Some birthday thoughts

By Caitlin Kelly

My birthday is June 6.

This year (gulp) is a landmark/milestone birthday, one many never reach.

Some thoughts from a few decades’ experience:

The house that got away! I chased it really hard (rural Nova Scotia, November 2021).

It was a bit of a debacle and cost several thousand dollars to determine it wasn’t a

wise choice. Oh well!

Take more chances

I know some of us are limited, for a while or a long time, by fear of losing a job, relationship, the comfort of the familiar, some bound tightly by bonds of duty to children and/or parents.

I’ve been lucky to enjoy a lot of independence, even within my 22-year marriage, so have been able to take on work that scared me at first with its new challenges (and met.)

At 25, weeping so hard I could barely stand up, I threw a bunch of stuff into a duffel bag, boarded a flight to Paris and began an 8-month journalism fellowship that required each of us (28 people from 19 nations, aged 25 to 35) to make four 10-day solo reporting trips across Europe. I was scared!

I knew it would forever change me, and it did, in every possible good way. I came back to Toronto brimming with new and hard-earned self-confidence, better reporting skills, a better sense of teamwork cross-culturally, fluent French, lifelong friendships and the respect of some people I admired greatly.

At 30, I left Canada for the U.S. , permanently.

SO SCARED!

I felt like a raindrop falling into an ocean. I left behind a solid career, deep friendships, my identity. Would I ever regain these?

Yes I did.

Taking chances means risk. Risk can mean disappointment and failure — but also amazing new possibilities.

Cherish your deep friendships

Oh my! My bestie Marion, maid of honor at my first wedding, 1992, met in freshman English
class at university. Still besties!

As an only child of not-very-loving parents and relatives, my friends have always really been my family — celebrating my triumphs, mourning my losses and tough times. They have stood by me through a marriage, divorce and remarriage, through unemployment, through relocation and breast cancer.

Their love and strength and constancy have been essential to my survival, literally.

I have not found this sort of devotion to friendship, certainly in adulthood, in New York and have found it lonely. If you have friends, anywhere, cherish them! Stay in touch!

Venice, July 2017

Travel as far and often as health and your means allow

I know — a very privileged point of view! I was fortunate to grow up in a family of means who really valued travel and exploration. My father and I drove from Toronto across Canada the summer I was 15, and he and I visited Mexico, Ireland and some southern U.S. states together. My mother inherited enough money she lived many places and flew me to Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia and Fiji. On my own, I’ve been to more than another 30 places, from Istanbul to Copenhagen, rural Texas to coastal Maine, Victoria, B.C. to Newfoundland. Not having children allowed me more freedom and income to do this, I realize.

Even the worst moments, (blessedly very few!), have been worth the going and seeing. I regret none of it: new friends, a deeper understanding of and appreciation for different cultures, the chance to use my French and Spanish skills.

Read/listen/watch widely and deeply

These days, more important than ever, especially in the U.S. where there are such deep divisions some fear a new Civil War soon.

Guard your time jealously — it’s precious and fleeting

Not a huge Steely Dan fan but this 1972 lyric of theirs is hitting me much harder these days:

Are you reeling in the years?

Stowing away the time?

There are so many moments in life when we’re impatient, waiting for something great we really want(ed), wishing that time would move faster.

The older I get (cliche alert!) the slower I want to move, the fewer people I want to have access to my time, attention and energy and the frightening fact that I have fewer years ahead of me than behind me.

As a full-time freelancer, I’m super selective now about who I work with and what amount of energy and time they will need from me, and at what pay rate.

Every time you feel guilty about taking time just for yourself — to sit still and think or write or pray or nap or hug someone you love — this is the time best spent.

Set and keep boundaries

Huge! Especially challenging for girls and women, socialized to be “nice” and “go along to get along”, often deeply suppressing our rage and grief behind yet another quick fake reassuring smile.

It’s taken me a long time to say “Nope!” to people and situations that are really not healthy for me, whether in work or relationships.

Therapy can help. Breaking old habits is difficult, but worth it.

Apologize sincerely and quickly

I’m not sure how anyone can manage to retain any long-term relationship without this.

It’s hard!

It demands self-awareness and humility.

What if the person is too angry at you to accept it?

Do it anyway.

Flee toxic people and places

Not easy…although The Great Resignation is making clear how badly so many people really wanted out of a job or workplace or team or corporate culture they loathed.

I’ve put up with some seriously toxic people and workplaces and it’s never good for your mental or physical health.

Keeping solid work skills and a network of peers to refer you to opportunities is crucial.

Having access to deep, nurturing friendships will also steel your spine in moments of doubt about fleeing.

Saving as much money as possible also allows us the chance to get out of a terrible situation, whether personal or professional.

I’ve fled both.

Before my first (short, miserable) marriage to a physician, I made sure I had a pre-nuptial agreement; it saved my home and the family money I inherited that gave us the down payment.

Having an attorney (luckily pro bono) allowed me some dignity when I was bullied and shunned at the New York Daily News for months.

Leave a legacy

It might be a garden or a child or a scholarship fund.

It might be a piece of work you’re known and admired for.

Think about what you leave behind.

24 thoughts on “Some birthday thoughts

  1. Carolyn

    Wishing you the happiest of birthdays! Mine is this month as well, the 22nd. Last year I hit a milestone birthday and realized I could not go on in the toxic work environment I was in. So, I retired December 31st, and now my time is my own to spend with my granddaughters, garden, read…and it’s lovely. Since retiring I’ve been to Disney World twice, one a special trip with my daughter, and have been to Savannah and Charleston. Travel is difficult for me as I have chronic pain, but I’m doing my best. I’ve also started walking between 2 and 3 miles a day and am working on a Baltimore Album quilt. Life is so much better without that toxic job! Sometimes you have to make the leap!

    1. Thank you…and you sound very happy!

      Charleston and Savannah are lovely places to visit; went to both a long time ago. I also have some arthritic pain in my right hip but just pop another painkiller…

      1. Linda Pierpont

        Happy Birthday dear Caitlin! I admire your sense of adventure and travel! Enjoy this time away!
        xo Linda

  2. Jan Jasper

    Caitlin, another insightful and very interesting post. BTW, I did not realize that you’d got an attorney to help deal with the bullying and horrible mistreatment at The Daily News. Wow. ..And you didn’t say which big birthday you’re having, but if it’s 65, you can celebrate going on Medicare, which will save you hundreds of $ each month.

  3. moke58

    Love the pic of us at you-know-what! We were so young. Your bday card is in the mail. It will be waiting for you when you get home.

    Hope you’re having a wonderful time celebrating the second half of this decade, & all your accomplishments.

    Happy Birthday Pasta Twin!!!

    🙂 xoxoxox

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