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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

My March to 50 (A Sweet Journey)

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

Around May of last year, my wife and I had a conversation that started out simple enough, chatting about the day’s events over a glass of wine on the back porch. Over time, however, it turned to where are lives were going, who we were both together and apart, what would happen after our daughter went off to college. We were both approaching fifty (this is where I reminded her that she would get there first, perhaps in hindsight, a mistake) and she admitted wanting to enter her 50’s a better version of herself, whatever that might mean. The conversation was challenging. Thought provoking. In many ways a jolt because I think at the time I was on “cruise control”. . .a good father, husband, leader. . .but not really focused on improving myself or growing, just satisfied with “being.” That Sunday, we went for a “soul stroll”, and idea that my wife came up with. . .walking for both physical and emotional benefit, discussing the week behind us and the week ahead us. We started down what we later called a “sweet journey”, paths that at times were on our own, other times side by side, discovering more about ourselves as individuals, as a couple, as a family, and how we could march into our fifties with purpose, which is led me to this point.

Here are a few insights into my journey. . .my #marchto50

June. . .completed my first MBA class. The truth is, this was banked before I started my #Marchto50 plan, but it still is a noteworthy achievement. I'd been thinking about either an MBA or a Masters of Education for a few years, but the timing was never “right”. When I sought counsel, several advised me that my career had already taught me far more than an MBA would, and that at this stage of my career, it likely would do me little good. I vacillated on the decision, passively looking into different programs including UMD, UVA and UNC. Eventually I decided to choose a school closer to home, the College of William & Mary. Though even after making the decision, I still wavered on whether or not to go through with it until one night in March, Karen and I had the opportunity to meet Garth Brooks. We chatted with he and Trisha backstage and during the conversation, I asked him about getting his MBA late in life. His answer hit home. . .he got it for him, to continue learning because he never knew where his journey would take him, and it was something that he would always have. Driving home from Philadelphia, I made up my mind to move forward with my decision, and in June I completed my first course. With an A.

July. . .paid off my jeep. This might not sound like much of an accomplishment to you, but you have to appreciate my perspective. For years, I leased cars, growing bored with each towards the end of the lease and looking forward to the new “bells and whistles” that a new car would offer. I progressed to luxury models, eventually moved to a hybrid, but always budgeted a high car payment because trading in and up was always part of my plan. Then one trip to Hawaii, we rented a jeep, weaved through the road to Hana, and I was hooked. I purchased the jeep because it felt “real”, stripping out the bells and whistles because I simply didn’t need them, and I took out a loan instead of leasing because it made more financial sense. For my 49th birthday, we paid off the loan early, and for the first time in my adult life, I didn’t have a car payment and instead replaced that with a true sense of ownership and pride.

August. . .acted like a kid again. My wife bought us tickets for a concert, Foreigner and Cheap Trick. I love music and have been to many concerts across many genres, but this felt different. These were the bands from our youth (we were high school sweethearts) and though the average age of the venue was - well, let’s just say that had chairs in the “pit” because standing was not an option for many - we felt young again. Remembering the words to every song, with a rush of memories accompanying each one. Feeling young enough that after the concert we drove to the beach at midnight, acting like a couple of teenagers (there may have been a life guard chair involved and we were almost caught by a group of teenagers!). The night ended with breakfast in the wee hours of the morning at a local diner. Well, not a local diner, I think it was IHOP, but “local diner” sounds so much better, right?

September. . .ran in a 5K. Ok, well let’s first start by being honest. . .there was SOME running involved but it was mostly walking really fast. However, consider that back in May, the idea of walking even around the neighborhood was daunting. I was hit by a car as a kid causing permanent damage that hampered my ability to play sports in high school, and cost me a chance to go into the U.S. Navy, which had long been a dream of mine. Over time, I let this become an excuse for far more than it should have been. Setting and meeting the goal of running in a 5K was my way of facing that obstacle and running past it. I pulled a calf muscle in the 4th kilometer, worked through it, then sprinted past the finish line. Well, “sprinted” as much as I could, but with “Sound of Silence” by Disturbed blaring in my headphones, I crossed the finish line and I overcame something that had stood in my way for years. Then, I signed up for my next one, and will be running in my fifth 5K next week. (And many years later, I realized my dream of "joining" the U.S. Navy by coming to work for NEXCOM).

