Before my 50th birthday, a friend set me a challenge: let the big day be the trigger for doing fifty things I’d never done before. Two years on, I’ve completed the list!
It sounded daunting, but I decided not to interpret the brief as meaning ‘fifty massively exciting or scary things’, like skydiving or hitch-hiking around the world. I started simple, by ordering a bottle of lager with my next curry. (Yes, I’ve led a sheltered life.)
Deliberately choosing new types of food and drink was an easy way of clocking up a few of the fifty – buying pistachio nuts instead of cashews, and trying foods I didn’t expect to enjoy, like figs and curly kale.
Others needed a little more planning, such as booking a lesson on the harp, or setting the alarm for 2.00 on an August morning to look out for the Perseid meteor shower. Some took a bit of determination to carry through, as when I complained to a national newspaper about a misleading report online and not only got the report taken down but pushed for an apology and correction to be printed.
Perhaps the most enjoyable were the activities for which I learned new skills. I made a waistcoat from a fabric remnant, copying the pattern of one I already owned. In the process, I discovered the overlocking stitch and the buttonhole function on my sewing machine.
Given a box of beads and some basic jewellery making tools, I made a necklace. With a batch of essential oils and the right kind of alcohol, I eventually designed a wearable perfume. Helped by a how-to book, I turned pretty paper squares into a flurry of origami butterflies.
The biggest challenge, though, for someone as unaccustomed to foreign travel as I am, was a trip to California. As soon as a friend announced, nearly two years ago, that she was emigrating to the USA, I knew that this would have to be on my list of fifty new things. It brought with it a whole crop of new experiences – not just booking tickets online and boarding the plane for my first long-haul flight, but also having pancakes for breakfast in a typical US diner and being able to wear a summer dress at the beginning of March.
Big or small, planned or spontaneous, the activities themselves were not just important for their own sake. They were all signs of a mindset – the recognition that midlife is not a time to settle into a comfortable rut. It’s a time for branching out, broadening horizons, grabbing the chance to do some of the things you’ve been putting off for too long. It’s about opening up, not closing down.
I’ve done the fifty new things I was challenged to do, but you can bet I won’t be stopping there.