Hi, I'm Kathryn, and welcome to my fiftieth year.

Follow me as I learn how to be fifty.

How to be a grown up

How to be a grown up

They say that fifty is the new thirty. By ‘they’ I mean hopeful fifty year olds putting a positive spin on the milestone age. It certainly isn’t thirty year olds saying it because clearly twenty is the new thirty. Every generation is looking for a rebrand. 

I’m not so fussed about my age. *Cliche alert - it really is just a number. I haven’t always been so cool about my age though. I have in the past been very age-conscious and would fudge my age a little. Not lie exactly, but be a bit vague, a bit loose with how old I was actually was. I successfully cultivated a general understanding by my friends that I was a bit younger than I was. 

I came clean at the age of forty when I had my first ever birthday party. Even one of my closest friends reckons she didn't actually know how old I was until she received an invitation to my 40th! I came out of the closet at that time, and never went back in. 

There is a point at which the lying about your age thing has a down side. That’s when you can no longer get away with shaving off a few years and still have people thinking you look good. In fact, there is now a potential bonus in adding on a few years (wow, you look A-mazing for 53!).

There are plenty of signs that you are getting older - you go to more funerals than weddings; the parties you go to are 50ths and 60ths; you have a bunion and/or corns, you rock cardigans - but the signs of growing up are not so easy to notice.

Something I’ve started to wonder about is whether I’m a grown up yet. It is tempting to think being grown up comes with the number but we could all name people in our lives that have a level of maturity well below their age.

Being a grown up is about much more than your number of years.There are things that happen to you in your life that make you grow up.  Some of these are associated with getting older, like losing your parents, and others are just what life throws at you. 

I can almost pinpoint the day I grew up. In 2010 my sister passed away from cancer. She lived in my home state and as the end was approaching I flew home to say goodbye. Being in another state, I hadn’t been close toher illness and with a fair age difference our live weren’t particularly close either. My two eldest sisters and her had grown up together and they were very close and they had been supporting her in those final days.

I arrived at the hospital and doctors had indicated she would probably have a few more days so my sisters decided to go home and rest while I stayed at the hospital. Not long after they left I was sitting in the corridor by myself when the doctor visited and said that she didn’t have much longer with us and that I should say goodbye to her.

It’s well known in my family, that I am the emotional one, the anxious one, the crier. I knew this about myself and had spent a lifetime avoiding emotionally difficult situations if I could. Yet here I was. I said to the doctor, I’m sorry, I can’t do it, and I sat there there stunned and afraid. In that moment, I remember thinking, not me, this can’t be me, she wouldn't want this to be me, everyone knows I can’t do this.

But I also felt responsibility on behalf of my family and for her. So I made myself get up and go in to her room.  I held her hand and I kissed it once for Dad, once for Mum and once for my brothers and sisters. And then she was gone.

It took me some time to understand that I grew up that day. And it wasn’t because I had to do something I found hard, it was because I had to put someone else ahead of me, and my feelings. I had to honour and respect my sister and her life and represent my family in that moment. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and sometimes I still wonder why it was me there. Why it was me and not one of my other sisters who would have known exactly what to do. In the end, the why doesn't matter, what matters is that I was there.

It’s interesting to think about whether we get the challenges in our lives that we’re ready to deal with and to help us experience the things we need to.  I didn’t know then, but how I grew and what I learned about myself that day helped me deal with a number of losses since then - the loss of my mother, another sister and one of my best friends. These challenges, though difficult,  do help us grow.

Would I say I’m a fully fledged, card-carrying grown up? Some days, most days I would say yes. Another day I’m having a door-slamming tantrum because I think I’m fat. Have I got more growing up to do? Absolutely - I’m still scared of the dark!  In the main though, I think I’m growing up. 

Here are some telltale signs that you might be too.

You have self-awareness

Knowing and understanding ourselves, warts and all, is all part of the game of growing up. Self-awareness is central to our own growth and development because it enables insight into our own thoughts and feelings. This doesn't mean we’re perfect or expect perfection in others. It means we can be honest with ourselves and recognise how we’re impacting on others. Self-awareness enables us to take a step back and gives us a chance to do/think/live/behave differently.

You know it’s not all about you

When you’ve had some life experience, you can say ‘I know how you feel” and you probably do. Grown ups know that way you feel yourself isn’t always the most important thing. When you can put others first and you can genuinely empathise with another’s situation, then you can give support and love when others need it, despite your own circumstances.

You make choices

Grown ups have the confidence and the experience to consider a range of perspectives and make better choices about what they want, what they’ll do and what they will and won't accept. Making choices isn't always easy and they don't always come tied up with a pretty bow, but you know now that there are choices in life. 

You don’t sweat the small stuff (but can get over it when you do)

Plagiarism aside, you know this oldie but goodie is great advice. Pulling it off can take some effort though as the small stuff snowballs around you. This is when you need to choose to park the crap in your life and move on. The good thing about being older and wiser is that you have a kit bag full of experience and strategies to sift through the small stuff and deal with it.

You can pull yourself out of a hole

Some days, for whatever reason, are just shit. Sometimes you can see or feel it coming and other times it hits you like a truck. Grown ups can recognise these days and do what we need to do to get through it. We know that these times are temporary and can resist the all or nothing thinking that used to take us down the rabbit hole for days. 

Carol, Mum, Rose and Andrea - thank you for the lessons. xx

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