Be brave dear Queenagers, seize the day!
The Queenager : Eleanor's Letter (November 27th 2022)
It's my birthday this week and three years ago exactly my midlife adventure began. I'd love to hear about yours!
How are you all? This is a big week for me because it is my birthday – about to turn 52 – and it also marks exactly three years since my current adventure began. I’ve written before about how I went off to Jamaica to take magic mushrooms (this is the post if you missed it then). But it was December 2019, three years ago today that I got on the plane to take part in a rather special retreat; we took three doses of psilocybin – magic mushrooms – in a week, either side of my birthday. And that time, as I turned 49, really was when my life changed completely. (The pic above is me and my husband in Jamaica that Christmas just after my birthday.)
It is so strange how the big moments, the pivots which mark a before and an after, creep up on us, unexpected, unannounced. When my friend asked if she could go off to Jamaica to take shrooms and write about it for the magazine I was editing then I had no idea what was to come. But as soon as she mentioned it, something deep inside me said: YES, THIS!!!.
I can remember slightly surprising myself by saying: “You can go, but I’m coming with you,”. You can imagine the fun and games we had getting it signed off for health and safety by the newspaper: (I truly thought we might both come back in insulated containers, I was genuinely worried about losing my mind). But we didn’t. In fact that week on the sunny ledge in Jamaica, surrounded by tropical flowers and palms, the turquoise sea playing beneath us, our Goddess pool right near for a cooling plunge, was definitely one of the most magical of my life. The golden light permeated everything. I felt so much joy.
During the “set the scene” meditation before the last dose of the week, the Psychedelic Ninja who was leading the retreat asked us to take everything we no longer needed in our lives and throw it off a cliff, or blow it up. Without thinking, I took my whole career at the place where I’d worked for two and half decades and put it in a box and struck it with a golden beam straight from my heart, annihilating it all. I wasn’t even high. At the time I didn’t even know why I’d done it (and my friend was appalled, I was her boss…) But it felt fantastic. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me; free, liberated, new. And that day I experienced total ego dissolution in the trip, like I had melted and become part of a big golden exlir, like dissolving into a vat of heavenly double cream. I felt I was being recharged, connected to everything. I lay under a palm tree listening to One Love on repeat washed with waves of bliss. And I had such a strong vision of changing my life, running an organisation which would help people find their own golden light, their happiness, in midlife. It was so clear. It was weird… I had the sense of being launched on a new path.
A couple of months later when I got summoned to my new boss’s office and told that my services were no longer required (after 23 years) I did not feel so joyful. The reality of the change, the ending of that life and the beginning of another, was brutal, sad, full of rejection and pain. But I learnt – in the wise words of Raynor Wynn, author of The Salt Path – that in the space a huge loss leaves there is a clearing for something new to grow.
At exactly that time, the whole world was plunged into change as it was the beginning of the pandemic. I hung out at home, with my girls and husband. I plotted with my co-founder on Noon, I wrote the first draft of a novel about taking psilocybin in Jamaica (it’s been put on hold while I’ve been launching the business but I’ll finish it one day..). I started a whole new life, shaky to begin with, but gradually gaining in strength and confidence. I wrote about being made redundant and how awful I felt and got such a massive response from people thanking me for being so honest. I realised there were so many others out there also feeling lost and without a map in midlife. That my new platform Noon could really help.
And it began to dawn on me that just because I had lost my big title, I hadn’t lost everything that made me able to do that big job in the first place. I realised it was still all inside me and I could put all those story-telling skills, my network, my belief and passion and insght into my own project. And so I have.
It wasn’t easy. I can remember almost crying when I did my first Insta Live because I couldn’t make the technology work (my teen daughter had to help me). I wrestled with how exposed and vulnerable communicating in a new much more honest way made me feel, after years where I used my voice within a company context. This new Eleanor felt exciting but also scary. It was hard to speak out as myself, about what I really thought, without editing, or trimming as I had done for so long.
