That’s not a birthday — it’s a bloody speed limit!

The one in the stripy turtleneck, messy and happy, is me.


I can hear all you young un’s stampeding for the exits.

That old fart? OMG!

But today is my bloody 55th. birthday and the hell with it. Consider the alternative!

I’ve never been happier, and am grateful indeed: loving husband, good health for us both, a new hip and a pain-free life, my Dad still alive and healthy at 83; dear friends; work (finally!) in abundance. Whew!

So, as I celebrate, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past few decades, some words of wisdom,  (aka WOWs).


The greatest love of my life has been the work I chose, writer and photographer. From 12 I knew this was what I wanted to do and I shaped my university studies accordingly, learning French and Spanish well enough to work in both languages, in Montreal, France and Spain. It has not been a smooth and uninterrupted ascent to fame and fortune; I could have made a hell of a lot more money doing almost anything else.

But I know my words have changed lives; one woman wrote to me after I published this medical story, and said it saved her life. No paycheck can beat that.

WOW: Invest the time to find out who you are and what you do best, and in what situations. Find workplaces that allow you to thrive, not merely survive. If you can’t, use your talents and skills as a volunteer, mentor or friend.

My second greatest love has been that of/for my second husband, someone who for years I thought, “Nah, we’ll never make it.” We’re really different! We fought ferociously at first, and, on occasion, still do. But he’s the most affectionate, expressive and loving person I’ve ever met. Lucky me!

WOW: Don’t give up too quickly on a new sweetie, even if it looks a little challenging. Maybe you need to grow into this one. Maybe s/he needs to grow (up) too!


Many women, especially, are terrified of it. Get over it. Stand up for your principles. Speak your piece calmly, fairly and confidently. Not everyone will like you. Some people will get angry and rude and attack you. It doesn’t mean you’re wrong. It just means you’ve pissed them off. Big difference.

WOW: Get comfortable speaking your mind publicly, like — blogging!  You can, and must, also write letters to your elected officials, to newspapers, magazines and blogs you disagree with. Question your teachers and professors. If you never disagree with or question anyone, what’s up with that? Time to reality-check your certainties.


The first time it happens, you think it will kill you. My first husband, for whom I’d left friends, career and country behind, abandoned me two years after our wedding — and was re-married to his next wife within a year. That hurt like hell.

The first time a client cheated me in my freelance business, I was 19, and stunned. But I did then what I do now — hire a lawyer. Works every time!

WOW:  What role did I play in allowing this?


This one is huge. As 19th. century British poet Rudyard Kipling put it:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too…

WOW: Bad things will happen to every single one of us: job loss, divorce, illness and death of loved ones, financial or health struggles. A mean boss! An unfaithful lover. Whatever. Try your very best to deal with it calmly and thoughtfully.

Send for help! Hire lawyers. Get second or third medical opinions. Save money so you have breathing room in which to make smart(er) decisions. The ability to remain lucid, centered and helpful will pull you through most shit flying your way. And others you least expect, watching you handle shit gracefully, will help you because they so admire your sangfroid.

No one likes a drama queen. No one.


Nope, there’s never enough — if your desires are insatiable. Save 10-25% or more of your annual income, no matter how broke you feel. Once you have a f–k-you fund and serious retirement savings, you’ve got choices. Without those, you’re toast.

If you don’t save money now, who exactly do you think is going to save your broke ass when you’re old and sick and tired and no one will hire you? It’s no joke.

WOW: That designer handbag or shiny new car won’t pay for chemo or put your kid(s) through college. What are your priorities? Fund them consistently for a life that matters to you, not just one that enriches others.


The greatest gift in this lifetime. Nurture your pals through good times and sad. Show up for the funerals of their kids and wives and husbands and parents. Write thank-you notes. Remember their birthdays and favorite flowers or food or wine. Some of them will ditch you. Some of them you’ll outgrow. Others will appear and grow further with you where you are now.

WOW: Never take people for granted. Show them how much they matter to you!


Go! Today!

Get a passport and beat the hell out of it — only 30 percent of Americans own one, and most of their trips are to Mexico and Canada. I’ve been to 37 countries, (so far), and it’s the best investment I’ve made, even when alone and ill in Venice and Istanbul.

Even better, and tougher, live in another country, culture and language. I lived in London ages 2-5, Mexico at 14, France at 25.  I moved to New York, knowing no one, with no job in sight, when I was 30, leaving my native Canada behind.

All were life-changing, and for the better.

Only by getting out of the comfy, cozy bubble of what you know and like and think is “normal” can you truly realize that all values are relative.

WOW: Especially for women, travel alone is an essential way to gain strength and independence. There are cute boys (and girls) and kind strangers everywhere!

Belief (s)

What are your defining values?

