A couple of months ago, my friend Karen asked me if she could photograph me for a new project she was starting in which she would profile women over forty who were thriving; to accompany their photograph, each woman briefly describes what thriving means for them. It is called The Thrive Project.
I agreed and a few weeks ago when we were both in Salt Lake City for the Alt Conference, Karen sat me down and took my picture with one of her film cameras. That photo is pictured above.
I get my picture taken a lot, so I am used to seeing my image, but for some reason this particular photograph struck me when Karen sent to to me for my approval. It hit me hard how much I’ve aged physically in the past 10 years. Hello, grey hair & laugh lines. I am, after all, forty seven years old, so all of that is age appropriate. But for a moment, I was taken aback. I am getting older and it’s showing.
As with many of the hard realizations we make in life, we can either fall into a deep depression about the things over which we have no control or we can embrace them. And at that very moment, I took a deep breath and said, I am going to own this.
And then I realized another thing: that despite the sprouting of grey hair at my temples and lines on my face, I have never felt younger or more energetic or excited to get up every day than I do today. Never, ever, ever. I am, indeed, thriving — more than I ever have in my forty seven years.
And so I began to embrace this image of myself with the lines on my face. And a couple days later I posted it on Instagram — without a filter or anything that would disguise the stuff that I might normally try to camouflage. And I expressed how the image had hit me when I saw it for the first time. Lots of people commented, relating and expressing their delight with the light in the photo (Karen is a fantastic portrait photographer).
My sister, who is two years younger than I am, commented on the photograph by posting this quote by the inimitable Frances McDormand, which moved me greatly:
“Looking old…should be a boast about experiences accrued and insights acquired, a triumphant signal that you are someone who, beneath that white hair, has a card catalog of valuable information.”
I am a self-described late bloomer. If any of you have heard me give a public talk in the last couple of years you’ve heard me tell stories about how I did not begin drawing or painting until I was 31, and how I did not begin my art career in earnest till I was 40, and how I did not get married till I was 45. I didn’t get my first tattoo till I was 28 (and I get my 13th tattoo in two weeks) and did not dye my hair pink for the first time until I was 41. Every year older I become, I get braver and freer. Getting older has, for me, been the best, most liberating process.
Yesterday I was recording a podcast, and while telling my story, I pronounced my age. My interviewer jokingly said, “Aren’t you supposed to keep that a secret?” The woman interviewing me is 50, and so she was being sarcastic, of course. But later on we got to talking about why I am so open about my age. It’s something I hadn’t thought about much before, but I suppose it’s part of how I own my unique path. I am in the same place in my career that some illustrators are when they are 30. Instead of being ashamed of that (I did get a late start, after all), I am owning it. And I wouldn’t redo my life in any way, even if I could. I think it’s important for people to know there are all kinds of paths, and all kinds of ways to live a life, and all kinds of things you can begin as you age.
And so here I go, leaning toward my fifites, hair greying, wrinkles gathering, experiences accruing, insights accumulating, joy abounding.
To view & follow along with Karen’s entire Thrive Project as it grows, simply go here.
Have a great weekend, friends.