Not long ago I celebrated my 50th birthday and discovered that I wanted something different out of life. With my kids grown and the unexpected passing of the love of my life, I realized that it was finally just about me. I yearned for excitement, for the possibility of beginning a new, to finally be myself, whoever that may be. And so, I’m starting a new life.
For me the breakthrough came at 50, but it doesn’t matter whether you’re 17 or 70 – it’s always possible to start fresh. We all have our reasons for embarking on a new journey: divorce, graduation, a new city, a new job… For me, after becoming a widow and proudly ushering my kids into adulthood, I looked up and realized that the world is still out there for me. Upon sharing this revelation to my girlfriends – who are all in the same place in their lives – we all just sat there looking at each other asking, “What’s next?”
Reaching 50 was a bumpy road for me. I started off in a little town called Kitchener-Waterloo, an hour west of Toronto. I always knew I didn’t belong there, so in college I moved to the big city and met who I thought was my knight on a white horse, who swept me away across that border into the US. More quickly than I could have imagined, I was barefoot and pregnant, starting the perfect suburban life. At 33 my “knight” dropped the bomb that our marriage was over, so with two kids (ages 10 and 7), a dog, 50 dollars in my pocket, and a tractor I didn’t know how to drive, I started my second journey.
I got by as a single mom, climbing from the bottom rung of the ladder and struggling to pay my rent all the while, but eventually I made it through. I became better with each challenge I was confronted with, and I continued to grow. With each new obstacle strewn in my path, I took a step up the ladder because I knew I had no other choice. Eventually I remarried – this time to the true love of my life – and when he passed away from a heart attack shortly after my 50th birthday, my life ended all over again.
And so I have an opportunity. It’s a sad opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless. To truly start again, it’s taken a lot of hard work to look at my life and toss all those old insecurities out the window. I’m finished rehashing the things people used to say about me that made me feel bad, and I’ve realized that they only said those things because they failed to look at the best parts of me. This is zero. I’m starting clean.
If I’ve learned anything from my journey, it’s that life is too short to waste time not enjoying every single moment of it. In the midst of all my struggles, I’ve been given many gifts (including one incredible medical gift which you can read more about in my book, “Getting Naked”). But the gift that has been most instrumental in bringing me to today is the gift of being able to see a hardship and turn it into a challenge, being able to move forward and respect who you are by loving your life. We never know what kind of challenges life may throw at us, but by connecting with one other and sharing what works, I truly believe we can do anything.
For women, menopause is a time to embrace ourselves. To take better care of ourselves. To think about us, after so many years spent thinking mostly about others. It’s important to take care of our bodies, or our bodies won’t take care of us. We need to eat right and enjoy the food we eat, to get outside for exercise and fresh air, to get back to basics. Most importantly, we have to feel good about who we are. When we love ourselves, the world and the people around us change, and open up to us like never before.
I’m ready to face this new world, and I welcome you to join me.
Susanne Veder Berger is an author, educator, business executive and mother, who currently lives' on New York City's Upper West Side. Susanne has held a variety of executive positions in the field of marketing for CitiGroup, the U.S. Tennis Association and a number of other companies and organizations. Over the past 4 years, Susanne has been working with inner city high school students in Brooklyn, New York helping them develop self-esteem, prepare for college and secure internships – Susanne Veder Berger's work in education is centered around the implementation of extra curricular activities and the development of student-run journalism programs.