Life Lessons

Celebrating 40 with a Solo Hike in Presqu’ile Provincial Park

Jess in the Woods
Happiness is hiking at 40!

I’m Done Waiting for Prince Charming

In March 2015 I turned 40. For five years the big 4-0 haunted me with its ominous implications. It seemed like a season change was coming and the days were about to get shorter and sadder and lonelier.

Aging wasn’t the issue, it was all about the story that wasn’t working out the way I’d planned–a large stone tied to my ankle slowing me down, making things harder. For 20 years I searched and waited for Prince Charming and a little baby “cute-as-a-button” to enter stage right. Well dear Prince, I’m done. I will ride my own white horse into my 40s!

I would still love to go to the ball–but the waiting is over. It’s time to make plans, to claim a place for myself because I deserve one.

I’m letting go of not feeling like a grown up because I haven’t had a wedding. I’m letting go of not feeling like a woman because I haven’t had a child. I am writing a new story, changing the mythology that has hurt me and so many other women who feel like they aren’t enough because they are single.

And it’s not the Prince’s fault–the whole kingdom (including me) is to blame for keeping the story alive, for suggesting that single life can be shameful, for thinking that just because we want it all we should be able to have it all. We can still want partners and children, but if they don’t come on schedule we need to carry on and live our lives…really live them–and without apology, without compromise.

Maybe this is a story about learning patience, about releasing entitlement, about accepting the present, about being grateful for what I have, instead of longing for what you have.

“Some days you just have to create your own sunshine.”

Presqu'ile Marsh
Presqu’ile Marsh

Once Upon a Time…

…There was a girl who loved the outdoors, hiking, and camping. She was fearless and strong and happy. So for my 40th birthday I wanted to go to Presqu’ile Provincial Park to reconnect with the woman I was twenty years ago.

When I couldn’t find a friend to join me, I gave up on my birthday wish. I let the fairytale into my head and its characters confirmed I was indeed a spinster now.

“So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun.” Margaret Atwood

Jess in 2000
First big solo trip. Western Canada. Age: 25.

Jess at the beach
Life’s a beach at 40!

And she lives happily…

I didn’t like being a sad spinster–the beige fleece slipper didn’t fit. So I changed–I made a decision to write a new story. I like this 40-year-old woman a lot and she deserves a good life. In July 2015 I took control of the plot, banished the sad subtext, and planned the epic birthday trip that was becoming more than an excursion: a symbol of my future.

So I shed my spinster cloak and summoned my inner dragon.

I couldn’t sleep the night before Presqu’ile! I was too excited. I woke up early and packed the car. I arrived at 8:30 am. The park was quiet. I spent four glorious hours hiking along some of the trails, walking along the beach, and picnicking on the shore of Lake Ontario. It was better than I’d dreamed.

“There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirits, there is strength in the hills, if only we will lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your great restorer.” Calvin Coolidge


Top Five Learnings:

  1. I am brave. I only screamed once (but to be fair the two chipmunks nearly ran across my bare feet).
  2. I am connected. The hardest thing about being single is that sometimes I feel disconnected. Alone on the trails, on the beach, or by Lake Ontario I felt deeply connected to my sense of self, to nature, to God, and surprisingly to all the people in my life. This amazed me. I expected to feel anxious, not peaceful and calm and grounded–and oh so happy! I was beaming the whole time.
  3. Remember to bring bathing suit!
  4. I belong. Usually when I go places on my own I feel out of place. People don’t even realize the faces they make when they see me at plays or in restaurants. But whenever I passed others in the park they said hello and smiled. There was no question in their expressions that I was misplaced. There was no pity, no curiosity. Just hello. Good morning. What a gorgeous day. We all belong here.
  5. I will be back. Oh yes. And I will be going to more parks and on more hikes. Forty truly has become an awesome beginning! (Cue Katy Perry anthem of your choice.)

I can create my own sunshine.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot

Lake Ontario
Lake Ontario, near my picnic lunch.

 


And the moral of the story…

We need to change the conversation. We need to move the focus away from the ballroom and the dance cards and the gowns–rather, let’s talk about the woods, the lake, and if we need to, climb mountains (alone or with others). Celebrate every woman for who she is as an individual. Ask about her next adventure. Encourage her to take risks. Listen to her feisty spirit. Find a place for her in your ideology if her life looks different than yours. Take a moment to put on her shoes…(and realize it’s likely she has many pairs!)

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” Maya Angelou

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18 Comments

  • Mona Blaker

    Very well said, Jessica! Enjoy your 40th, and year of adventures and discoveries! Be blessed by nature and the peace you find there. Keep sharing your stories!
    Here’s a quote I love:
    “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, one finds it is connected to the rest of the world.”
    ~Mona.

  • Marli Beer

    Beautifully written Jessica….you are enough and everything is falling into place for you. A brave & beautiful spirit.

  • Pat Pomery

    Happy 40th Jessica… loved reading your blog…you are sunshine to everyone who knows you..xoxo…yes I’m singing it..but only for you..lol…have a super year…ENSS misses you!!

  • Cathy Dorland-Herrington

    Awesome blog….you go girl!!! and yes, wonderful things do happen during your 40”s….celebrate and embrace them!!!!🎉😊

  • Veronica Derry

    Well said Jessica…..but even better…..well LIVED…..keep on living fully and writing about it. There are growing numbers of us reading and enjoying your posts.
    PS
    Being single has numerous advantages!

  • Leah Murray

    Dear Jessica, I am so delighted to be able to welcome you into the realm of free adult womanhood.

    I too had to work my way free of the expectations and constraints we as women and as western society place upon our distaff citizens, and I’ve discovered so much joy and energy as a result!

    It never occurred to me that you might have struggled with this issue, as every time I had contact with you, you seemed so happy in your destiny and happy in your own skin and your own life: I envied you your wisdom in your youth, seeing how long it took me to achieve the same apparent peace with myself. Know that I have and hold a generous dose of sheer admiration for all that you are accomplishing with your life, and all that you are offering the world.

    Hugs!!

    Leah M.

    • Jessica Outram

      Thanks so much, Leah! It has been important to me to always work hard no matter the subtext of my life. It’s so freeing to have a much lighter, happier, more peaceful inner landscape now! Thanks for your generous comments.

  • Lisa Fallis

    So well written Jessica!! you have great talent, and a wonderful outlook on your future. I have several friends who are “independent” and have happy, friend and fun filled lives. good for you to embrace change and not let the lack of the fairy tale ending bring you down. now you can write your own fairy tale!

  • Pat Skene

    Such a great post Jessica. Without a doubt, the media, especially television and movies (mostly men) have defined what a woman needs to be…to be happy. It takes some women a lifetime to reach the self-realization you have achieved. There is something about being in nature that can energize the soul, and in so doing, reaffirm our sense of connectivity with all things. And as far as that “cute-as-a-button” baby you mentioned…you make an inspirational and educational impact on children every day in your life as a teacher. Those are your children and what a family you have! So rock (and hike) on! 40 is just the beginning.

  • aunt estelle

    Jessica this post is so inspirational. You have already influenced so many people in your life, had a positive impact on so many young lives, and are talented in so many ways. Keep up the excellent work, and enjoy your freedom to pursue so many interests. And please keep on blogging!

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