I am nearly fifty. I’ve been contemplating it with some bemusement. How did that happen so quickly? Do I feel any different? Do I mind? Does it mean anything? What’s next? Is it too late to get a writing career off the ground alongside my psychology work?
I set out to ask twenty women – all at least ten years older than me – ‘what matters?’ and ‘what doesn’t?’ as they look back. What could I glean from these conversations to help me negotiate the coming years?
It turned out that I could glean a great deal. I write about it in my recently released book, Bolder and Wiser. This remarkable range of women talked candidly about marriage and children; adventure and setback; work and money; health and caring; what we look like and how much we’re taken notice of. Many of them also talked about a subject close to my heart – creativity.
Several of the women I listened to have creative careers, and most of them have creative outlets in other ways. I have always argued that any job requires creativity to do it well, and nothing about the conversations dispelled that view. This collection of women includes artists, designers, actors and writers, as well as women doing a wide range of unsung creative work. The birthday cakes and the celebratory events. The gardens and the interior design. The sewing and the soft furnishings. Teaching children and mentoring others.
But what I found especially inspiring was the energy with which many of them described the way they were developing their creative side, since they reached middle-age and beyond. There is an urgency and a liberation about it. They no longer care, if they once did, about what people might think or about how revealing their work might be. They are prepared to step up and out, taking their art, design, skills and writing to new audiences and gaining confidence all the time as they do so. They are saying ‘yes’ to opportunities, and are not afraid of their own opinions.
Many of them hadn’t had time in their younger years, when they were often juggling childcare and work, or elderly care and teenagers, to do very much with their creative urges. One memorably described her imaginary shoebox during those years – her creative self was in there, still intact, but couldn’t come out until some of her responsibilities had lessened. But during all those years, the imaginative impulses were being fed with a rich mix of intense experiences and emotions that come with full and complex lives.
When – at last – the opportunity presented itself, these women took up their pens and their paintbrushes, their needles and their trowels, and there seems to be no stopping them. They have a lot to say, a lot to express. They are very far from invisible. They are willing to learn and to keep trying. They carry on even when they are nervous about exhibiting or inviting comment. They are producing meaningful, vibrant work.
In short, they seem to be getting better and better, and more assured, in their endeavours as they age. This makes me feel like cheering and dancing and waving flags. Nothing is wasted as material – even those middle-life days that can feel like a step backwards, or a day full of domestic drudgery or overwhelming responsibility can feed into remarkable art, of all descriptions, later on.
I am totally convinced that it is not too late for any of us to nurture our creativity. I am fired up to continue to explore mine, and am enjoying it immensely. Age seems to be a positive benefit rather than any kind of drawback.
I believe this is something to be celebrated and noticed – and, indeed, shouted from the rooftops. If you would like to join me, the official book launch of Bolder and Wiser is on Sunday 2 March, 2.30pm at the Malt Cross in Nottingham. Men and women of all ages are very welcome! I am delighted to welcome a very special guest – Sue Bourne, award winning director of last year’s Channel 4 documentary, Fabulous Fashionistas – and, more than a book launch, I am hoping that the afternoon will be a chance to celebrate, connect and inspire each other. Bring it on!