they do. For generations aging has been synonymous with slowing down and finishing up. You’ve raised your kids and so “you’re done.” You’ve had a career and so “retire.” Take it easy, relax, rest on your laurels, enjoy your empty nest. Defined this way, midlife sounds absolutely tedious. Or like a very long nap. How boring.

I think we’re in the midst of an age revolution. I think we’re on the cusp of redefining and rebranding midlife.

The epiphany I’ve had this year is that I’m only halfway through this earthly journey, and I can absolutely make up the rest of my life in any way I imagine. The question of “What are you going to be when you grow up?” isn’t just for kids. It’s for all of us, and the better way to frame it is, “What are you going to be next?” Your next career, next love story, next iteration, next metamorphosis.

I once read an article about the concept of time, and the author said something like, if time were no object, we could each do or be or learn or master anything we wanted. So, the only thing preventing me, a person with no musical training, from writing a symphony is the time it would take me to learn how, write many, fail at some, and finally succeed. That struck me as profound. It meant that I had the seeds of limitless creativity, expression and ability inside me. All it ever takes is time and focus, and my life can be anything I want it to be.

And that’s how I intend to approach the middle of my life. With a sense of anticipation, not dread. With an eye toward the future, not the past. With wonderment and curiosity, not resignation and boredom. I want to blow the lid off “time.”  At this point I have about four decades left. Imagine what I can accomplish in 40 years. If I really wanted to, I could write that symphony.

So, then that’s the real question for all of us. What do we want to be? What do we want to do?

We’re halfway through. What’s next?

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NANCY HALA

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