50 Before 50 – The best way to celebrate a big birthday is with friends

SusanCarterVic“How will you celebrate your 50th” Throw a big party and invite all your friends? Take a trip with a few good friends? Neither was right for me. Whenever we have a lot of people over for a party I feel like I just don’t have enough time to catch up with all the guests. When you take a cool trip with friends, it’s a wonderful opportunity to connect, but everyone has different travel routines and standards, and the financial and time constraints limit who can join.

I’ve been joking that my mid-life crisis is becoming a metalhead, but joking aside, turning 50 is a good opportunity to take a minute and pause.

So, when I turned 49, I decided I would celebrate my 50th by trying to catch up with 50 friends before I hit 5-0. All too often the day to day business of life stops us from finding time to spend with people we love. How often have you said to someone “We should get together sometime” only to have a year, or two, or five go by.

Setting this goal would force me to jam all those “sometimes” into 365 days.

For those who don’t like reading, I have added a then & now photo collage at the bottom of the post to give you an idea of the wide array of friendships I had a chance to re-energize over the year!Thank you to each and every friend who made time to catch up, and to all of you I did not get to catch up with… I still want to see you!

I won’t go into detail on every single lunch, supper, run, coffee, but I do want to share what I learned from the experience.

Lesson #1 Friends are for life

Just because you haven’t seen someone in a year, 5 years, 20 years, doesn’t mean you can’t reach out and have a great time catching up! My record reunion was with a high school friend Nanette. We had not seen each other or really stayed in touch for the last 27 years or so, not so much as a Christmas card/email. But when we met this summer, we stayed at the restaurant long after we had paid the bill talking about friends, family, and life. Try not to take offense if a friend is in town and does not make time to see you. I travel a lot, for work and for pleasure. Sometimes my schedule is taken up visiting family, or entertaining others. Sometimes I just want to spend a night flopped in my hotel room with a can of pringles and whatever Will Smith movie is playing on AMC. Even extroverts like me need a little down time. I don’t always have the energy to go across town and meet someone for supper. It doesn’t change the fact that when it does work out, I always enjoy catching up with you! So please reach out and I promise to do the same.

#2 – Friends come from all walks of your life

50 friends in one year? Do I even have 50 friends? I have been working at home for the past 8+ years, and at times that leaves me feeling isolated and lonely. This exercise has been a reminder, that when I do feel alone, all I have to do is reach out. My friends are there, they just don’t know when I need them. Yes, they are busy, just like me, so it may take a couple a while to catch up in person, but wow I do have a lot of wonderful people in my life!

For my 50 Before 50 challenge, my definition was simple: A friend is someone I look forward to seeing and spending time with. My list included sisters, in-laws, my godmother, nieces and nephews, childhood friends, high school friends, university friends, interns, co-workers, conference buddies, ultimate players, soccer players, running buddies, kickboxing partners, parents I met at hockey practices or kids birthday parties, and more! Some are deep friendships, some are acquaintances who have only recently become friends. I am fortunate because not only did I find 50 people I wanted to spend time with who were willing to reciprocate, but also because there are friends I wanted to catch up with and didn’t and I met new people who I hope become friends.

#3 Catching up takes effort

There are friends you see regularly. I run Sunday mornings with a wonderful group of friends. I look forward to it, and it’s easy, it’s part of my routine. Catching up with Janice & Cheryl in Dallas, required detouring my Austin trip through Dallas and renting a car to drive from Dallas to Austin and back. But Cheryl and Janice immediately re-arranged their own plans to meet for dinner on the one and only night that I was available. Roxanne & Tony met me in a town halfway between Pembroke and Ottawa on a Tuesday night for dinner because that was the only way to fit it in. Sometimes, okay, many times, I had to take advantage of business trips, or make special trips to make it all happen. I met friends in Fredericton, Burlington, Boston, Toronto, Seattle, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Las Vegas, Dallas, San Francisco, Montreal, Calgary, and even on a cruise ship! My friends were great about making an effort to meet me in whatever window was available to help me hit my 50 before 50 goal. Letting me crash at their place, picking me up from my hotel to grab breakfast before work, inviting me to crash their girls night out at the theatre, trekking into the city from the burbs, driving across town to join me for a run, taking the train to Ottawa. I would never have hit the goal without their efforts! I should also mention how lucky I am to have a husband who supported me in pursuing my goal!

