by Sal Robertson
Hello to you and Happy First Day of Fall!!
Welcome to new subscribers – I’m so happy to have you here!
Today is the first day of Fall or Autumn for my UK subscribers and I could NOT be happier for Fall to be here! This was the oddest Summer ever and not in a good way so I’m relieved to make a mark in the sand and to move on to my very favorite season.
On Wednesday this week, I will be flying to Chicago to take my oldest daughter back to college. Her college starts on October 1st which is very late compared to other American colleges and, although it has been so lovely to have her at home through September, I am chomping at the bits to get back into a groove with full days to focus on work and self-care and well, me, rather than being distracted (in the most lovely way possible) by one of my three kids.
In my last newsletter, I asked the question: “What did you like to do for fun when you were 10 years old?” which is a question that Gretchen Rubin asks people who are trying to figure out what’s next.
This newsletter will dig a little deeper into the idea that many of our answers about what would bring us the most joy in midlife can be found in our childhood. Next week, I’m going to talk about the fact that a lot of the reasons why we struggle to live more fully or embrace our true self can also be found in our childhood years.
During the past couple of weeks, I have been re-reading the book “Big Magic: creative living beyond fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is one of my all-time favorite books and I have read it at least 5 or 6 times. Each time I read it, I scribble more notes in the margins and highlight more and more passages that resonate with me.
On Instagram this week, I shared the story of Susan from the Big Magic book. Susan is a friend of Elizabeth Gilbert who took up figure skating when she was forty years old. “To be precise, she actually already knew how to skate. She had competed in figure skating as a child and had always loved it, but she’d quit the sport during adolescence when it became clear she didn’t have quite enough talent to be a champion.
For over a quarter of a century, she didn’t skate. Why bother if you can’t be the best?”
Do you remember quitting something as a teenager because you realized that you weren’t going to be the best at it or you weren’t going to make a career out of it so what was the point?!
“In fact, the last time she’d experienced such feelings had been as a teenager, back when she was still figure skating. She was appalled to discover that she had denied herself this life-affirming pursuit for so long, and she was curious to see if she still loved it.So she followed her curiosity. She bought a pair of skates, found a rink, hired a coach. She ignored the voice within her that told her she was being self-indulgent and preposterous to do this crazy thing. She tamped down her feelings of extreme self-consciousness at being the only middle-aged woman on the ice, with all those tiny, feathery nine year old girls.
She just did it.”
She found that she loved it more than ever “because now, as an adult, she finally had the perspective to appreciate the value of her own joy.”
I got chills down my spine when I read the sentence “She was making something of herself, making something with herself.’
The idea of making something with ourselves is a reminder that we already have all the raw materials we need to live a life that brings us intense joy and satisfaction. We were born with those raw materials – certain characteristics and tendencies that we inherit from our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents or which seem to appear from nowhere but are already evident within us at a very young age.
In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert says “I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
These strange jewels or inherited traits mean that we find ourselves drawn to certain activities as children. We play in our own unique ways. Some of us get lost in books. Others lose ourselves in making music or dancing or painting or in exploring or in make-believe. In those early years, we follow our instincts and our innate desires without questioning ourselves and we see glimpses of the treasures within us. As parents, we can see this so clearly in our own children even if we can’t remember it from our own childhood. However these instincts tend to become subdued over time when other people’s opinions start to drown out our own instincts. We become aware of other people’s opinions – our parents’ opinions, our teachers’ opinions, society’s opinions. We start to question our instincts rather than following them.
Susan still skates several mornings a week – “simply because skating is still the best way for her to unfold a certain beauty and transcendence within her life that she cannot seem to access in any other manner. And she would like to spend as much time as possible in such a state of transcendence while she is still here on earth.”
So I have three questions for you to ponder and explore in the week ahead:
When was the last time you felt truly joyous and truly alive? Especially on an ongoing basis. Sometimes we get glimpses of joy but I would love you to think back to a period of time when you did an activity or activities that made you feel truly alive and fully in your element.
What was the thing or the things that brought you that kind of joy?
Have you returned to a childhood passion in midlife? I loved reading the comments on my Instagram post from women who are dancing, singing, swimming in the ocean or painting again after years or decades of not doing. I think I received more comments on this post than any other.
If you haven’t reconnected with a childhood passion but you would like to do so, what small step could you take this week to reconnect with that passion? In Susan’s example, she bought a pair of skates, found a rink and hired a coach before actually stepping back on the ice. What step(s) would you need to take to reignite one of your childhood passions? Think about the smallest step or steps you could take this week that at least send a signal to yourself that you are going to reconnect with this passion again.
I hope that you have a great week ahead!
I’m excited to spend three days in Chicago with my daughter, Eva. It’s a city I absolutely love and could imagine living in once my children have all left home. Maybe she and I will go to Second City to see a show. One of the items on my bucket list is to study improv at Second City in Chicago so it would be great to go and be inspired by a show in the meantime!
If you’d like to learn more about Susan from Big Magic or hear Liz Gilbert talk about the book, click on the links and videos below:
You can read more about Susan Kittenplan, the “Susan” in Big Magic by clicking here.
Click here to read an article in The Reader’s Digest about the book Big Magic – the article talks about Elizabeth Gilbert’s view of a creative life and an “amplified existence”.
Click here for a CBS interview with Elizabeth Gilbert.