“Sometimes good and bad things can happen in the same day. It’s which one you give power to that will determine which type of day that you will have.” ~ Inez Spates | 2.14.2018
As I drew closer to my 41st birthday, I began to reflect over the last year of my life as I tend to do around this time of the year. I could recall the sheer excitement that I felt when turning 40 years old. It felt like a huge milestone for so many reasons – there were things that I heard that were normal such as you really know who you are and what you want by the time you turn 40. And then there were those things that were specific to my own life and circumstances - in a nutshell, I spent my 20’s learning how to be a wife and a mom, and then I spent my 30’s simply trying to successfully survive single parenting. What I have learned is that whether you are married or single, a mother or not, women are often relational and we spend a lot of time wearing many hats and being a lot of things to many people. As seasons change, there is usually a window of opportunity for us to find ourselves again (or maybe even find ourselves for the very first time).
In my late 30’s I began to realize a lot of things about myself, so I anticipated getting to that place of complete confidence and acceptance in who I truly am as a person and as a woman. I pretty much know what I like and know what I don’t like. I love people, but I am a little more on the introverted side. I am somewhat of a nerd, a bookworm, appreciate knowledge, enjoy math, absolutely embrace music, am a little bit of a techy and actually like to draw when I have time. I had to step back from outside environmental influences and figure out what I like doing and simply do it. Even if everyone that I know do not like the same things and I have no one to do them with, I decided to simply do them – and that rekindled a fire inside of me that seemed to have died many years before. Once the spark flamed up again, there was not stopping it this time.
Even though I like to be respectful and friendly, I no longer allow people to try and persuade, guilt or bully me into doing things that I cannot happily and peacefully do. Often times, we will do things we don’t want to do simply because we want to help someone or not disappoint those we care about. But when we do things (we don’t really want to do) to appease others, we are not being true to ourselves. That is actually betraying ourselves. Doing that causes inner conflict, so even though you may be keeping the peace or pleasing someone you care about ,you cannot be at peace with yourself in the process. For myself, that meant saying no to a lot of people and things that were used to hearing yes. It wasn’t easy at first, and I made a lot of people upset, but setting boundaries helped me stay on track, keep my priorities straight and allowed me to put my energy into the places where I desired – which ultimately made me an overall happier person. This is likely one of the major things that fueled me to simply be my authentic self, not caring whether people liked me or things about me. I became seriously comfortable with myself.
One of the things that became an important part of my life during chapter 40 was embracing and appreciating the tribe of women I have in my life. I brought in my 40th birthday with a group of women who are special to me. Although I had a very full schedule most of the time between work, school and my children, I made it a point to periodically get together with my female friends, and that added so much to my life. Something about having really good female friends has been really empowering. I would say get some friends in your life who will encourage you, celebrate you, genuinely care about you, who you can laugh and cry with, but who you also give permission to let you know when you’re wrong and check you if you need to be.
So the truth is year 40 was amazing! It came with so many new and good people and experiences. I was a lot more intentional about what I wanted to accomplish and how I would spend my time, talent and resources. But of course it would make sense that I could do a better job at that because I knew and understood more of who I was as an individual and as a woman. I knew who I was and where I wanted to go by this time. A week after I turned 40 I went to Hawaii for the first time with two of my best friends. That was an awesome experience – water is my element (and I am my best when I am near it), the food was delicious, and for the first time in my life I experienced being in a place where the majority of the people actually looked like me. I never realized that I had been a minority - when it came to outer appearance – everywhere I had been in my life up until that moment. I also had a chance to go to the east coast and visit national monuments, and I experienced the African American Museum in DC. And I went to Detroit for the first time in 25 years and had a chance to visit with my grandma and reconnect with family, including cousins I had been so close to growing up.
I created a list of things that I wanted to do over the year, and at the top of the list was changing my last name back to my maiden name. I had kept my married last name in order to keep the same last name as my children because I knew how people act towards moms who have children with different last names as them, and I also kept it because it was going to be so much work to change everything back. After getting my children used to the idea, I took care of it, and it felt really good to take my name back, my Papa’s last name. The real motivation behind changing it was wanting MY last name on my degree and on the books I plan on writing.
