This week I turned 38. It’s a big number. Rounded, solid. A little bit scary. It’s not often women proudly state our age, but I’ve decided it’s time to own mine.
I quite like that each of those years of life have given me a bit more wisdom. The wisdom that comes from messing up and trying again. A career built, hearts broken, friends made, qualifications mastered, passport stamped and family dinners enjoyed. Each year is another story told over tea and laughs, open fires and red wine, a few hundred sunrises and sunsets. These years are an asset growing in value.
Personally I don’t feel my age, so I’ve never felt that it defined me or held me back. Yet every now and then I wonder, should I have done more by now? There’s a creeping sense of unease that my childhood dreams are beyond my grasp. Dreams of being an explorer, running a guesthouse, writing a book, making some kind of real impact in the world, are beyond me. That it is getting too late.
Then I met a lady called Frances. A doctor of psychology and humble champion for peace. Her eyes sparkling, Frances is a woman bursting to tell a story, always with a voice animated and energised. Twenty years ago, with an impressive academic career and her houseful of children emptying, she sat at lunch with friends as they spoke of their retirement plans to live in a gated community with a golf course. Overcome with a “wave of nausea” (her words), she got up, went home and decided to take a leap of faith. She accepted an opportunity to travel to Ethiopia to work on an adult literacy project as a consultant. This year, with a resume that now reads like a travel documentary, Frances decided to invest three months of her life alongside me on the Rotary Peace Fellowship to be a better peace builder. She is currently working on a peace project in conflict-torn cities. Fran is almost 40 years wiser than me.
When you look around, you discover there are many Frances’ doing their thing. Aung San Suu Kyi fell into politics in her mid 40s, a self-described wife and mother from Oxford. A few years ago my friend Eloise decided to become a lifeguard and this week in her 30s, she won bronze in the Australian National Surf Life Saving Championships. My own mother, in her 60s, is a keen bodyboarder and has taken up photography, editing an online magazine and helps produce free educational eBooks. It’s often seemed to me like age is a bigger thing for women than men, but these incredible women teach me that age is something to leverage. That it’s not too late to do whatever it is you’re passionate about.
It turns out Martin Luther said it best: “You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
So I’ve decided it’s time to forget the excuses. Forget the invisible barriers of age and convention. Stop wondering if I’m clever or confident or brave enough and just get on with it. So after three months in Bangkok completing the Rotary Global Peace Fellowship, next month will see my journey continue to Yangon, Myanmar to apply my consultancy experience helping people and organisations turn ideas into action.
38. This is no gap year.
Ellen is a 2016 Rotary Global Peace Fellow and freelance consultant with international non-government organisation (NGO) and corporate experience from Melbourne, Australia. She is concerned with today’s biggest social problems affecting peace and conflict, with a particular interest in Myanmar.