Mine include: ethical behavior, non-stop creativity, curiosity, lots of loud laughter, fierce hugs, loyalty, doing your absolute best, under-promising and over-delivering, sincere apologies. Beauty is everywhere: a bird’s call through the silent woods, a smile from your sweetie, an ancient painting on a gallery or museum wall, the light on the lake at sunrise.

WOW: Find joy in every day. Savor it, share it and celebrate it. Make time to be alone and quiet and reflect on who you are and where you’re headed in life. If you’re unhappy, figure out why and fix it. (Yes, it can be hard.) Cherish the people who nourish, challenge and guide you, in work and play and family and community — and shed the toxic ones. You know who they are.


In your teens, 20s and 30s, you just assume — most of us — that you’ll be healthy. You can work crazy hours, eat crappy food, never take breaks. After the age of 40, it starts to change. After 50, you’re fighting to stay alive to 65, after which, statistically, you’ll make it to your 80s.

WOW: Don’t take fitness for granted. Enjoy and safeguard every bit of health you have. Get your mammograms and teeth cleaned and Pap smears and annual checkups. If your behavior patterns (or others’) are destroying your mental health, find a good therapist. If you “can’t afford” health insurance, cut out every conceivable cost from your life and get some. 


I think this remains an under-rated quality, especially in young women. Physical strength and stamina will see you through extended periods of work, travel, study, care-giving. Emotional strength will see you through almost any crisis, holding it together so you can make decisions or find wise, trustworthy people to help you make them. Spiritual strength means you’re not some greedy, mean pushover.  Intellectual strength will prove its worth when you skip junk distraction for challenging material and smart companionship. It glows.

WOW: Weakness is deeply unattractive, whether you’re 16 or 66. Weakness demands others rescue you from your own (lousy) choices. Don’t choose to be weak!


How badly do you really want it — the job, the sweetie, that friend, the trip overseas, your Phd, losing all that weight?

Few accomplishments come quickly or easily, and those who give up and walk away too soon cede the field (bye!!!!!) to those of us who keep showing up and take your place. Both of my books, both of which have garnered reviews that made me cry with relief and gratitude, were rejected 25 times. Twenty-five! If my agents had given up….?

WOW: If your goal is too easy, what’s the point? Find coaches and cheerleaders to help you get there. After you arrive, champagne!


Without it, we’re just walking bits of meat, getting and spending until we die. In an era of stunning income inequality, of long-term and widespread unemployment, of political gridlock that threatens the very notion of democracy, we must recognize others’ humanity and connection to us and take action. Whenever you shrug and turn away, you deny your best impulses. Be a Big Brother or Sister. Find a volunteer position that feeds your soul. Commit to a life partner who shoves you back onto that path when you stray.

WOW: “I want to be happy” is not a great life’s goal. I want to help others be happy is.


If you, like me, are a strong personality with a few too many opinions, you’re bound to create some enemies along the way. It happens. You’re fine as long as you have allies. Assertive and powerful women especially need them. Enemies aren’t worth fussing over, but don’t be naive about their envy, insecurity and determination to mess you up. (See: allies.)

WOW: In every job, class, workplace, freelance gig, nurture as many relationships as you can.  Receptionists and secretaries are the gatekeepers to power. Stay in touch. Send cards and flowers for special occasions. Write thank-you notes on your personalized stationery with a real pen. Keep a supply of stamps at hand for this purpose.


Such an old-fashioned word. So essential. I decided to marry Jose when we went out to rescue my mother after she was found lying in her bed for days, immobilized by a large brain tumor. Her mattress was soiled. We had to make sense of her condition and deal with her house and dog and doctors, in a few days. Jose didn’t hesitate to leave work, pay thousands of dollars to fly us out overnight, and even scrubbed her soiled mattress.

That’s character.

WOW: You can choose your sweetie and friends because they’re funny and cute and like the same music and food. We all do, especially when we’re younger and life is still mostly fun. But when the shit hits the fan — which starts around age 45, when friends and family begin to sicken and die — character will separate the wheat from the chaff. Character will propel the right people to your side in the chemo suite and the funeral parlor and the NICU. Choose wisely.

Thanks  for being part of Broadside — we’re now 1,463 worldwide.

I’m grateful for your attention and comments.

What a gift!

60 thoughts on “That’s not a birthday — it’s a bloody speed limit!

  1. crgardenjoe

    Happy birthday! I’ve got one year to match what you’ve done in 55 … don’t think I’ll make it. But then again, we each have our own paths. Hope that you had time to have fun on YOUR day while writing this blog post!

  2. Happy birthday! I’m so happy to get to say it to you.
    When I first saw your blog less than a month ago, I said that I can learn a lot from you. And I did.

    Just reading this post, I have learned so many lessons from you that are guiding me in different ways. God has given me many gifts from you this morning.
    Thank you, you’re awesome! You seriously rock!

