It kind of sneaks up on you, doesn't it? This "senior" thing, I mean. Before you even begin to settle into middle age, somebody is going to hit you with the "s" word — and I promise you're not going to be ready. I know I wasn't. Nor were any of my friends. But what keeps all us 50-somethings from storming off in what my mother used to call a "hissy fit" is the fact that there are a lot of big-time advantages to the view from this side of 50, and that's what I'm going to be writing about in this column. I hope you'll share in the conversation and tell us what it looks like from your point of view.
See also: Leeza Gibbons: A View From Here
I see a lot of things more clearly now — first and foremost, how important it is to take ownership of your life. Owning your life can make you feel emotionally naked. It took me a long time, for instance, to come clean about being a workaholic. I used to feel guilty about working late, but now I'm proud to flaunt how much I like to work. It's my vocation and avocation. If other people think I'm neurotic, that's their problem.
Photo by Christian Scott
What I've noticed is that once you admit to others that you are committing yourself to something you care deeply about, you become 360 degrees vulnerable. Not too long ago, I took some time off from television to start Leeza's Place, a nonprofit caregiver support organization URLTK.com, and my agent told me I was destroying my career by associating myself with something "old." He said I should focus on my kids charities and let someone else do the "un-sexy" stuff like caregiving. That gave me even more reason to plow ahead and, by the way, start looking for another agent.
When you give voice to a dream, you're, in essence, changing the rules of the game. But from where I stand now, I see that the risk of not showing up to create the rest of your life is far greater than being made fun by others for your "grandiose" ideas of what comes next.
Don't you ever see other people doing things you want to do? Or people who look and feel the way you want to look and feel? I did — and I used those images to inspire my own reinvention. For me, taking custody of my life meant simply admitting to myself what I wanted now and then going out and getting it. That's what worked for me when I was younger, but after a certain age I found myself unconsciously putting limits on what my life should look like. Maybe I shouldn't be so ambitious anymore? Maybe I should start slowing down? Maybe I should start wearing sensible shoes?
Instead I decided to look to the women in my field that I admire most: Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Maria Shriver. These women didn't run from change; they rewrote the script. Katie took over the anchor chair at CBS News knowing that she would be a target of criticism. But, in the end, it was worth taking the risk because she knew she was more than her public image as the perky girl next door. Diane has never tried to be in the boys' club. She's used her brains and her beauty to create a place of her own in the newsroom. And we all know Maria's story. What did she do after her famous husband betrayed her? She embraced change, as she had often done before, and immediately started rebuilding her life.
If I wanted to transform my life, I knew I would have to "name it and claim it," to let go of the wishing and hoping and get down to the doing. Writing this column is a good example. I've always wanted to express my thoughts this way, but in the past I've been stymied by fear and apprehension. But now I say, "So what!" I realize I'm not in charge of how people respond to my words and my hair won't catch on fire if they decide they don't like what I write. ("Are you still there, dear reader?" she asks sheepishly.)
Another example of being true to myself no matter what others think is my recent marriage to my husband, Steven. He's 13 years younger, and as soon as we started dating, I became the target of every cougar joke imaginable. At first I was a little self-conscious, but it didn't take me long to realize that missing out on what is a rich, deeply satisfying relationship was simply not an option. So I took a deep breath, made friends with the woman staring back at me in the mirror and decided to count my blessings and not my wrinkles. The rewards are many, but at the heart of it all is the fact that at 54 years old, I've never felt more like "me" than I do right now.
So what does it mean to be you right now?
When you take ownership of your life, it might be difficult at first to let go of that carefully constructed image you've created of yourself. Let it go anyway. You may have to grieve for the version of yourself that you thought would emerge but didn't. Let that go too. This is the time for you to learn what you really need in life and how to go after it. Things like finding a job that feels more authentic, or getting more time for yourself, or simply having a good cry. It may not always be a pretty picture with a neatly tied bow on top. But it will all be living — and not be from the wings, but from center stage of your own life. When I arrived at that point, I found that I didn't need applause, or approval or my name in lights. All I needed was the quiet satisfaction of knowing that my life is my own creation.
The view from here is a beautiful thing.
Leeza Gibbons is a TV personality, author and entrepreneur, as well as host of AARP's My Generation, the lifestyle TV series seen on more than 250 public television stations.