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facts & arguments

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Might have been the 50th birthday, might have been the minor health scare. Might have been the discovery of my 20-year-old self, over there in the journals I pulled out of a long-ago packed and forgotten box.

Either way, I have gone and done it. I've quit my job, exited the company I helped found. I have turned over the proverbial new leaf.

Which is quite poetic, given the lush garden that is thriving in my (literal) backyard. On the good days I putter here, planting, pruning and working on what I am certain is an "other" level of sorting. Creative ideas are planted, too, as I work the warm soil. My hands are dirty and I feel strong. I am in the moment, I breathe, I trust.

And then there are the other moments. Those mornings when I stare wildly at the weeds snaking seductively around my carefully tended vegetables. I look twice before I realize these clever impersonators are, in fact, choking the life out of my heirloom tomatoes. Then, my inner dialogue speaks to me in ALL CAPS, like the angry e-mails I had hoped to leave behind. Okay, what the hell, Kerrie?

I have quit my job. I have packed up my one battered banker's box and hightailed it out of my uptown hipster office. Legal documents have been signed; I have seriously pruned back my life.

I have not written the great Canadian novel, I have not cleaned up the garage, I have not picked up the accordion again – or golf or tennis. I have not become a better mom or wife or daughter or friend. I have not settled blissfully into the quest for authenticity. Scary thought: What if this IS my authentic self (insert sad-face icon here)?

If only there were a "breathe deeply" icon, some texty talisman to remind me that all is not lost – in my garden or in life.

I did show up for a writers' retreat in Washington state. I did volunteer at my daughter's dance recital. I did sort through 15 years of old taxes and recycle or shred things that no longer seemed to matter. And I did start cleaning at a deeper level, culling my literal (and figurative) basement.

The mornings are still my most productive time. I awaken early (old habits), make a cup of tea and head outside. I survey my modest garden, plucking out weeds that demand plucking, watering plants that telegraph their thirst. This work, like Psyche sorting mythical seeds, has purpose.

I am an older Psyche, though, still beautiful but in midlife now, and more aware. I'm balanced on the precipice of a third career while looking back, stumbling back really, over a lifetime of projects and people and obligations.

For the most part I am okay: hardy, occasionally brittle and moving more slowly than I did a lifetime ago. I approach this third phase of my woman's life cautiously, the 180-degree opposite to my 12-year-old daughter. Fearless, she throws herself forward, eager to catch a big wave. She is impatient. By contrast I am uncertain, trudging through the debris of my life's surfing so far. I seek a quiet space now, a small landfall, a simple place in our home reserved for me. A room of one's own and 500 pounds a year, like Virginia Woolf.

My task is sorting, deciding what I keep and what I burn or shred, or simply leave behind. I am knee high in old files and boxes and journals, but really I am knee high in the stuff I never did clean up. Until now.

Friends and colleagues are surprised and confused by my choice. Seemingly overnight I have fled the scene. While others are working hard, racing to the finish, saving enough to retire, I am … opting out? Moving forward in another direction?

What will I do now? I am a serial entrepreneur, so I know there will always be something. Then there is the work of mothering, and my still-shiny marriage.

This is a new way of being, but also familiar, like a long-ago vision of summer. Endless, or at least full of possibility. It is a powerful time. I am young enough to begin again, young enough to think back to what I imagined lay ahead. I know this liminal space: I have been here before.

But this time is different. I am a parent now, and married to a wonderful man, a champion and friend. Interestingly, I am also helping my mom with sorting as she prepares for a different kind of change – the fourth phase of a woman's life – as she ponders what to leave behind.

So I am living the dream. Leisurely teas in my beautiful backyard, weeding with a groundskeeper's pride, spending hours pulling boxes from the garage and shifting things inside the house, uncovering a desk and a place to be. Through it all I am solidifying something in me: firm footing for the next chapter. It is time to move on. I am retired. I am rethinking. I am restoring. I am relieved.

Kerrie Penney lives in Calgary.

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