It is a constant struggle to bring myself back to the present moment and just be. Meditation, exercise, and other grounding practices provide essential tools for me to do this, but it is still an effort.
Last month I hit a milestone I have been looking forward to, and planning for, for the past couple of years: I turned 50. I don’t know about you, but I had, even as a young person, thought that by that time in life, I would have really accomplished something, and have figured some s*it out.
As the date approached, I started to inventory my life, what I had accomplished…and what I hadn’t. I was pleased to note the various goals I had reached that felt satisfying: a comfortable home, a loving family, a supportive partnership with my spouse, good health, and a career that felt meaningful to me in a community of people I enjoy.
Most notably: publish my first book, lose 20 pounds, and enjoy unbridled financial success. I had made progress on each of these fronts, but had not reached the milestones by the time my birthday hit. I worked hard over the past six months to cultivate compassion for myself, and to come to a place of peace with where I had gotten to so far in my life and the woman that I have become. It was a difficult exercise for me.
As part of this reflection, I held several conversations with friends, family and colleagues about how to enter this new decade with a positive outlook, marking it in a joyful, memorable way. I considered all the typical 50 year markings: jumping out of an airplane, getting a tattoo, etc. Nothing felt quite right.
I have always loved to dance. I’m not a fantastic dancer, but a highlight of my week is my Friday night Zumba class taught by the fabulous Eduardo Vargas. And, the highlight of my year is my annual summer trip to Portland to attend World Domination Summit (WDS), which culminates in a closing party helmed by the incomparable Bollywood DJ Prashant. I absolutely bliss out dancing the night away in his company, with his dance troupe and 2,000 fellow WDSers around me.
One day in January, I wondered, Does DJ Prashant travel for private parties?
I worked up the courage to inquire, and when I found out that yes he did and was available for the date I had in mind, I started to imagine the celebration of my dreams: a Bollywood Dance Party. I mulled it over for several weeks, as it would be a considerable expense and effort to fly him and his dancers down to the Bay Area, rent a hall, and procure the food, drinks, decorations, etc. I couldn’t quite justify the expense…but I also could not get the idea out of my mind. Nothing felt like a better option once I the idea materialized in my head. I spent hours thinking about it.
The one piece that eluded me was finding the right available venue for the party. I searched for a few weeks and finally came across a place that would work. That is when things really kicked into high gear.
I’ll always remember the night when I was about to commit to host this outrageous party, and after tallying up the budget for my husband he said, “We just can’t do it Mer.” After that, he turned over and went to bed, the logical person that he is. I, however, couldn’t sleep, and stayed up crying for four hours.
I could not imagine not going forward; any other option felt like a disappointment.
The next morning, I woke up resolved to make it work. Through some creative financing, I was able to convince my husband to allow me to go ahead, and I signed the contract for DJ Prashant to come.
From that point on, it was a whirlwind, like planning a wedding. The event took on a life of its own. Originally intending to show up in a t-shirt and pants, I was convinced by friends to go full Bollywood with my outfit; guests asked if they should/could show up in costume, whether we would serve Indian food, etc.
I hired a face painter and henna tattoo artist, and our lovely friend and professional photographer Nancy Rothstein agreed to photograph the party so I would have great memories. I hired our Jammie Drive coordinator Kimberlee MacVicar to help organize every detail, from the decorations to the potluck. It was an enormous effort, and my driver personality obsessed about every detail.
I toiled over the music playlist, crafting a set of my favorite dance tunes, including Bollywood hits my friends shared with me and songs from my Zumba class.
I invited people from all parts of my life to come celebrate with me (175 of them came).
I’d told everyone I knew about the party, and people were excited for me. The week leading up to the event, I got four hours of sleep per night. The day before, I hit a wall. I was starting to get sick, I was tired of thinking about the details of the event, and became overwhelmed at the prospect of showing up and going through with it. I felt sick to my stomach as I limped to the nail salon for some final primping.
The day dawned and I showed up with a dedicated crew of folks to decorate the hall in the morning. It took two hours, and as all my carefully laid plans came to be, it started to feel real. I was overcome with excitement and fear. What if people didn’t enjoy themselves? What if I embarrassed myself? Etc.
I have two parts to my personality: the person who is logical, strategic, analytical, and gets stuff done, and the person who kicks up her heels and dances with abandon. Normally, the former part of my personality wins out, but to tell you the truth, it is exhausting to be her. The other part of me has more ease, and more fun. This was the first time that many people in my life would see that fun part of me come out…and stay out. Beyoncé has her performer persona, whom she calls Sasha Fierce. The Zumba, Bollywood dancer in me is my Sasha Fierce.
The evening arrived, and the party exceeded all my expectations. It is wonderful to be fully seen. I had a great time greeting everyone, dancing to Prashant’s dance lessons, and even getting up on stage to dance with him plus do a few numbers on stage with 20 members of our Zumba class, with Eduardo at the helm. I was blissed out the whole evening, in full Sasha Fierce mode.
All my inhibitions fell away, and my light shined brightly from within.
There was a moment when I had a chance to say a few words to everyone. In addition to welcoming and thanking them for coming, I said that I encourage everyone to reach for their dreams, because “it took me 50 years to have this party, but the rest of my life will be more like this, I’ll tell you that much.”
This birthday is one I will remember for the rest of my life, and I think others will too. People told me that seeing me live my dream has inspired them. That was an unintended consequence, as I truly threw this party for myself, but makes me very happy nonetheless.
What I’m realizing, as a result of this celebration, living 50 years in my skin and through some professional development I’m doing, is that life is about living it on your own terms, and embracing all of who you are. When I embrace the being part of myself, my Sasha Fierce, I make better decisions, come from a more grounded place, and have more fun.
I truly do want to live more from that place going forward, to make my remaining years on this earth count, and feel at the end of my days that I have truly lived.
Photo credit: Nancy Rothstein Photography