I was a few weeks shy of my 35th birthday when, staring into the mirror, my eyes landed on a prominent neck wrinkle and saggy skin that I hadn’t noticed before.
Chest tightening, I ran my hand over the skin to find it droopy, dry, and scaly—the dreaded turkey neck, the epitome of aging signs, had appeared, and much earlier than I ever was prepared for.
Promptly, I studied photos from the past months to see if I had been living in some state of oblivion, blind to the fact my neck had become a blinking sign for my elder millennial status. I squinted and studied, trying to find the exact month it had happened. Then, my Enneagram 3 personality kicked into high-gear as I tried to conquer the situation. I read about neck creams, perused reviews, and ritualistically slathered on potions that seemed to make it worse. I spent so much time staring in the mirror for several weeks that the “You’re So Vain” song seemed to be my mantra. I Googled whether turtlenecks were spring and summer appropriate.
And then, one day last week, I asked myself: Why does this bother you so much? Because let’s face it, I am nowhere near celebrity status or a catwalk. And how many times do you actually notice the status of someone’s neck skin? I’m willing to bet rarely—unless you’ve recently become attuned to your own sagging situation. In the scope of things, a neck wrinkle does not matter. But to me, it did. And I know exactly why.
The neck wrinkle, the aging skin, it was a sign that my denial of the birthday cake candles tell in recent years. I’m getting older. That, in itself, isn’t a terrifying thing. But do you know what is? Realizing you’re getting older and you haven’t really lived the vibrant kind of life you want.
There it is. The truth haunting me—but I suspect it’s plaguing many women my age, too. The realization that you did all the “right” things and kept your head down. You sorted through until you could find a relatively stable life, if you were lucky. You got to a place where you can exhale because the choices have been made and roads have been followed.
This is where you’re supposed to be, that voice inside tells you as you put in the top knot to do laundry on Sunday mornings before your required steps on the treadmill to hit your watch’s demand. And then, you look around at your Live, Laugh, Love plaque and the carefully organized utensils in the kitchen. You study your filled calendar of things that even sound mundane like “Tax appointment” and “Vet check-up.” You stare out the window while you do dishes for the fiftieth time this week, studying the dead grass, the abandoned lawn chair, and the view that never would make it to a postcard. And you ask yourself: Is this it? Is this the epitome of living?
I think for me, the neck wrinkle was a wakeup call that life is going by—and I haven’t gotten around to the exciting stuff yet. Where was the sense of wonder, the sense of adventure? Where were the once-in-a-lifetime moments and exciting new sights and smiles worthy of Instagram? Or the unexpected surprises, the cocktail hours, the big wins, the monthly escapades to new locales? Staring in the mirror at that neck wrinkle, I felt a little shortchanged. At 35, my life wasn’t a bold, fun adventure worthy of a travel blog. It was taking out the trash on Thursdays, showing up to the office with coffee, my lifeblood, in hand to trudge through the workweek. It was figuring out what was for dinner and getting the mail and walking on the treadmill to try not to get too out of shape. It was surviving, in so many ways.
But when we’re faced with this revelation, the question becomes: What can we do about it? There are bills to pay, and flights are expensive. We have responsibilities of different varieties and only so many PTO days. And while giving it all up to travel the world or start the bakery or Eat, Pray, Love it sounds wonderful (and some have inarguably pulled it off), for many of us, it just doesn’t feel like the right choice either. I’m all about bold choices, about chasing big dreams. But a girl’s gotta eat, too. And although I love the van turned home in theory, my Great Dane is a bit too big to squeeze in there along with my shoe collection, cats, and bookshelves.
So how do you find the balance? How do you live a life that supports your dreams and excites you without giving everything up? How do you find a way to bring joy and passion back to your life so you don’t have nightmares about the regrets you’ll have in thirty or forty years?
I don’t know that there’s an easy answer to this question, but I do think it’s possible to find a sense of adventure, a sense of living boldly, without whisking away to a private island or disappearing into the wilderness like an explorer. At least, I’d like to believe there is. I’d like to think there’s a way to find a sense of magic, of wonder in a somewhat mundane life without having to do something worthy of turning into a Netflix movie. I’d like to think, in theory, there’s hope for all of us with our rigid morning routines and dinner schedules and budget Excel sheets.
After stepping away from the obsessive studying of the neck wrinkle for a few days, I’ve come to believe that for many of us, we need to sit back and ask ourselves: What really would light us up? Because maybe it’s not even as extreme as converting the van into a travel home or splashing in a waterfall or seeing a rare bird on another continent. Maybe it’s taking a ballroom dancing class we feel silly signing up for or that pole class that makes us turn a little red at the thought. Maybe it’s taking up a new sport, even if we might suck at it. It could be changing up our wardrobe and working in the dreaded crop top or making Sundays a day off from the morning routine we’re obsessed with. It could be joining a new group or going to a new coffee shop to explore. It could be going a town over and wandering around aimlessly on a weeknight, something you never do.
In short, I think part of the answer is just letting ourselves be free from the routine, just for a while. It’s about searching for what makes us excited and being willing to try new things we normally wouldn’t. it’s about getting away from what we should do or have to do … and doing something just for the sake of doing it. Those are the moments that we remember. Those are the times that we understand in our bones what living is all about, big and small.
I don’t think you have to spend a million dollars to live boldly, to live a life you’ll be proud to look back on someday. I think you just have to get out of the routine sometimes. You have to take the Curling Class at your local ice rink or get the tattoo you’ve been putting off. You have to say “yes” to that festival your friend wants to go to that you think might be strange, or sure to that jacket you love but think people might hate. You have to get a little wild in your choices, a little out of the norm. You have to break free of the mold society tries to put on you in order to break free a little bit. I think that’s where life really begins. These small changes, these tiny steps, can help us build the courage to perhaps, if we feel called to, take the bigger, riskier steps toward a life of passion. The job changing kind of steps. The new house or new purpose kind of change. But until then, the tiny swaps in our routine can be enough o bring the spark back and to help us realize that aging isn’t the end of excitement, not by a long shot.
I’ll be honest with you—I still study my neck from time to time in the mirror and in photographs. But lately, I don’t have as much time to peruse it and analyze it like I once did. I’m too busy going to that new bakery a half hour away on Sunday and signing up for a horseriding session. I’m too busy taking my dog to a different park and trying that coffee shop that’s out of the way but seems fun. I’m busy on Pinterest looking for a new outfit I never would’ve dared try out before and painting my nails a color way too loud for the office. I’m busy living my life, in essence, turkey neck and all.
It started with sagging, drooping skin on my neck and a wrinkle I hadn’t seen before. But that’s not where it ends. Not if I have anything to say about it—which I’m learning, I do.
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