I stood in the backrow. The fitness room’s mirrored walls didn’t allow for anonymity, but I felt better there, even if my backside reflected. A loud thumping bass line and the instructor’s shouts indicated class was beginning.
“Welcome to Salsa Dancing for Fiiiiitneeeeeess,” she yelled. The class woot-wooted back.
Nervous chills prickled my arms. Music thundered through the speakers and people moved to the beat, clapping along. I acted as though I’d been there before–the fake it ‘til you make it mentality–but didn’t know the steps. I traveled left when everyone went right. I moved a beat (or two or three) behind. I giggled nervously, mortified by my awkwardness. Eventually a few repetitive moves came easier. I vowed not to quit.
For weeks I’d passed the salsa class on my way to the same tired treadmill. I’d ignored the beckoning, rhythmic music and hoots of fun. I looked away even though it called to me. I allowed intimidation to talk me out of participation.
But I woke that morning to a new decade. It was my 40th birthday and I’d decided forty would be about trying new things. It was time to quit worrying about looking foolish. Or incompetent. Too old. Too young. Too out of shape. Too out of my element. Too vulnerable. Too… Doubt-filled chatter had limited me every single day. I needed to stop believing every sabotaging word.
I finished the hour thoroughly sweaty and mildly embarrassed. My throat constricted against tears. Despite my fears and awkwardness, I’d stuck it out. I was proud of that.
In the long run, salsa dancing wasn’t my thing. Nor was the hip-hop class I tried later that month. (At which I was frighteningly worse!) Belly dancing? Loved it, and learned a lot from fearless participants who were fifteen to twenty years my senior.
Of course, it wasn’t about the classes; it was about giving something new a shot. Sark says, “The opposite of old is not young; the opposite of old is new.” As my forties marched on, that momentum grew. The more I tried new things, the easier trying new things became. Apparently, courage is like water in a porous basement. It starts as a single droplet, then suddenly seeps everywhere, ‘til you find yourself thinking, “Where the heck did all of that come from?!”
My 4th decade reads like a movie review: spine-tingling, stomach-wrenching, soul-shifting, and unexpected. It taught me my heart is a much better advisor than the chatty saboteur in my head, and that pursuing my best self means allowing old, negative beliefs to crumble and new opportunities to rise. Sometimes change is unbelievably hard—as many experiences were these past 10 years—but busting through the concrete of old beliefs has yielded a garden of new green shoots. That garden is who I am, versus what who I thought I should be for everyone else.
Now I’m officially in my fifties, a decade my mother never lived to see. A fresh breeze of opportunity blows over the landscape of my life. What will it bring? I can’t predict. How can any of us know what’s around the next bend?
Yet a refrain from the musical Hamilton linger in my ears…
At how lucky we are to be alive right now
Decades sit like bookends, markers of where I’ve been and where I’ve yet to go. A lot changes in ten years. That’s the stuff of life. Yet I feel more alive than ever. And I’m awfully happy to be here.