October. . .got stuck by a bunch of needles. Never in my life did I intend on getting a tattoo. For many years, I didn’t understand the allure. Why someone would go through the pain of putting something on their body, permanently, that they may regret later. My wife, on the other hand, has always been fascinated with tattoos and occasionally talked about getting one. But for various reasons, she never did. Stigma? Money? My more conservative attitude? I can’t say for sure, but for her 50th birthday, I offered to get her a tattoo. Meaning, I told her that I would do the research and find the right artists (I have mad respect for all levels and types of design) for her to choose from, so that she didn’t resort to a Groupon deal and wind up with “NO REGERTS”! In the process, I became more and more intrigued with tattoos. . .the art, the conviction, the expression. I talked to people who have tattoos about why, where, when. I began to question whether it was the tattoo that I had the issue with, or simply the pain. One day while talking to my wife about it, she suggested an idea to me, just in case I ever considered getting one. I liked it, so one day in October, my wife got her first tattoo, a beautiful lotus flower, with an Unalome scroll. . .and afterwards, I got my first tattoo, an Enso circle (the Japanese acceptance of imperfection as beauty) with a branch from the tree of life using a scar from my youth. Was there anxiety? You can ask my wife about that. Did it hurt? Hell yes, but a bit less than I expected. Am I glad I got it? Absolutely! No regrets. . .

But those weren’t the most important needles that I got stuck by. Until this point, I had never given blood. I let my fear of needles convince me to contribute in other ways. However it seemed hypocritical to get a tattoo, but still use a fear of needles as an excuse to not give blood. So a day before I got my tattoo, I signed up for a blood drive at work and with the help of a friend, worked past this phobia. . .which turned out to be NOTHING. No pain, no anxiety, a simple way of helping others, and free orange juice and cookies afterwards. While the tattoo is likely a “one and done”, giving blood has become a regular habit.

November. . .went to a nude beach. How many of you just thought “this is where I tap out!” Please, stay with me here. . .I promise it won’t turn ugly. Until recently, the idea of taking a vacation without my daughter wasn’t even a consideration. I don’t take much time off, we enjoy traveling as a family, and Lily travels well, so the thought of an “adult” vacation wasn’t something that we talked about. Until we did. We decided on Jamaica, an all-inclusive resort, Couples Negril. . .no kids allowed. My dad stayed with Lily and for four days, we barely left the resort. We went on a sunset catamaran tour, ate local food, walked the beach at sunset, tried sea kayaking, spent plenty of time on the beach with

our toes in the water, and even renewed our vows. The resort had a more secluded section that was reserved for nude sunbathing. I won’t speak for my wife, but I have always had body issues. I am an introvert, struggling with insecurities, and the thought of being naked in front of other people was about as appealing getting jabbed by needles. That seemed to work out ok, so I decided to face another fear and give it a try. We walked through the clearing, hesitantly shed our bathing suits, and sunbathed “au-natural." The strange thing is, no one stared, no one cared. Everyone went about there way, enjoying the sunshine. For us, there was simply sun hitting spots that hadn’t seen any in a really long time. After a while, it seemed. . .natural. No, I haven’t become a nudist (LOLLYPOP! LOLLYPOP!) but facing body issues was an important step for me to take. With a side benefit, it has prepared me to one day have a more meaningful dialogue with my daughter about self image and values.

December. . .volunteered as a family. Part of me really regrets that this was a “first” for us. We have volunteered before, and occasionally as a family, but never with the intent that went behind this particular experience. My wife learned of “Wreaths Across America” from a friend of ours, a Navy spouse, and recommended that perhaps we should do this as a family. The activity was laying holiday wreaths on the grave sites of those buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We traveled to D.C. the night before, saw “A Christmas Carol” at Ford’s Theater, and the following morning we joined thousands of others over the course of several hours to complete this emotional project. Prior to traveling up to Arlington, I reached out to friends on Facebook to see if we knew anyone who had relatives interred at Arlington and came across nine who did, so we asked to be able to specifically lay our wreaths on those sites. From corporals to admirals, from those who served generations ago to those who recently passed, their stories became ours and as a family, we were able to accomplish something special on behalf of many who sacrificed for us. As we sent pictures to those families who we had offered this gesture to, we realized how important these seemingly simple acts are, made even more powerful by sharing this as a family.

