Now I am motivated by the need for additional income as well as the desire to expand my comfort zone even broader (I've not yet written a query letter. It scares me, which means it's the next thing I must do), so I am newly motivated to prepare more pieces for submission.
Last fall I submitted the following essay for the 8th Annual Real Simple Essay Contest. This was my third crack at the contest over the years, and I am happy to announce it is the next rejection toward 300. I found the winning essay on the Real Simple web site today. It is a breathtaking essay and so deserving of the first prize ribbon. Congratulations to Diane Penney!
I have friends who insist that there's a book within my 40/40 list experience. I'm not ruling it out. There was at least an essay, which I present to you below. Time will tell what other ways I will be inspired to write about how the 40/40 list shaped my life. Until then, here's my response to the magazine's question: What single decision has changed your life?
40/40 Vision: The Decision That Gave Me a New Outlook on Life
“You know, Julie, I'm creating a list of 27 things I want to do in celebration of my 27th birthday. You should do the same to celebrate your 40th.” My coworker's suggestion made me laugh and consider our age gap. My slender build, bone structure, and big eyes reminded her of Michelle Pfeiffer in One Fine Day—a movie we watched the same year. She was nine. I was a senior in college.
I didn't take her suggestion seriously at first, but over the next few days, the possibilities began to percolate in my imagination. Check off 40 activities in my 40th year. I numbered a sheet of notebook paper and began filling in the blanks.
I posted a request on Facebook for suggestions. Friends offered ideas and their willingness to participate in some of them. Themes developed in an organic way. There were physical challenges: run a 5K with my brother-in-law; take tennis, ice skating, and trapeze lessons; do yoga daily—four sun salutations—to improve my forward bends; kayak at a local lake. A love of books and reading were represented: read four more presidential biographies; read a book off a high school reading list; re-read my favorite childhood series Anne of Green Gables. Writing four letters to state and federal legislators and attending a school board meeting rounded out the civic-minded category. Making bread pudding, making pie crust from scratch, and taking a cooking class at a local grocery store satisfied the cooking theme.
I made sure that there were activities that my eight-year-old daughter could do with me: attend a symphony performance; get a pedicure with bright red polish; go to Meramec Caverns in rural Missouri; learn to fishtail braid her hair.
Participating in a 31 day writing challenge in October and blogging about each of the completed activities represented my love of writing on the list. And then miscellaneous items that piqued my interest completed the list: singing a Sara Bareilles song at karaoke; staying in a hotel overnight solo; renting a MINI cooper; making a substantial donation to a charity; taking a train trip.
I kicked off the list on January 3—my 40th birthday—by having lunch with girlfriends at the Boathouse in Forest Park in St. Louis. It's a restaurant I'd never been to in the dozen years I'd lived here. Being surrounded by such warm, inspiring, lovely women was the perfect start to a brand-new year and decade. We talked and laughed (and cried a little bit too) for hours. I marveled at how a group of women whose only known commonality was a mutual friend could bond and enjoy each others' company so much.
My first 40 years were spent as a bookworm who lived predominantly in her heart and mind. The 40/40 list pushed me to question the narratives I had about who I was and what I believed about myself. Working my way through the list underscored just how much of life I had lived as a spectator, an observer. Take physical activity, for example. When my brother-in-law suggested I add running a 5K race to the list, I felt intimidated. “I’m not a runner!” I thought to myself. But he was suggesting a 5K, not a marathon, and so I agreed. I completed it successfully in just under 33 minutes. There were other labels that this list was challenging. Prior to turning forty, I also believed that “I'm terrible in the kitchen!” I repeated this belief often. It became a part of who I was. But then I baked the recipes on the list. No calamity occurred in the making of these desserts. In fact, they were delicious, and I had made them! I could no longer own the “bad cook/baker” label.
New mantras like “I can do everything” and “Right here, right now” developed in place of old labels. These mantras set a new tone throughout all aspects of life. “I can do everything” accompanied me on training runs for the 5K. It also came in handy before I launched myself off a three-story zipline platform or grasped the next handhold on the indoor rock climbing course.
In January, I believed checking off items on the 40/40 list was simply a creative way to celebrate a milestone. What I know now with just a few activities left to cross off is that the 40/40 list initiated a spiritual journey. Always introspective, I evaluated myself in new contexts and under different circumstances. With emotional excavation I have grappled with the great role fear has played in my life. These activities have served as practice to end the cautious, play-it-safe ways I lived before. In my twenties and thirties, I was a serious woman who worried far too much about what other people thought of my decisions. Everything, real or imagined, scared me and so I backed away from anything that made me anxious. Now when I detect a sense of fear, I ask myself, “Are you scared?” If the answer is yes, I take the fear by the hand and proceed. In this way, I neutralize it and prove myself stronger. The fears of failure, physical pain, and not “doing something right,” have loosened their grips.
The 40/40 list has created a fertile environment to take on other challenges that weren't outlined on the initial list. My new life is peppered with the questions “Why not?” and “What have I got to lose?” It turns out I have so much to gain: I started a daily writing habit and completed the first draft of a novel. I attended a writing retreat in Montana. I refinanced my house as a solo homeowner. And I did all of these things in the first seven months of my 40th year.
As I celebrated my birthday all year, I witnessed others approach the milestone with trepidation, sadness, or dread. I cannot relate to these reactions. I love being 40! The first year of this new decade has ushered in new ways to live my best life. I take a stand for myself. I feel more energy, more happiness, and more zest for life than ever before.
The reverberations from the list will last a lifetime. I didn't just run a 5K. I became a runner and have run another race since checking the first one off the list. And now I get a pedicure after every race. It's a new “be good to myself” ritual I've started. My daily yoga has taught the importance of consistent effort toward a goal. I can touch my toes without bending my knees. This was not possible in January.
Nothing about life has changed, but everything about me has. Life is still hard and complicated, scary and unknown. The 40/40 list has taught me to take life as it comes. To delight in the good times, and to trust my instincts when the bad times appear. To keep one foot in front of the other, and to not look too far down the path. To just stay present and let tomorrow worry about itself. Best of all, I will be a better example of how to live a full and meaningful life for my daughter at 41 than I was at 40.
I can't wait to see the other ways my life transforms when this list is complete. I am grateful for my 27-year-old coworker's birthday suggestion to make that list. I hope she's had half the fun I have had.