The Importance of Pressing Pause

Roughly a year ago, my bleary eyes popped open to see my clock radio and the date: 07-03-12. My first thought wasn’t, “Yay, it’s my birthday!” It was “Oh crap, I have 365 days until I turn 40.”

My 39th birthday jarred me because I realized that, somehow, without noticing, my 30s had vanished. I know what happened during those years: I birthed two babies and a successful freelance writing business. But that was what I had done. What was I going to do next? I felt as if I were at the back of the pack during an endless marathon. I was running, running hard, but would I ever reach the finish line? And what, exactly, is the finish line?

It was that last thought that perplexed me. In a decade filled with deadlines and diapers, with juggling clients with colic, I realized I rarely stopped to think about where I was going. Keeping all the balls in the air was all that mattered. How did that happen? It happened because I stopped affording myself the time to think.

When I was in my 20s, my husband, my friends and I would often sit in a dorm room, at a bar, or on a beach, and talk about our dreams and our plans. What job we would get, what house we’d love to own, what color we’d get that car in. At some point in my 30s that forward-thinking stopped. I was too busy handling the chaos around me. Who had time to think? To daydream? Definitely not me.

On my 39th birthday I realized that while I hadn’t been staring at the clouds for a while and imagining my future life, I still had hopes for myself. And the only way to get there was not by running harder, but rather by stopping and thinking about them. What did I really want out of the next half of my life? What would it take to get there?

But then a startling thing happened: I realized that unlike the dreams of a 20-something, the aspirations of an almost-40-year-old can be petrifying. A dark thought surfaced: What if I don’t get there?

But then came another thought: What if I do?

In that moment, I was filled with what can only be described as youthful exuberance. I had a taste of that long-lost feeling that anything was possible. The dream, I realized, isn’t a youthful luxury. It’s what motivates us. And after a decade of running to keep up, the idea of running toward something suddenly felt amazingly invigorating. 

All this because I took the time to stop and think, to contemplate, to hit the pause button of where I was and imagine where I wanted to be.

Nothing happens unless first a dream wrote poet Carl Sandburg. This week I turn 40. I’m still dreaming, and because of that I’m getting closer to making the dream my reality.

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