January. . .went to a Buddhist service. I am fascinated by religions and cultures, and have had that fueled through traveling to all fifty states and over fifty countries. No, I am not Buddhist, but yes, I have been to a temple in the past, visiting several around the world. But typically these visits meant going by a recommended tourist attraction, taking a picture, and maybe a quick tour. Lately though, I’ve slowed down a bit, seeking to not just brush by other cultures and religions, but instead, to invest the time to better understand, engage, and interact with them. I visited a Buddhist temple close to home and met “the laughing monk”, a Vietnamese gentleman who has been in the area for many years. You can imagine why he is called the laughing monk, and he lived up to his name as he told stories with a lift in his voice and a smile in his heart, taking the time to get to know me while offering casual advice on a variety of topics in a friendly, giving manner. He invited me to attend a service, which I ultimately did with my two nieces and was enthralled with the experience. I take time the now and again to visit, as the temple is always open and welcome. It is a calming experience, learning to center one self, focus on what we have control over and what we need to learn to let go. And maybe one day I will get my daughter to come with me. . .

February. . .learned how to fire a gun. This falls into the category of tattoos - my wife has wanted to learn to fire a gun, I’ve had little interest. I believe in the second amendment but also strongly believe in stricter gun control and licensing. However, the reality is, the thought of firing a gun was not really something that has appealed to me and candidly, I will admit a bit of trepidation (read fear) with the thought of handling one. Which is exactly why I decided to take a lesson, because it is far too easy to judge something when you have no experience with it. The class was taught by a 19-year veteran of law enforcement, during which he admitted that he was troubled that people had such easy access to guns. The lesson that we were taking wasn’t a requirement, nor were other requirements that would ultimately make us safer, in his opinion. Surprising. Also surprising, I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, in fact so much so that we joined the local gun range and go a couple of times a month. I likely won’t purchase a gun, I don’t like the idea of having one in the house, but I feel better knowing how to use one, and I’m actually getting pretty good at it. Not that anyone should be worried about that.

March. . .tipped the bill. This wasn’t planned for a particular month, it wasn’t even part of the “plan”, and when you hear that it was at the Waffle House, you might not be impressed. But if you made it past nude sunbathing, you can surely stay with me here. I’m always fascinated by stories of those who leave large tips on bills, appreciating that being a server can be a very difficult job and I’ve always admired people who serve in these roles as well as those who have empathy for their situation. So my story...early one weekend morning, on my way to the office to play a bit of catch-up, I decided to indulge a craving and stop by the newly opened Waffle House nearby. You know, sometimes you just get a "hankering" for something like that - it’s rarely as good as you imagined it would be - and this time was no different. But I got it out of my system. I went to the register to pay and the server informed me that they were having problems with their credit card reader, could I pay in cash? The problem is, I rarely carry cash and wasn’t at that moment. I asked for her name and a copy of the receipt so I could come back and pay it later. She agreed, but the look in her eyes told me that she didn’t expect me to follow through with it, but trusted me because she had no choice. As I left, I thought about how much she was losing in tips that day, so I took a detour, went by an ATM, and went back, handing her $20, over twice the amount of the bill. She looked relieved when I walked in, as I imagine the loss of tips that morning wasn’t sitting well with her. She assumed that I wanted her to make change, but I told her “we are good” and left as she shouted "THANK YOU! THANK YOU!". As I drove off, I was reminded how much even a smallest gesture can turn around someone's day.

April. . .fly, actually pilot an airplane. A single engine Piper Cherokee, to be clear. On a day with wind gusts up to 20mph. And put this out there, I have a fear of flying that has made me a customer of Zanex for almost two decades. Whoever has scheduled my travel over my last several jobs has learned the rules. . .no prop planes, as few connections as possible, and seats as far towards the front of the plane as I can get. Now this fear rarely shows itself. . .unless you are sitting next to me and we hit turbulence, then you need to shut the f*ck up and leave me be!! But I recently passed a million miles with American Airlines, and have traveled in planes and helicopters of all size around the world, so this fear has never stopped me. But the idea of

piloting a single engine plane? Yeah, no. Until I decided to go for it. It helped thatmy instructor was a Naval aviator. And when I say “fly”, take offs and landings were handled by the real pilot, I merely took over instead of auto-pilot once we were in the air. But going through the pre-flight check list, gaining a better understanding and appreciation of the plane and what made it react in various ways, and experiencing the clear, steady view of the Virginia coastline at 4500 feet was an amazing experience. Yes, there were bumps along the way, some pretty big ones, but well worth every single second. Am I ready to get my pilot’s license? Probably not, but you never know.