You can’t always see people in person, so remember all the ways you can connect without being there in person. Mail a physical Christmas card, make a phone call, send an email, mail a postcard! Share a photo or add a personal note when you write on their birthday wall in Facebook. It will be appreciated!

#3 The grass is NEVER greener

If all you see from your friends is their social media feeds or Christmas newsletters, you get a very skewed view of their lives. I struggle with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). When I see my friends hosting a dinner, running a race, gathering at a conference, travelling, receiving awards, being successful I have to admit, all too often my first reaction is jealousy and even a bit of sadness. Am I missing out? Am I less successful? Let’s be 100% clear! I am not fishing for sympathy or comfort! My life is good with it’s own ups and downs (left my job to join a start up, that didn’t work out, applied for a job tailor made for me, didn’t get the job, Connor is having fun taking Geo Engineering at Queens, Carter is about to star in another school play, I set personal bests running this year, Trevor and I did not freeze at the Grey Cup!)  But the human brain does like to mess with us and it is so easy to focus on what we don’t have or what we are missing instead of appreciating what we have (cue up suitable song here – Rolling Stones – Can’t Always Get What You Want, or Cheryl Crow Soak up the Sun). Well next time you have that moment, I’m here to tell you when sit down and get past the ‘how about this weather’ conversation and really connect you are reminded everyone’s life is full of ups and downs. Work may be going great, but mum or dad is getting older and needs more care. One kid is doing great, but the other is struggling. Had an amazing vacation, but lost a much loved dog or cat. Cancer sucks.

Maybe we all need to print and hang up a few more photos from the good moments instead of just posting them on Facebook so when things are rough we have a physical reminder that we were happy before, and yes we can be happy again. Hmmm, do you suppose that’s why I have a hidden passion for scrapbooking? (“Look at this Photograph – every time I do it makes me laugh”)

#4 – Take a moment to be thankful for each day that you wake up healthy.

There’s a great scene in The Princess Bride. Tyrone, the six fingered man, invites Prince Humperdink to come help torture Wesley. Prince Humperdink says “Tyrone, you know much I love watching you work. But I’ve got my country’s 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it. I’m swamped!” Tyrone replies “Get some rest, if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”. So true! Many of the friends I caught up with, battled or are still battling: fractures, concussions, hip, knee, back, foot issues, cancer, heart problems, depression. Many of them attended a funeral this year for a co-worker, friend, or relative who was taken away. Sometimes those funerals came at the end of a long life well lived. Some came far too soon caused by a tragic accident or illness. So within the scope of what you can control, take care of yourself! For all of you still grieving, or coping with illness (your own or someone else’s) hug! Please don’t hesitate to reach out for help when you need it.

#5 – What makes you awesome isn’t your job/house/car/running pace

What makes you awesome is the fact that when we sit down together you will listen patiently as I talk about my last marathon and show you pictures from my heavy metal cruise. In return I promise to listen as you share stories of <insert whatever is going on in your life here>. You are awesome because when we get together we can share a laugh or a cry. You are awesome because you took time out of your busy life to hang out with me. Thank you!

#6 It never ends…

For all of you who are recent friends, or who I did not manage to catch up with this year… I’m thikning 60 before 60! Though to make it a little easier, I’m giving myself a decade to get this one done!  So shall we set a date? I can’t wait to see you! Meanwhile here is a selection of photos past and present from those who helped me reach 50 before 50!





3 responses to this post.

  1. A remarkable piece Susan, very well done.


  2. Remarkable piece, indeed. Happy birthday, Sue!


  3. Thoughtful, interesting and true for us all Susan. Thanks.


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