‘How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?’ ~ Satchel Paige

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend at the Byron Writers Festival here in Byron Bay. Its a great event where people come together to celebrate their favourite authors and thought leaders. I must admit that I didn’t know a lot about the event before I got there (despite it being one of the premier Australian writers festivals), but as someone who loves to write, I figured it would be up my alley. What I hadn’t expected, though, was to be amongst the youngest there – let’s face it, that doesn’t happen often these days! Most people were what I would normally consider ‘older’ at 65+, but what I learnt from them was a valuable lesson in not judging a book by its cover (oh yes, pun well and truly intended!!).

Whilst waiting for the shuttle bus to drop me back into town after the final days activities were finished, I heard a story – a story not unsimilar to my own – the tale of a woman who had felt as though she didn’t quite know her place in the world anymore. A woman who was discovering the things she really loved in life and was experimenting to discover what worked for her. This lady had lived the majority of her life according to someone else’s agenda and was just now figuring out what gave her the most joy. Its a story I’ve heard many times before, but what struck me this time was that the lady in question was in her early 70’s, not somewhere between 30 & 50 like most other people I knew. I have to admit that my first reaction to people of a ‘certain’ age has mostly been one of dismissal – I’m always polite, of course, but I wouldn’t often engage in real conversation with them. This was one day where I was happy to have come across this remarkable woman.

This particular lady had just organised a surprise weekend away for her husbands birthday. She’d arranged for both of her sons, their wives and the grandkids to spend a week away in beautiful Byron Bay. She was quite proud of herself for coming up with the idea because as she told me, despite both her and her husband now being retired, her husband was the type who was always on the go. He never had much time to spend with the family normally, so this was a chance for them all to reconnect. She said something that I really loved and I think is relevant to people of all ages – her husband has all the things he needs in the world, what he no longer has is time. I can completely relate to this – I’m not one who cares about things. Sure, I’m grateful that I live in a nice place near the beach and I have clothes on my back and food in my tummy, but I’m not overly concerned with the labels on the back of my t-shirts and I don’t even own a tv let alone one that takes up an entire wall of my house. I like to spend the majority of my money on experiences – these are the things that I won’t be wanting to throw away in 10 years time, these are the memories that I’ll always treasure.

What I loved, though, was that despite being in Byron Bay to celebrate with her family, the lady had managed to buy tickets to the writers festival and, like me, was attending the event alone. She told me how she’d rocked up on the Saturday hoping to purchase a ticket on the gate only to discover it was sold out. Instead of being turned away, someone behind her piped up that they had a 2 day pass that they couldn’t use and would she like to buy it. Even though her original plan was to only go to one day of the event since she was primarily in Byron to spend time with her family, she could hardly say no, so she spent two days at the festival checking out some of the incredible speakers.

I got chatting to this lady as I was standing in line to get the shuttle home. She was very sweet, but I wasn’t expecting to have very much in common with her. She was close to  my mum’s age, someone to be polite to, but not someone to engage in fun conversation with. Oh, how wrong was I!?!?

As the lady talked, she told me about how whilst having had a happy relationship with her husband, she did feel the pull of society’s opinions when it came to raising her family. All of her friends back in the day gave up work, so she had done the same. When her husband was away for months at a time doing what he loved over the years, she had taken on the role of single mother without question. She never thought about what it was she wanted from life, but did all she could not to rock the boat. I got the impression that she was in two minds about her choice – pleased in some ways because she had raised two lovely boys and had successfully navigated the ups and downs of marriage, but feeling as though time had passed her by on the other. 

The days are long, but the years are short.

As she talked, what struck me is that she could have been me or any of my friends who have been feeling the same way lately. This ‘older’ woman was able to perfectly articulate exactly what a lot of us have been feeling. What was amazing was the tale of how she has been trying out many different things. Not satisfied with just being the babysitter for her grandkids (and she does play that role very well & often), she’s been going to festivals on her own, taking trips on her own, plus also trying out different classes and workshops. It was so refreshing to hear of what she’d been up to & the joy it gave her – especially when it was obvious that she’d spent her life living according to her husbands schedule. She was finally at a point where she’d been able to have the difficult conversation with him in order to convey what she really wanted. Instead of simply walking away from her marriage like many people do, she’d been able to sit down and have the difficult conversation. Maybe she’s lucky that she has an understanding husband who’s given her the opportunity to do all of those things, but I think, more likely, it has more to do with her having the courage to stand up after all those years to express what it is she wanted from life.

At one of the sessions yesterday, the fact that most of the participants were of a ‘certain age’ was mentioned by architect Peter Stutchbury. He mentioned that it’s the ‘young-uns’ aged between 25 & 45 that should be there – they’re the ones who still have time to change the world and should be there listening to the speakers discuss the issues and I totally agree. Whilst I stumbled upon the festival by chance, I was so glad that I’d gone. My perceptions of ‘older’ people had been shattered and I’d learnt a great deal about issues that I’d never even heard about before. The thing is that it’s never too late to make a change – whether you’re 30, 40, 50 or 90, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you make time to figure out what it is your heart truly wants and following the clues it leaves for you.

Never again will I look at people my mum’s age or older with disdain. From now on I promise to regard them the same way I would someone my own age – as people with incredible stories to share and as people I can learn a lot from. Anyone reading this, I would strongly encourage you to get along to your local writers festival – it’s a really great chance to be inspired by incredible people – from fiction writers to those telling their stories via memoir, from song writers to travel photographers – everyone there has a great story to tell. It’s a great chance to learn more about yourself and the world around us and I can’t see in any alternate universe how that can ever be a bad thing! 

Did you like this post? If so, I’d really love it if you would share this with your friends – perhaps you know someone who needs a little mindset shift. 

Wishing you much love,

Shelley xx