Change, as a wise Qi Gong teacher said to me when I was tearful at the end of an early session, is difficult: You are allowed to find it difficult. Of course it is, it is new and unfamiliar. It’s like being a teenager or a youngster again. You don’t know what you are doing or how it will turn out. But there is so much newness and joy and excitement in that. I found so much strength in family, old friends and the new ones I have made on this journey. And I love my current sense of purposefulness, that we can change – and are – changing the script about what is possible for women in the later stages of our lives. I am constantly buoyed up by the fact that so many of you write to me and say how much the Noon website and the stories there about other Queenagers and what they are doing at this point, what a shift into a new chapter can look like, and indeed this newsletter, have helped you.
I’ve given hundreds of interviews on podcasts and on Zoom, keynote speeches, endless articles all banging the same drum in the last couple of years. I passionately believe that in the hundred year life, fifty is only half way through. Midlife is when we women come into our prime, when we can take all our skills and experiences and do the things that WE always wanted to, reclaim the dreams we had when we were young. Know that if we don’t do them now, then we probably won’t. There is an urgency. A sense of:This, now! And I know I am so not alone. I’ve met so many amazing Queenagers, felt the mutual support and the love. Felt how lonely and invisible we can feel, how lacking a map and a direction, and how with a new story and some new examples we can craft a different, more optimistic, sense of our futures. I also know that that matters not just to Queenagers but to all the young women coming up behind us. I love that it resonates with them too. It really matters that we live, and paint, a more positive picture about what women post 50 are capable of.
Last week we had a Noon Circle, in person, in Soho. It was so great to meet some of the Noon hard core in real life after doing it so long online, you lovely ladies who have supported me and the mission both financially, by becoming paid subscribers, or coming to our retreats or events – and also psychologically by turning up to the Noon Book Club, responding to our socials. Saying Yes, THIS, I feel this too. Thank you.
We had such a jolly evening – talking about Christmas which is coming down the track. About how Christmas can evoke such feelings of lack; that we aren’t good enough because we can’t create the perfect lunch. That our families are broken (as the child of divorce, Christmas was the time when I most felt the rift at the centre of my world, we’d be shuffled back and forth, feeling we belonged nowhere). Any hole in our lives is magnified by the hype around Christmas as a time of perfect happiness; it’s when the chasms can feel mightiest. At the Noon Circle we decided we loved Betwixtmas, the bit between Christmas and New year where the whole family can slob out in pyjamas, the phone doesn’t ring and all bets are off. When the pressure is off and we can just BE. Lots of the women talked about how they’d created boundaries with the wider family to safeguard proper family time – lots of us took notes on how to do that. Quite a few admitted they were giving the whole thing a miss and jetting off to tropical climes (always a good idea if you can afford it). It was such a special, warm conversation. Thank you so much to everyone who took part! I learnt so much from you all. The next Noon Circle will be on December 20th and Noon Advisory Board member and expert Julia Bueno will be there too and we’ll be talking about “soft living” being gentle to ourselves (her book Everyone’s A Critic: How to Learn to be Kind to Ourselves is brilliant on this). Noon Circles in person and online are for Paid Subscribers to The Queenager if you want to join us.
I get a kind of vertigo looking back now to my birthday three years ago. I know that what felt like a sudden change had actually been coming for a while. The tectonic plates underneath had been shifting for a while. I definitely needed a change, was stale – a big part of me was desperate for newness, for a shift, for a new direction. But I’d been in my previous role so long, it was so comfy, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to jump into the unknown myself; some of you are. I was talking just the other day to a woman who was leaving her (in her words) “dead and tired” relationship to go off with a new man “who says he wants to drown in me”. She was in her early sixties, lit up with desire and excitement. Hat’s off, I thought, to that commitment to the new. That sense that it is never too late and we are never too old. That Noon motto: So Much More to Come.
So I suppose I write this to try and transmit that hope and courage. Not to encourage you to blow up your life, not unless you want to. But to say that if you do, it will be tough, sure, there will be sadness at the loss – whether or not you choose it – but that there is also, always, the possibility of renewal, of change, of opening yourself up to the randomness of the universe, to uncertainty to everything we don’t already know. And that really can be wonderful.
So Forza ladies, as the Italians say. Be brave. We only live once and now is our time.
Ps I’d love to hear about your own midlife transformations. Do tell me about them in the comments, or email me firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll try and run some of them in our Transformation Stories part of Noon
By Eleanor Mills