THE BLOG
11/11/2014 07:13 pm ET Updated Jan 10, 2015

My Autobahn Birthday: How to Pass a Self-Imposed "Speed Limit"

Vroom... Vroom....

I woke up this morning to my "speed limit" birthday. You know the one they also call "double nickels" or, on a more somber note, the start of the back nine to sixty.

At first, seeing 55 on my age speedometer stopped me short. Did this signal an inevitable slowdown, or could I keep the pace and perhaps even accelerate? The answer has been my best birthday present--to me, from me. How fast or slow my pace, big or small my plans, internal or external my focus are all up to me. After five-and-a-half decades of wanting someone else's permission, the word I've been waiting for is mine.

In my twenties, I wasted so much time kicking my toe in the dust and shrugging my shoulders instead of declaring what I hoped to accomplish because it was simply too daunting to admit what I wanted to see, do, and experience. What if I tried and failed--or, even scarier, what if I tried and succeeded? Now I can no longer afford to hang onto beliefs about staying small or the dangers of asking for or being too much. I don't have time to stay off my own radar.

While regrets have little value, other than some instructional purpose, I do have some debts to repay to myself. As the high school valedictorian and a scared hometown girl of 17, I dropped out of college. I did manage to cobble together about three years' worth of studies, but waited until I was 50 to finish my undergraduate degree. Fortunately, that lack of a "piece of paper" did not make a difference professionally. I finally completed my degree because I was worth it. And I didn't stop there.

For the past few years, I have been in graduate school as part of my overall plan to define and, yes, defy my age: exercise and moisturize, visualize and intellectualize. No matter that I am twice the age of many of my classmates, I am on campus one night a week. For some of the other students, the hope is that having an advanced degree will change or jump-start their careers. For me, the value of that second piece of paper will be largely intrinsic: I am fulfilling the secret dream of the young woman I used to be, and honoring the older woman I will one day be. If I want to look back on this particular accomplishment, I have to do the hard work now.

And so I work full-time, study part-time, write whenever I can and, with a small volume of essays and short stories published earlier this year, have started to shop my novel. Doing all these things means exceeding the speed limits of my old thinking. Instead of slowing down, which one day I may have to do, I declare this my "Autobahn birthday" with no limits. How fast and how far I go, is up to me.