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What do I say Yes to at this stage of my life? This may sound silly, but I say Yes to my decades on this planet.

I don’t want to hide my age, especially not from myself. It’s not about coloring my gray hair or camouflaging my saggy parts. This is more about remembering what I’ve experienced (good and bad) during all the years I’ve been alive.

In my early to middle adult years, I was caught up in the everyday challenges of marriage, children and jobs. Events and people outside of me played a huge role in my decisions and feelings of being a success or a failure. Many times I made the here-and-now, filled with whatever demanded my attention in that moment or year or job, be the definition of my life.

But when I turned 60 I retired, and suddenly there were no children or jobs to give validity to my life. I was amazed that I’d been around all these decades and wondered what value my life had. It didn’t hit me like depression but more like awe at having lived for so long yet not having a Nobel or Pulitzer or Grammy to define what I’d been doing. So I created multiple timelines — jobs, vacations, addresses, major events and many more. What was most valuable to me wasn’t what was on those timelines but that I was there. 

I remember being in South Houston High School when I heard President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.

I remember waiting outside in a cold Washington, D.C., night to have the chance to walk by President Lyndon Johnson’s casket in the Capitol and be greeted by his daughter.

I remember what it felt like to open the San Antonio Express-News one day in 1980 and see my very own book review printed inside.

By embracing the details of the years I’ve been on the earth, I feel more solid in my life. I’ve discovered strengths in myself that have clear roots in experiences from my earlier years. 

Let me give an example. When I was a really little kid, I loved hearing the different-sounding accents of my parent’s Great Books group when they met at our house. As a young teen, I started writing to pen pals (purchased for 50 cents apiece from an address I got in a comic book). And when my college offered as much financial aid to go abroad during my junior year as I was getting in a regular year on campus, I jumped at the chance. Years and years later, when I was the IT network manager for a company that was acquired by a German firm, we had to figure out together how to merge our networks. Events in my past gave me a view of the "foreign" world as an interesting/friendly place, and that gave me an important tool which let me help my group succeed in a challenging project.

At various periods of my life I thought I’d write novels based on the challenges I’ve experienced in my life, or be a missionary doctor in Africa, or practice international law in an office near the Houston Ship Channel. I haven’t done any of those things, but I have lived, and continue to live, a full life. Not hiding from all the decades I’ve been alive on the planet gives me a foundation of actual experiences when I feel shaky about the meaning of my life.

Susan Clerc Schwamkrug

Susan Clerc Schwamkrug is a former IT technical writer who enjoys volunteering and traveling.

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