When I speak in schools, particularly to high schools, about my path to publication, I talk about "my first mid-life crisis" at age 38 when I realized I didn't want to be in my nursing home at the end of my life thinking "What would have happened if...?" and finally gave myself the permission to pursue the lifelong dream I had of being a writer. I made myself a secret promise that I would get a book contract for my 40th birthday, and sold my first book, CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC almost two months to the day after I turned 40.There will be time, there will be time, To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo. And indeed there will be time To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— (They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”) My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin— (They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”) Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all: Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, I have measured out my life with coffee spoons; I know the voices dying with a dying fall Beneath the music from a farther room. So how should I presume?
I tell them that I believe in having a mid-life crisis at least once a decade, if not more. Not the kind of mid-life crisis where you leave your spouse and elope with your much younger secretary and buy a Ferrari (although yes, I am divorced and I do have a thing for fast performance sports cars.) What I tell them is that at least every 10 years - if not more often - you should do something that you've always really wanted to do, but that scares you. Challenge yourself. Push the boundaries of your thinking and your actions, so you never get to the point of "I'm too old" and "I can't."
The quote above is from one of my favorite poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot. It's in my mind at lot at the moment, because recently I took my own advice and did something about which I thought so many times, "Do I dare?" "How should I presume?" It scared the heck out of me to take action: it felt like jumping off a very tall cliff. But in the end, I would rather disturb the Universe then end up drowning from indecision and timidity like Prufrock. So...here's to scaring yourself once in a while. May the fright be with you!