Fifty X 50: Leah Janzen

The many times my path had crossed Leah’s over the years, through work,  I saw her as a very focused and serious person. So I was surprised when she enthusiastically signed on to this project. As you’ll read, so was she. The 50 yr old Leah that showed up to my studio was far from serious, and very relaxed but still focused on the task at hand. Leah mentioned that once committed to being profiled, she used this opportunity to reflect on being 50 thus far and her thoughts reflect that.
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I just remember my mum saying, “Wait until you’re 50. Your 50’s are the best.” She maintained that that was the best decade of her life, easily. My mom is no longer here, but she get to say “I told you so” on this one because I remember scoffing at her and thinking, “Oh my God are you kidding me? That’s so old.” But she was right, it’s a good time

Because you don’t give a f*ck what anybody thinks of you anymore. And you’re still young enough that you’re traveling, and you have a few bucks, and you have your health, and you can still do a whole lot of stuff. So, I didn’t believe her at the time, but I believe it now. Its a nice period of time. I’m not trying to prove anything anymore, I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. So that stress is less intense.

Somebody told me a saying not long ago: “What other people think of you is none of your business” and it wasn’t until just this last six months of being 50 where I really started to internalize that and not care what other people think of me. This interview for example, I never would have done this in a million years when I was 30, 40. I would have been intimidated by it or I just wouldn’t have done it.
Its a big deal  to get to that point in your life as a woman. Because women are so programmed to worry about the impression they make, and what people think, and be nice, and don’t speak your mind. So to get to a point in your life where that doesn’t matter is really exciting. I think there’s a liberation for women. Even my friends that have kids in university, they can go for dinner, go away for the weekend. Some of them haven’t been able to do that for 20 years. So it’s like the doors are blown off a little bit and they’re having fun again.

I am kind of a hyper person, and I’m a type A person, so I feel like I’ve just been sprinting through my life. Doing as much as I can, sort of having all of the experiences I can, meeting as many people as I can. It feels like it’s just slowing down a bit now, but in a really good way. I don’t need to do ten things on a weekend. I can do two, but I can do them really well and really enjoy them. And come away from them with a really good experience. While I’m sitting here talking to you, I’m not thinking about what I’m doing later tonight, which would’ve been my default before. I was always thinking about the next thing. I don’t do that as much anymore.

I don’t feel as self-consciousness and have a willingness to make a fool of myself or laugh at myself. Now I can have way more fun than I feel like I used to because I don’t care. So I’ll try shit, and I’ll do things that I wouldn’t normally have done, and be able to laugh at it if it doesn’t work. It’s walking around my very buttoned-down office and singing because I’m stressed. We’ve got eighteen things happening, I’ll sing as I’m walking down the hall because it helps me, and I don’t care. So I’ll be trying to get a co-worker’s attention, and I’ll sing at her instead of going and getting her – that kind of thing. I don’t have that same level of self-affectedness. I’ll sing karaoke which I’ve never done in my whole life. That kind of thing. I’ve done nothing completely out of my wheelhouse, but I don’t give it as much power. If I want to do something, I do it now.

leah_janzen_by_ian_mccausland_4I found that turning 50, I’ve made some big life choices that I think were motivated by that. They’ve been big life changes that have been really good. I changed my job that I thought I would be at until I retired. It was a great, nothing wrong with it, great job. But I made that change. I’ve left a relationship, a ten-year relationship. Those kinds of things I feel are motivated by the sentiment”Well, if you’re not going to do it now, what are you waiting for? When were you going to do this?”

So it’s been a difficult six months, it’s not been an easy year. Yet every major change that I’ve been through in this six months, I’ve been through in one way or another in my life before. So it’s not nearly as traumatic, because I know I am going to survive it. It’s not that break-up when you’re 22 and you think your life’s over and you’re writing, dark poetry in your bedroom. I’m going to be okay. Making those big changes in my life was scary, but I knew I’d come out the other end of it okay in one form or another.  So again, that takes the fear out of it. It takes the fear out of everything. Try it. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll be okay.

In a way it’s been disconcerting to have all this change in one year, but in a way it’s also been good because I feel like I’m responding to the challenge of  making your second half the best it can be. If things aren’t making you happy, change them. And don’t bitch, and don’t whine, and don’t blame it all on circumstance, do it.

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I just am so, grateful for everything I have, and for that group of people that have seen me through all those horrible things and have been there and been good friends and good family. There’s a new depth to the relationships that I have that I’m really, really grateful for because I thought they already were good. But, again, because you don’t have the fear, I can tell somebody that I love them or how important that they are to me or if I’m pissed off of at them. Even at work– I can have conversations with people that report to me now that I would have just been petrified to have.

It was so challenging as a young woman entering a newsroom. I was just so scared to be there, didn’t think I deserve to be there, didn’t think I was good enough to be there, and worried constantly about what everybody else was thinking about me. So if I could go back and tell myself to settle down, I would. But I don’t know if you can. I think you have to live that at some point in your young life to appreciate not feeling that way any more. I think everyone has to have a period in their life where they feel like that, because then when you’re done feeling it, it’s so great. And you can look back and see yourself and go, “Shit, I didn’t need to be like that.”

But it can also be a driving force. That’s why I think I was successful in my careers that I’ve had. Because as a young woman, I felt I wasn’t good enough, and that I was being judged, so that drove me. If I hadn’t had to go through that, and didn’t have to go through those feelings of inadequacy, I don’t know if I would have ultimately been successful. But I was to do it over again, I would tell myself to relax, don’t just tick boxes, enjoy an experience of something. It’s not just so you can get to the next one. And love the people that are in your life, appreciate them, nurture them, enjoy those friendships, because those are going to see you all the way through.

leah_janzen_by_ian_mccausland_5I see this as such a greatest time in my life, but I’m sure it’s not for everybody. I can see if you’re in the middle of a divorce and you’ve got kids, or you’ve got health issues, or financial concerns, this could be a very challenging time. A few things for me weren’t where they wanted to be, and they were things that I had power to change. And I’m in that top 1% of the world’s population, I have a roof, I have food, and I have a job and I’ve got money. So for me, it’s a wonderful time but I can appreciate that there’d be people for whom this was not a good time in their life at all and I’d be sorry for that because I do see it as kind of that it’s the tipping point into the second half. You should start the second half in what should be full control of your life right now and that should be exciting. I find it exciting, but I’m in a fortunate position.

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It’s gone so fast. And that the other thing you just realize, if this is your second half, it is going to go just as fast So I even start thinking about things like, what is my legacy going to be if I don’t have kids and grand kids? There’s a group of eight of us that grew up together and we travel together once a year and go to the lake It’s been such an integral relationship for all us in our lives to have that core group of friends, We’ve started talking as a group  “What do we want as a group our legacy to be?” Do we want to do something philanthropically to leave as a group? Do we want to create a fund, something to support a young woman who couldn’t otherwise go to school or something like that. So yeah, we’re starting to have those conversations when ten years ago we would have just had another drink! [Laughter] So I think those conversations starting to happen but even the fact that we’re starting to talk about it kind of cracks me up but in a good way.