Celebrate Good Times

There are times that call for celebration, whether we are ready, willing, and able to acknowledge the occasion or not.  Graduations come to mind this time of year, but you may be celebrating an anniversary, so many years sober, Memorial Day, or a milestone birthday.

Since I just celebrated one of those milestone birthdays, I have thought a lot about the importance of different birthdays and how to acknowledge them.

Big birthdays like turning 16, 18, or 21 promise more freedom, more choices, more responsibility,  and more clout and general coolness in the eyes of our friends and family.  Suddenly we can drive, we can drink, (preferably not at the same time), we can vote, we can move out on our own, or join the Armed Forces and be all that we can be.  Life opens up.

But then the birthday pendulum starts to swing from jubilation to denial.  Turning 30, 40, or, God forbid, 50 is usually about as welcome as a root canal.  At 60 we get sassy and around age 75 the pendulum swings back  and we’re willing to admit our age again and take the whole family on a cruise to prove it.  By age 90 we’re so excited we have not been voted off the planet,  we want the whole world to acknowledge us as a true survivor.

I doubt any of us feel as old as our birth certificates claim we are – except perhaps on those Mondays after we take the Weekend Warrior approach to physical fitness to the extreme or we have to endure excessive amounts of hormone induced drama.  

If age is only a state of mind and we are as young as we feel, why do so many accept the unflattering beliefs about aging and begin to act accordingly? Clearly, the time for the Midlife MacGyver Movement has come!

Maybe it’s the boomer in me, but I refuse to bow out quietly.  This doesn’t mean I try to act so hip and happening that my younger nieces and nephew disown me.  It simply means I mobilize my resources and contribute to my community, my tribe, my family and friends in a meaningful way.  It also means I stop being so concerned about perfection, rejection, and acknowledgement that I don’t complete what I set out to do.

My Midlife Manifesto is a perfect example.  At this point in my life birthdays aren’t about what I can get but what I can give.  The way I really wanted to celebrate this particular birthday was to have a very low key celebration with friends but create a big virtual giveaway along the lines of OprahOkay, in my world that translates to giving away some words.  Maybe not quite as thrilling for the recipients as cars or houses, but something I have to give.

My goal was to have a video and ebook ready to roll out on the big day.  I would collect fifty sayings that have guided me through life thus far and presumably can guide me through the next fifty or so.   

I had no problem coming up with the sayings or the short essays to explain them.  Editing, as always, was the real challenge.  The next challenge was figuring out how to create a youtube video, legally add music, and design and upload an easily downloadable ebook on the web.

I underestimated the time it would take to figure all this out while holding down a full time job and possessing a penchant for procrastination.  When I realized it wasn’t going to happen in time for this birthday, I contemplated throwing the baby out with the baby water. 

Abandoning projects – especially ones that keep me up all hours of the night out of sheer excitement – only leaves me feeling devastated.  In order to give it up I have to convince myself it doesn’t matter and that no one really cares.  It always matters.  People do care. 

I have been a creative creature long enough to know anything worth doing is going to require a learning curve, trial and error, time, and faith. Several years ago when I lived in Santa Fe I woke up with what I consider Divine Inspiration directing me to create an audiotape called Stressed for Success. I’d never in my life made an audiotape (okay mixed tapes, but those don’t count).  However, I wrote a script, booked some time in a studio (where I was told voice lessons might be in order), and made a demo tape. 

I spent $500 I didn’t have to create something I had no idea what to do with.   Two months later my business partner and I sold 2500 tapes to one of our clients.  The biggest check I’d ever received arrived strategically at a time my parents happened to be visiting.

With this in mind, I started back in on the video and am providing you with a sneak peek below.

The goal this time  is less mysterious.  If I can connect with you and possibly inspire others in a way that’s fun, helps me learn some new skills, and allows us all to contribute to and learn from each other’s success, I’m all for it.  While it might be an ego boost to be a smarty pants in some areas, it’s way more fun to collaborate in cyberspace and create something with someone else that I couldn’t create on my own.

If any of you have expertise in areas that might kick this up a notch or two, please share your feedback with me.  Specifically if you’ve made videos and added photos or images, written and uploaded an ebook, or simply have an opinion about what you like or don’t like, I’d love to hear from you.  It’s only about 3 minutes and doesn’t include all the sayings (that made it 5 minutes too long), so if you’d like to view a work in progress, by all means click on the video below.

Then go celebrate your own special thing!

Cow-ncil of Elders

A few weeks ago I helped some friends move their cows from one pasture to another a couple of miles down the road. I figured if Hemmingway could run with the bulls, I could certainly walk with the cows and come away with an equally riveting read.