May. . .went without TV. Karen and I had originally talked about this earlier in the year, but quickly decided that without the ability to spend as much time outdoors, we likely wouldn’t complete the challenge. Not that either of us watch much television, in fact we’ve considered cutting the cord. But there are a couple of binge-worthy series now and then, and there are times when you simply want to plop on the couch and take your mind off of the day. But a month straight? Cold turkey? Yeah, I’m not sure I thought that was possible. The first week wasn’t bad. The second week I traveled to San Diego and will admit, four nights in a hotel without the television on was a challenge. But the real test was during the “elevation game”, Fulham FC versus Aston Villa to see who would be elevated to the English Premier League (soccer, for those of you who aren’t following along). This is a pretty big deal as Fulham was demoted several years ago - the equivalent of a Major League baseball team being demoted to AAA and eventually doing well enough that they get a one game chance to rejoin the major leagues! I quickly thought about traveling to London, but a change of command and lack of miles shelved that idea. Then I decided that the loophole would be watching the game in a bar, since that wasn’t really the same as watching TV, right? Go with me on this one. . .it was the game of a lifetime and I went the rest of the month with nothing on! Hey, I'm impressed.

June. . .starting sending hand written notes. The goal was to write fifty hand written notes since I am turning, you guessed it, fifty years old. And since I wasn’t watching TV in May, it was easier to find the time to accomplish this. But somewhere along the way, I lost count of how many I was sending and instead focused more on WHY I was. Hand written notes seem to be a lost art for many of us. My mom would send me a hand written note with a crisp one dollar bill to mark different accomplishments in my life. I worked with a head of marketing several years ago, a very creative and very personable individual who sent me two hand written notes - one the day I was promoted and one the week my mom passed away. Somehow they seem more special than an email, a social post, or a (gulp) tweet. In some cases, the notes I sent were a quick “Happy Birthday” or “Congrats” to someone on my team. Other times, I sent a longer note to someone who has had an impact on my along my journey. I am quite certain that I exceeded the goal, and I’m even more satisfied that it has become a bit more of a habit that I will build on going forward, rather than a check list item never to be repeated again.

July. . .bought a kayak. I was going to go with “turned 50” for the month of July because, well, I’ve never done that before. But without thinking about a check list or bucket list, I decided to buy my first kayak. We enjoyed it in Jamaica, and we have the benefit of plenty of places to go here in Virginia. Plus it is a great way to get upper body exercise, or simply float along and clear your mind after a long day at the office. I've been out several times already, by myself and with Karen, who also decided to take the plunge. However, there is a part two to this story, a rather ironic one. A couple weeks ago, needing a place to keep the kayaks, I spent the weekend cleaning out the garage and installing wall hooks. Well, after a couple days of kayaking and a couple more of manual labor, I wound up in pain. The kind of pain that an aging body sometimes finds itself in, and that old men often sit over coffee and complain about, "oh my back, oh my neck, oh my legs!". So my kayak has remained temporarily in the garage and my running shoes waiting for me by my bed as I go from early morning yoga sessions to lunchtime chiropractic appointments to an evening appetizer of Advil. A subtle reminder that I am, in fact, getting older. But with the last year serving as proof that I don't have to slow down, perhaps I just need to take a bit extra time to stretch and prepare. Again, no regrets.

So, now that I have completed this 50th trip around the sun and look forward to starting the next decade of my life, how do I feel? Many years ago, I prepared for a major business strategy presentation in front of the CEO and several key executives. Leading a cross functional team building a plan to revitalize a multi-million dollar brand, I had three months to put this project together. I poured everything I had into the final presentation and at the end, the CEO simply nodded his head in agreement and said "ok, let me know how it works out" and walked to his next meeting. I stood there for a minute, somewhat let down. I don't know what I had expected. . .trumpets blaring? Applause? Someone coming and presenting me with a big (size, not dollar amount) check or some other form of recognition for the effort and accomplishment? After thinking about it for some time, I realized that success often isn't marked by grand gestures, but rather simple nods and the opportunity to keep moving forward. That is how I feel today. After spending time thinking about turning fifty and challenging myself in many different ways to step up, move forward, and grow over the last year, there are no trumpets, no fanfare, no "big" check. Today is merely a nod and an opportunity to keep moving forward.

And I'm good with that.

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