It’s hard to face the prospect of failure after decades of building competence, but taking a risk at midlife – and reaping the rewards – can be amazing. These 5 people said, “Why not!” and plunged into new experiences.
First date after divorce
She has a fix-it mentality, so no one was surprised when just two weeks after her husband left her in 2010, Amy Lieb Alexander, 48, launched a local divorce support group and joined Match.com. Married at 20, she had little experience with dating. “I wanted to meet people; I also wanted to prove I was worthy, and pretty, and interesting,” says Alexander, a college counselor in Montclair, New Jersey.
The minute one of her potential matches asked her out, however, she broke into a sweat. For three days leading up to the date, Alexander had diarrhea. She began thinking up lies to get out of it. She almost cancelled, but standing at her front door, dressed for dinner, she gave herself a pep talk and went. Alexander discovered that she was less afraid of the date than of her own inexperience. When her match broke up with her after three weeks of a romantic relationship, Alexander didn’t retreat from dating. “You don’t want to be rejected, but you also don’t want to be alone,” she says. For the past six months, she has been in a steady relationship with a man who is also healing from divorce. “We’re good to one another,” she says, “and are simply enjoying the present.”
Her definition of courage: “Putting yourself out there every day, with others, in a real and truthful way.
First time riding a bike
While other kids rode their bikes, Lorelei Hill had to sit back and watch; a congenital heart condition kept her from joining in. In May 2013, 14 months after receiving a heart transplant, Hill, 50, finally got her turn. They were shopping for a bike for their daughter, when her husband suggested Hill choose one for herself. He knew riding a bike had been her dream since childhood. To make her pick, Hill, who works as a transplant counselor, sat on every bike in the store.
Once home, Hill went straight to the backyard, and practiced pushing off. Learning to ride turned out to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one, so she took it slowly, and practiced alone every day on the grass. Later that week, she took her bike to a trail behind their house. Her husband held the back as she pushed off. “He just let go,” she says. “It was exciting, and scary.” After surviving her transplant, Hill has no fear of the unknown. “You just kind of wrap your head around it. It’s about learning to trust yourself,” she says. “I’m not a daredevil, but I have no fear.”
Her definition of courage: “Loving yourself, your situation, and your body—understanding who you are, and loving it.”
First time writing a novel
During a quarterly meeting in the spring of 2013, Rick Garrison, a software developer in Charlotte, North Carolina, had an identity crisis. With five unsold screenplays sitting in a drawer, his dream of becoming a professional screenwriter was fading. “I was looking around at the faces, thinking, I’m going to be here forever,” he says.
Rather than give up, Garrison, 51, decided to risk further rejection by attempting something he had never done: novelizing one of his screenplays. By now, his fear of doing nothing was greater than his fear of failing. Writing two days a week, Garrison produced a 50,000-word action-adventure Western called Reno Nevada Rides Through Hell in six weeks, and put it up on Amazon. Though the only people who have downloaded his novel are people he knows, Garrison views it as a success. Now, he is a software developer and a novelist.
His definition of courage: “Being faced with a difficult decision and doing the hard thing.”
First time skydiving
Shannon O’Regan, 49, and her husband always celebrated the anniversary of their first date with flowers, a romantic dinner, and sometimes, handwritten poems. But when July 23, 2013 rolled around, she wanted to create a different memory. Widowed for eight months, O’Regan, a fitness and wellness coach in Ft. Myers, Florida, decided to do something bold to boost her self-esteem. “I was afraid I was going to lose myself in the experience of being a widow,” she says.
Years earlier, her husband had given her a gift certificate to try hang gliding, but on the day she was scheduled to fly, the weather was bad. She never went. Now, O’Regan decided to honor the spirit of that unfulfilled gift by skydiving, a sport that had always been on her bucket list.
As the day of her dive approached, O’Regan worried that something would happen to ruin it. Once aboard the plane, however, she had a new worry: O’Regan, who fears heights, was about to dive out of a plane at 18,000 feet. Looking out, she angled her gaze upward and tried not to freak out. Then she jumped. “I felt my husband giving me the thumbs up,” she says. “He wanted me to have fun and adventure. There was never a question that he was with me the whole time.”
Her definition of courage: “Having no attachment to the outcome, and full acceptance that you tried.”
First time driving a big cargo van
Silvana Clark, 60, is a risk taker, so when she and her husband got hired as Avon brand ambassadors, moving around the country for eight months setting up recruiting stations for Avon representatives, she was up for the adventure. Then she realized what she would be driving: a 24-foot Mercedes cargo van.
“We rented a truck to practice, and I was screaming,” says Clark, a professional speaker from Bellingham, Washington. She considered quitting her gig, and riding with her husband in his van. But that would be boring, and she’d be giving up good money. So in July 2012, Clark and her husband flew to Columbus, Ohio, picked up their vans, and drove six hours to Chicago. Clark couldn’t see anything out the rear-view mirror, or over her shoulder, other than the inside of the van. “I literally felt like throwing up,” she says. “Every time I had to switch lanes, I gripped the wheel.” By the end of her stint, though, Clark was parallel parking on city streets.
Her definition of courage: “Getting out of your comfort zone, but not to the point where you have to prove something.”
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