A few years ago I used to take my dogs, my brother’s dogs, basically any dog who wanted to follow and we’d traipse across the field to the most magical of places – the place where dairy cows dwelled.

I especially adored the little spotted calves. As soon as they’d spot us, they’d jockey for position against the fence so they could check out my canine companions. They each had a number tagged to their ear and I made sure to compliment them on it, just as I would any great bling.

I had a deep respect for these creatures. I called them my “cow”ncil of elders although none of them would ever be older than I. I’d sit down in the lotus positon, my dogs would circle around, and I’d just start talking to them, telling them of my troubles, hopes, and dreams. Their unanticipated antics would immediately let me know if they were for or against any idea I’d brought to the table, or in this case, the fence. I’d always leave the “cow”ncil with some nugget of wisdom that had eluded me prior to our meeting.

So it came as no surprise that the 27 cows and 33 calves I would be escorting to their summer pasture on this particular Sunday would have something to teach me. These cows had walked the path twice a year for a number of years. I, on the other hand, was making the journey for the first time, walking most of the way backwards and uphill.  Despite my lack of experience, I was convinced I could lead them to the Promised Land.

Number 44 emerged as an early leader.  Number 54 was second in command.  They had earned the respect of the group long before I arrived on the scene. Where they led, the rest would follow. My job was to earn their trust.

This is not as easy as one might suspect. A true cow whisperer respects the fact that despite a calm exterior, a wild animal lives within. (This applies to the whisperer as well.) When the cows felt the need to pick up the pace (usually on the downhill side of the rolling hills) and the group took on the energy of Pamplona, I was immediately reminded of the importance of daily treadmill training. You just never know when you might face a bovine fitness challenge.

Of course the calves were delighted with the chaos until they realized that an uphill climb usually followed the downhill free for all.  After a couple of hills I swear the precise translation of the bellowing was, “Are we there yet, Mom?”

Now I know I possess an infinitely quirky imagination, but when I did turn around to see where we might be heading, I had this image of me, 27 cows, and 33 calves walking down the road with our shades on, wind blowing through our mane, smoking hot shoes, leather pants (naturally), and whatever else is typically associated with the epitome of coolness as characters emerge in slow motion with their best badass image on display.

We were definitely a force to be reckoned with. Mainly because we took up the whole road.

In any case, it was with great reluctance that I let the cows continue their journey into their new territory without me. I had the privilege of walking with them a few miles and then the gig was up.
I had recently read a book by Martha Beck called Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. In the book she describes her many visits to the Londolozi game reserve where she learned how to track animals in order to learn from them. It is my goal to get to Africa to track lions and tigers and rhinos, but for now, my best and most practical option is to start in Iowa with cows.

My chance to practice the first two technologies of magic Martha promotes in her book – Wordless and Oneness – were present on the day I walked with the cows. When one can’t communicate with words there is no choice but to drop into Wordlessness, which makes the choice to drop into Oneness a little easier. Of course, anyone who has tried to meditate for more than 10 seconds will tell you “a little easier” is still difficult.

We live in a very chatty world. People tend to talk if silence stretches on for too long. Our minds rush to find something to say, no matter how ridiculous or irrelevant, as long as it stops the silence from stretching into something the least bit uncomfortable.

Since September I’ve been involved in a leadership training program that has provided me with a view into my profession that others rarely get to see. The last session ended on Friday so I had to say goodbye to people I’ve come to care deeply about and experiences I looked forward to having each month. While I’m sure the benefits of participating in the program will continue for years to come, the challenge now is for me to incorporate the training into my daily life.

The truth is leadership opportunities abound. “Cow”nils of elders are everywhere, if we only open to them. While we may strategically plot, plan, and pretend to pick our presidents and politicians, this does not necessarily make them leaders. Leaders often emerge effortlessly in a classroom, a herd of cows, among preschoolers on a playground, or kernels of corn in an air popper. They do not need to be told what to do. They just sense what the situation requires and offer it up.

Leaders need not be loud and in your face in order to lead effectively.  If you are the subtle sort, you might enjoy reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  In her book, Susan Cain writes about the influence introverts have on society. Quiet contributions can start a revolution.
The way I see it, if you have an intense interest, are willing to expend some concerted effort, can assemble a “cow”ncil or community of elders*, and possess a never say never kind of conviction, you can lead your own revolution. Kind of like the one that started Midlife MacGyver. One follower can lead to 8 who can lead to 263 and then the skies the limit! (Optimism trumps experience.)
What about you? Who are your elders and what might they give you the courage to create, contribute, or instigate a revolution around?
Do tell!!
*”Elders” refers to anyone of any age who possesses timeless wisdom and grace.