I remember the very first photography seminar I attended. My husband and I had recently married, and he had big dreams. He loved photography and had every desire to make it his career. He’d met a guy who was traveling down a similar path, who told him about a nationally renowned photographer that was coming into town for a weekend training session.

We got the information, contacted the host, and booked two seats. We sat there in utter fascination, listening to everything he said. This man had spent a lifetime building his photography studio. And he was sharing all of his secrets with us. We bought in hook, line, and sinker. We invested in all of his “trade secrets”. And we started down the path of entrepreneurship, trying to build a name for ourselves in the ever-changing art of photography.

Of course, we took his advice and set out to duplicate it as quickly as possible. In weeks, we had a lot of things in place, including a brand new client excited to work with us. They even gave us extra time to create magic with their portraits.

So we set them up, took the photographs, and got the results. They were … okay.

We went back to our studio, feeling a little letdown. We’d done everything the way our mentor had instructed. We’d been working almost twenty-four hours a day trying to emulate his plans.

We’d worked hard to put it all into action. So why weren’t we getting better results?

The Journey Comes With Age

I was looking for something to get me out of the house; an exercise class that was fun and introduced me to new people too.

I scoured the internet looking for things to do nearby. I was new in town, so I also stopped by bulletin boards at my local coffee shop, and picked up the local magazines for our community. Inside was a small advertisement for Nia, something I’d never heard of before.

Nia combines martial arts, dance, and mindfulness into a one hour class. It’s a holistic practice helping with body, mind, and soul. I was instantly intrigued.

I’d had dance on my bucket list for a long time, and though I’d always anticipated salsa-ing at the local nightclub, maybe I could fulfill my desire in another way. I took the free introductory class and was hooked.

What I like about Nia is it lets you dance as a group. Talent isn’t required. Every week, a dozen of us show up and dance and sway to some great tunes.

At the beginning of each class, our instructor gives us a short lesson. One night in particular, her words stuck with me:

Be present in the present

I’ve heard things like that before. I’ve even been known to say something similar a time or two myself. She had more clarification that went along with it. And something about it transported me back to a variety of points throughout my life when I was definitely NOT “present in the present”.

Distractions come in every size and shape. How many times had I listened to my daughter, for instance, while scrolling through my phone at the same time?

Definitely NOT “present in the present”.

But it works in other ways too.

What about wishes?

  • I wish I could have a million dollars in the bank.
  • I wish I could be successful … like her.

You know who I’m talking about, right? HER!

Everyone has one.

She’s the person I have in mind as my hero. She’s the person I’ve convinced myself life is “perfect” for.

Heroes. Mentors. Advisors. Role models.

And I instantly thought about “the one.”

The Process, Too, Only Comes With Age

Babies have it easy. They have no judgment. They have nothing to compare their lives too.

They are definitely “present in the present”.

They reach out and touch. They learn. They sit. They stand. They walk.

With everything they learn, they do so because they don’t give up. They practice and practice and practice and practice.

Every day is like a whole new world just waiting for them to show up.

They don’t care if the child next to them can walk while they can only stand. They don’t give up because they can’t do it too. Instead, they watch and they learn.

Then they take their first steps. They wobble. They fall down. They pick themselves up and do it all again.

Over and over and over and over.

Think about everything in your life right now. What do you consider yourself good at?

I consider myself to be a pretty decent cook. But I wasn’t always that way.

Years ago, I was like most people. We went out a lot. I bought simple “quick meal” ingredients from the store, including a lot of those box helpers. Cooking was boring at best.

When my daughter became vegetarian, it changed my approach. But I still didn’t get a lot of it. I merely bought boxed veggie products and substituted it for the meat I was using in my own boring meal.

Then I became vegetarian too. And I discovered it’s difficult to eat in quick-meal fashion once you convert to a plant based diet. So I started doing my research.

Slowly, I started working my way through cookbooks. I invested in some online training. And I practiced.

I made a lot of meals that were “meh” at best.

But I made some pretty good ones too. I saved those. I printed out recipes we loved and put them in a book. I started my Pinterest board.

And now I know a lot about substituting regular items with plant-based alternatives.

For example, did you know you can replace eggs in your baking with either flax meal or chia seeds? One tablespoon of either flax meal or chia seeds mixed with three tablespoons of water and left to sit for ten minutes will produce a gummy substance. It becomes a binder – the same purpose an egg has in baked goods.

And flax and chia are a whole lot healthier than eggs.

I know that now. But what comes naturally right now wasn’t even a blip in my mind years ago.

What’s different is I’ve committed to learning more. I’ve dedicated the time it takes to be the best I can be. I’ve practiced. I’ve honed my skill. And I do a little bit more every day.

Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

The venue was truly the most beautiful place in the world to get married. The gardens were incredible. The smell of roses wafted in the air. Twinkle lights hung from the trees.

Dressed all in black, I quietly walked into the room where the bride was waiting with her dad. He had tears in his eyes, reminding her of a moment they’d shared when she was just a little girl. Click.

He tucked her arm in his, wound his fingers through hers. Click.

He walked slowly, being mindful of her long train. Click.

Her eyes glimmered as she saw her fiance at the end of the aisle. Click.

Her dad held back a sob as he let her go. Click.

Her parents hugged, happy, sad, watching their beautiful daughter move on to the next phase of her life. Click.

And just like I was discreetly moving around the gardens unnoticed in my black suit, my husband was doing the same.

Later that evening, several guests came up to us and exclaimed, “Those are the best wedding photographs we’ve ever seen in our lives.”

They hadn’t seen them. They were still tucked away in our bags. Only we had seen them.

But the meaning wasn’t lost on us. We were experts. We were at the top of our game.

Because what we did was more than clicking a camera and recording what was in front of us. It was also about expertise.

No matter who I am and what I choose to do, there will always be a step 1. And the only way I can get to step 20 is to work through every step in between.

I did that back when I followed my first mentor’s instructions by not giving up. I accepted my first results were average at best.

But I move forward. Another client. Another practice session. Another chance to improve.

And slowly magic happened.

We forget that. Especially in midlife.

I hear “I’m too old” or “It’s too late for me” or “I’ve always done it this way” again and again.

For some people, they feel they’ve reached a point in their lives where they should know everything and be all they can be.

That’s the sign of death.

If I can’t learn, I can’t grow. And if I can’t grow, I’m putting aside the chance to be an even better me.

I have a choice today.

I start at step one with many things I’ve always wanted to try.

I also give back by mentoring others on the things I’m already at step 20 with.

Midlife is a time to do both.

And I happily accept this as my life.