Here's a bit of advice: Don't try to tackle the biggest milestones of your life and career all at once.
That's a really bad idea.
Sometimes, despite all our best efforts, we have no choice. Sometimes, you're faced with some of the most daunting transitions in one crushing wave.
In the last year, I sent my youngest to college, sold my home of 30 years to move downtown, said goodbye to my parents, and completed a major capacity campaign and office move at Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. Like many professionals, I've found myself managing the collision of my life and my work.
So when my daughter asked me for the 10th time, "When are you going to get back out there and start dating again?" I wished I could dump a glass of water on her head.
It's been a year of change—some bad, some good—and often it felt like all I could do was survive.
Luckily, I'm no stranger to survival.
As I transitioned out of high school into college at about the same age my son is right now, I was burned severely. I worked at a yacht club and the mast of the sailboat I was pushing collided with a power line, electrocuting me and another dock worker. I was plucked from my life, everything put on hold for the year it took me to recover.
It was a year of change, just like this one.
And for a while, all I could do was survive.
In the wake of all the recent upheavals in my life, I've been focused on getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home at night. Addressing all the odds and ends of a son in college, houses bought and sold, parents lost. I've buried myself in the details, so I wouldn't have to face the facts: I'm a divorced woman with an empty nest in a brand-new neighborhood, and my parents are gone.
For all intents and purpose, I am alone.
No wonder my daughter won't stop asking, "When are you going to start dating again?"
I remember my 18-year-old self, healing from a devastating burn injury, who had one goal: Independence. These days, that looks an awful lot like being lonely. But back then, it meant freedom. It meant I was healed.
After my burn injury, I felt stuck behind my limitations. I saw only what I couldn't do. I didn't believe I could achieve my goals until there was something I really wanted. I threw myself into proving that I could live independently, and I began to move beyond surviving.
Suddenly, I was thriving.
I didn't achieve my independence the way I thought I would. I didn't go off to college—at least, not right away. Instead, I moved in with my older brother across the street. It wasn't exactly what I had imagined, but it was enough.
Today, as I take stock of my life and set new goals, I remind myself of that attitude: "It won't be exactly what you imagined, but it will be enough."
The next time my daughter asks when I'll start dating again, I'll say, "This weekend!"
It's a joke. But maybe it isn't.
Thriving isn't about having the perfect life. It isn't about having it all. It's about being open to possibilities, learning, growing, and embracing the opportunities that life throws your way.
At 55, I find myself in the same place I was at 18. My world is in chaos, my future is uncertain and, for the first time in a long time, I'm alone.
As I embark on this new phase of my life, I wish I could borrow some of my 18-year-old self's energy and spunk. But mostly, I wish I could give her some of my confidence, self-compassion, and hope.
I don't have it all, but I am learning every day, and my arms are wide open to life's endless possibilities.
Written by Amy Acton, RN, BSN, Executive Director of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.
Photos courtesy of Amy Acton.