    I love you, and I hope God showers you with many more wonderful gifts of love and compassion like those that you continue to share through your writing.

    Hugs and magical kisses,


    1. That was, me, Jeanne, by the way. Also wanted to add, you really hit it when you were talking about character. The behavior of my husband (when I was 45 and my parents were dying) was the last straw when I was waffling about a divorce…

  3. Fantastic post. You are one spunky, insightful woman. We should all wish for this much clarity at 55. Here’s hoping! Happy birthday! I hope it involved a bit of champagne, friendship and love.

  4. Great post and that picture of you is too precious for words. I love the open hand and the tuff of hair escaping from your ponytail. I hope your birthday is filled with sweet surprises.

  5. mhasegawa

    Enjoy! I’m headed for 65 and retirement from full time work in 6 weeks. Yet another milestone. Scary, but I’m looking forward to it!

    1. There’s a piece missing there and it’s by far the most essential — as lots of people have talent and very few of us have luck. Damn hard work, for decades. Re-starting my career in the US at 30 in a recession. Then surviving two more recessions. That’s not luck or talent but sheer determination not to curl up in a fetal position.

  6. I always hesitate to follow blogs because I hate junking up my inbox with useless things but not a post you make goes by that I don’t appreciate. This was fantastic! Thank you!

  7. gillybirds

    Thank you. You speak well o wise one. Many many happy returns. I’m going to print this post off and read it regularly.

  8. Happiest of Birthdays! They are all good. Being just a few years beyond you :), they just get better and better. I love your Words of Wisdom, fabulous philosophy and I can see how you are living it. Blessings to you. Laura

  9. Happy Birthday from someone who is a few years over the speed limit. Where I used to live, 55 opened up many a door, such as a free small drink at Bojangles. Now I’m living where 65 is the magic age for the perks.

    Your inspiring WOW’s are a great birthday gift FROM you. Thank you!

  10. Happy Birthday, and may you have many more!
    This post is terrific! I’m 48 and struggling to establish my writing. It’s taken me over 25 years of writing to get steely enough to really withstand rejection, to really understand how I want to make my career, and to go for it, as they say.
    I can’t recall how I stumbled upon your blog, but I’m glad I did. Still mulling contacting you for advice….

    1. Thanks for making the time to read it.

      Rejection is never amusing! I doubt anyone wakes up in the morning eager for it. But unless you are PASSIONATE about attaining the goal on the other side of that (possible, not guaranteed) rejection, you’re going nowhere. The question to resolve for everyone is WHY is rejection so devastating? It’s just one person’s opinion…if 25 of 40 people reject you, maybe you need to re-think…yet JK Rowling got 60+ (I think) on her books…and now she’s the billionaire author of Harry Potter.

      I’ve been professionally rejected a lot…but I’ve also sold a lot. Once you’ve sold (or whatever you want to do) a few times (i.e. succeeded), rejection is much less scary…because it no longer feels inevitable. I also have always had multiple identities..friend, daughter, wife, athlete,so when I “failed” in one arena of endeavour, I had plenty of other arrows in my quiver, so to speak. That gave me the necessary confidence to get back in the ring. (Doncha love these mixed sports metaphors?!)

      But, seriously, it’s just rejection. I’ve had 4 orthopedic surgeries since 2001 and my mom has survived 4 kinds of cancer. Rejection…meh. 🙂

  11. Happy Birthday!
    It’s been 8 days since I picked up your book, Malled at the Vancouver Public Library Book sale. The next day I was let go from my job of two years less two weeks, after coming back from an expensive vacation-nice timing, eh? Your book was now relevant and I finished it quickly in the next few days (I could have read it in one sitting but was reluctant to let your words of wisdom and support go). I am so glad that I have found more of your work online!

    1. Thanks much — and so sorry to hear you just lost your job. OUCH.

      Not happy to hear the library ditched my book, but very glad you found it and enjoyed it. It’s a terrible feeling to come home from vacation and face no income. Ugh.

      I blog fairly often about work, so hope you’ll visit. Best of luck with your job search!

      One of the advantages of being self-employed is that no one can suddenly fire you. I hustle every day to find freelance work but I know what my basic costs are and how to meet them.

      1. Actually, the library hadn’t ditched your book. It was a pristine copy that a ‘friends of the library’ contributor had donated. I was so happy when I found it!
        Thanks for your comments and I will definitely be reading your blog now that I’ve found it!

  12. A very very belated happy birthday. I hope you were spoilt thoroughly rotten.

    I loved this post so much. Am going through a bit of a cross road in my life, with major changes in several directions, and many of your points hit home. I hope that I will look back on my battles, obstacles and general take on life knowing that I forged ahead with the same resilience. You’re an inspiration, Caitlin. Here’s to many more happy returns, and the continuing success of your writing!

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