A few years ago at the end of a women’s conference, the speaker asked the audience to stand according to their ages. She spoke specific wisdom to each group, charging them for their season of life. She charged those younger than 18 to be bold in their faith, and to “not let anyone look down on you because of your youth.” The next group of women, older than 18 but younger than 35 received a different charge, but I can’t tell you what she said. I was fixated on the fact that I would be standing up with the REST of the audience, the OLDER women.

At 36 I barely felt like I’d figured out marriage and motherhood, but here I was, standing with the women who I looked up to, being challenged to consider myself a big sister to those no longer standing. Her charge for us was to be the women we were looking for in our younger years. Be the wife, the mom, the colleague, or the friend that we had sought to find whenever we needed counsel in our younger years.

As I sat down that day, I remember feeling both the weight of her words and lighter at the same time. Even as she offered a challenge, she extended permission.

I’ve opted not to psychoanalyze why I felt like I needed her permission to step up and step out. But, I suspect if I thought about it for longer than a quick second, it might have to do with feeling exceptionally young to work at the White House after 9/11, too young to be a squadron commander’s wife when I got married, or being told at 27 that a publisher decided to offer the book deal to “an older writer with more life experience.”

Along the way, somewhere, I began believing age equals qualification. The life around me spun a narrative that subtly wove a lie into my thinking and it shaped my behavior. (<– This is believing what you live.) I held off writing that book, buying into the idea that I wasn’t old enough to get published. I shrunk back from other opportunities or deferred decisions, waiting for permission.

And then, in the moment that she extended that permission, I realized that I never really needed it. She spoke truth and offered freedom from a prison I had created for myself. By believing what I lived, I had handicapped myself for years.

Weeks after that conference I began sketching out a new book proposal, framed around a subtle shift in the way I approach life: Live what you believe rather than believing what you live. Every role and circumstance in my life passes through the filter that first asks, “What do I believe?”

As I celebrate my 39th birthday, I’m even more confident that life experience is not quantifiable by years on the earth. Wisdom is not accrued alongside candles on a birthday cake. If motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that age-based milestones are not gospel truths.

Quite frankly, it’s not the age that makes the milestone – it’s the decision to begin. {If you’re waiting for permission, this is it. Go. Do. Chase YOUR dream.}

Two years ago I began writing again.

One year ago I launched my own website, entirely funded by my #sidehustle with Stella & Dot.

This year, maybe I’ll find a publisher. 😉