You inspired a number of people with your blog about your "40 before 40" project - doing 40 new adventures before the age of 40. How did you come up with the project?
About two years before my 40th birthday — in the spring of 2014 — I began noticing an evolution in my conversations with friends. Gone were the juicy tales of exotic travels and summer romances, replaced by the headaches brought on marriages, mortgages, full-time jobs, young kids, and aging parents. And then there was the tough reality of aging: chronic knee pain had ended my triathlon and downhill skiing days, a few of my childhood acquaintances had passed away, and one of my best friends has an incurable cancer. As I reflected on mortality, and my passageway into middle age, I was worried. Would “real life” become a barrier – or even an excuse -- that would keep me from embarking on new and fun adventures? With that, 40 before 40 was born. The name itself is pretty self-explanatory: I challenged myself to do 40 new things by the time I turned 40, in July 2016.
How do you make sure you hit the goal? Do you have a schedule? A calendar?
I’m the kind of person who adds something to a to-do list just to cross it off, and I applied that same philosophy to this project. As I lived my life, and traveled for work and pleasure, I made the effort to find adventures. It worked! In Denver, I stumbled upon a cat café. In NYC, I booked myself into a Lyra class a block from my hotel. A bit closer to home, in upstate New York, I found a sunflower maze.
How can others learn from "40 Before 40" and dare to try it themselves?
One of the most surprising, and certainly unintentional, outcomes of this project was how it inspired others in my life to think about turning their own passions into personal happiness projects. And they were so creative! A college friend is trying to perfect 16 new recipes in 2016. Another is introducing her daughter and greyhound puppy to one new park every month. And my mom is embarking upon her own “7 before 70!” I love how easy it is to adapt this project into something that works for any lifestyle, or to support any personal goal one may have.
What if someone is almost 40 and can't complete 40 adventures in time - are there options for them?
The wonderful thing about this kind of project is that you make your own rules. If planning gives you hives, then embrace spontaneity; if you thrive with a schedule, create one! Maybe you want to try one new restaurant a month, or stop at every roadside attraction you pass in a year. This kind of project should never feel stressful – that’s not the point of it – so think about the things that bring you joy, and make it work. The only “rule” I would strongly recommend? Document your journey. I already had a blog, so writing about each adventure was natural for me (goingbackhome.wordpress.com). But you could take photos and post them on Instagram, or keep track on Twitter or Facebook – or even go low-tech and tape a list to the fridge! It’s a great way remind yourself that this project is a priority. It also serves as a great conversation starter.
For those seeking to "do good" - whether we're talking about animals, the environment, etc. - can "40 before 40" (or "50 before 50" and so on) be tailored to focus on that theme? How do you suggest choosing the adventures?
“Doing good” can often mean making lifestyle changes, and it’s hard to do that in one afternoon. But it can be done in a series of afternoons! If I were to think about structuring this project around a goal to reduce my impact on the environment, I might commit to making one change each month. Maybe in month one, you start to compost. In month two, you take down your paper towel holder and commit to using cloth rags. Other months could be dedicated to starting to regularly bike to work, or making your own household cleaners, or cleaning up a local park. I love this idea because, in isolation, none of these things seem significant. But after a year, you’ll have changed 12 habits – and that makes a pretty big difference!
What was your absolute favorite adventure and why?
That’s a hard question! The answer changes if I think about my favorite adrenaline rush (indoor skydiving) or my favorite laugh (rolling in a giant hamster ball down a hill in Kentucky) or my favorite “WTF” moment (getting slapped with tree branches at a spa). If I were forced to pick just one adventure, it would probably be the day my husband Scott and I spent at a tree-top adventure park. The experience of navigating an obstacle course suspended in space highlighted the things that I think make our marriage great. We’re fiercely independent, and I think we both believe we’re strong enough to do things on our own. Most times, we are. But when life throws us a particularly difficult challenge, we have each other. We’re an amazing team.
Was there any adventure that turned into a complete disaster? Tell us all the details, if so! We promise to commiserate mightily!
Last summer, Scott and I spent a week in the Adirondacks, and I stumbled on an ad for something called “U.S. Airbag.” The concept seemed fun: pay $10 and jump off a 40-foot platform into a giant airbag. When we arrived, we learned that individual tickets were $10 but a pack of three cost just $25. Without a second thought, I bought us both three packs. Tickets in hand, we finally went outside to look at the airbag, and that's when we witnessed a former paratrooper – that’s right: a former professional badass – on top of the lift, having a total meltdown. He just couldn’t do it. The teenaged employee kept lowering the lift... until it was actually touching the top of the airbag. The paratrooper finally jumped. Then it was my turn, and as soon as the platform reached its maximum height, I shut off my brain and went for it. There was nothing enjoyable about the experience. Nothing. And I had to do it two more times! (After this experience, Scott was a bit more reluctant to blindly follow along on my 40 before 40 adventures. I can’t say I blame him.)
You're now doing "50 before 50." How is that going?
40 before 40 introduced me to so many activities that are now an ongoing part of my life. As soon as I turned 40, there was no question in my mind that I wanted – and needed – to embark on a 50 before 50 project.Of course, the difference is that I have 10 years to accumulate my adventures, rather than 27 months, so the pace is a little more reasonable. In September, I kicked off 50 before 50 with a trip to the 47th Annual Prairie Land Fall Festival and Steam Show, which was held near my Grandma's home in Jacksonville, Illinois. (I daresay, if you’ve never ridden a “wobble wagon,” you haven’t really lived a full life.)
In terms of this kind of adventurous, life-loving project, what does the phrase "Ethical is Beautiful. Be Beautiful" mean to you?
On my 39th birthday, my sister-in-law/best friend was diagnosed with cancer, and I quickly became a primary caregiver. In my exhaustion, I came to resent 40 before 40. It felt supremely stupid -- a pointless initiative started by a little girl who naively believed the world was her oyster. I was close to ending the project when I was given a chance to talk about it at my caregivers support group, and I mentioned that I had found a sunflower maze just a few miles from our local hospital. Sitting for a few minutes in a huge field of happy, bouncy sunflowers brought such joy to an otherwise dark moment. The next time our support group got together, two people thanked me for the tip, adding they had visited while waiting for their loved ones to finish chemo.
At its surface, 40 before 40 was a very selfish project. It was all about me, my fear of allowing my age to keep me from trying new things, and my need to feed my passion for new experiences. It was never my intention to inspire others. I’m not delusional and am aware the impact was small: a few people created their own projects, tailored to their schedules and interests. But perhaps I’m most proud that it lead two total strangers into a field of sunflowers that provided a well-deserved respite from reality. That's what I find beautiful about this project: I stayed true to who I am, and applied my values and personal ethics to my decisions. In doing that, I made a difference in my marriage, my relationships with family and close friends, and my community. I take all of that – and an everlasting passion for learning, challenging myself, having fun, and laughing! – into 50 before 50. Consider crafting your own adventure and join me!