Some other new things that I did while I was 40 was invite some new people into my life. I didn’t just open the door to any folks, but I gained a couple of mentors (one professional and one personal). I have had many examples (models) in my life, but gaining mentors took things to a whole ‘nother level. At that point I was accountable, but I opened the door to welcome in some new ideas (even if I didn’t like them), support and people to help push me along the way. I also gained a couple of coaches. I decided to take some time with a relationship coach because I figured that since we spend time and effort getting trainers to exercise, dieticians to eat right, counselors to walk through things with, why not find out what a relationship coach could add to my life since I was finally ready to invest in that part of my life. I am currently part of a leadership program at work right now and an added bonus that came with that was another coach – and how eye-opening and helpful she been to coach me through work and personal situations.
Since I became accustomed to simply deciding to do things that interested me, I attended a retreat in the late summer and gained some new knowledge and useful information, but I also had a tremendous amount of fun and built some new relationships. I went to Las Vegas in the fall to attend a summit for women who had some been effected by the medical device/birth control Essure. For the first time I met with a group of women who quickly became my sisters due to similar experiences and survival. I also began participating in and networking with a professionals’ singles group. I never expected to do anything like that, but I decided to check it out and I have learned so much and met some interesting men and women of substance, many with similar goals and desires. These things were all a part of the commitment to go and do new things. Getting out of the area and trying new things exposed me to other environments and different groups of people. The changes that have come with it have challenged and greatly motivated me to grow even more. There is just so much more to life, and being open to it will bless your life greater than you could even imagine.
Two weeks ago I walked across the finish line during a commencement ceremony and earned my long awaited degree – a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management. Getting my degree while working full time, raising children solo, having major surgery and living through ups and downs, took more determination than I had ever expected. But I finished “by the time I was 40” as I had always hoped for but had almost given up on.
I could probably continue one for another few pages of amazing experiences for another few pages, but I cannot forget that year 40 also came with its share of very tough hardships. Not only were the highly magnified ongoing negative events taking place in our country seeming to weigh down on everyone, but there were so many deaths – personal, well known celebrity losses. There were so many deaths and so much pain for so many people, and there was no way any decent caring person could ignore that. My friend’s 19 year old son (and friend of my sons), Jeremiah McCowan, committed suicide last year. This brought so many kinds of emotions and still do. After the new year, a friend at work told me her father-in-law committed suicide right before Christmas and they didn’t know why. People I highly respected and cared for went onto heaven, including my Uncle Richard Wunk, Mr. Bedford Pinkard, Mrs. Irene Clifton, Mr. George Sellers and a very special man who was a father figure to me, Reverend Robert Cox (and there were many more and I have many friends who experienced so much loss in 2018). There was violence, injustices, shootings, including the Borderline shooting right here in our County. We dealt with fires here in SoCal, and then a government shutdown which effected so many of my friends in a negative way. In the middle of that I had my own personal storms that came up, and sometimes those things came up back-to-back to back. All kinds of things happened, and there were (and still are) a lot of hurting people everywhere.
I had some of the best experiences of my life over this last year. Since I was intentional and wrote down things I wanted to do, I stayed on track and used my time very effectively. One of things that became more real to me above all else is that community is vital to thriving and being our best as people, families and beyond. We were not designed to do this thing alone. Having God and really good people in my life, especially people who will step in and pray and take action when I feel weak, have helped me make it through fire and not getting burned. I also had to remind myself that blessings come and sometimes the challenges come at the same time (simply to try and take our eyes off of the blessings), but there are always more good days than bad and what we focus on is what will grow. We decide what we will give power to in our lives. I also learned to put into practice that if you truly want something different then you have to make a decision to take different actions.
This is my last day being 40 years old. It will never come again, and although I am not bubbling over in as much excitement as I did at 40, I am starting page 1 of chapter 41 with much more boldness, confidence, peace and grit.
Some words recently shared with me that have stuck with me the most in the last couple of weeks have been: “It’s time to move onto your next chapter. Make a decision to write it well.” And that’s exactly what I plan to do.