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My big celesbian sighting (that is a celebrity lesbian-sighting), was in a hotel lobby in upstate New York, and Alison Bechdel was in her sweatpants version of pajamas. It didn’t stop  me from walking right up to her and introducing myself. I then furiously texted back and forth with all my friends, giggling like high schoolers. I was with my family in the hotel, and tried to get them jazzed. I got my 10 year old niece on board by telling her it was like running into JK Rowling in the lobby. She got it.

If you are 50-ish and lesbian, you have known Alison Bechdel for a long-time. For 25 years, beginning is 1983, Bechdel chronicled lesbian life through a self-syndicated comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For More recently however, she began a new phase of her career, which has brought her a whole new level of success.

In the past 10 years, she wrote two autobiographical graphic novels that began a significant upward trend in her professional success. Since her two publications she has had one of her books made into a play that made it to Broadway and was nominated for 12 Tony Awards including “Best Musical” which it won.  In 2014 she was the recipient of the very prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Award, which provides an opportunity for recipients to stop making a living for at least a year so they can work on their craft.  A combination of these things have taken her from a comfortable, reasonably successful career that allowed her to be self-supporting and respected my many, to becoming hugely successful, with increase in reputation, professional flexibility and financial rewards.

Okay, back to me. After introducing myself to Alison in her PJ’s I was able one month later to accompany her at a conference I attended where she was receiving an award. It was fun, she was great, and we had a lovely conversation when I took her out to lunch. As a successful psychotherapist with 20 years in a private practice, a frequent lecturer and educator, I felt like a peer of sorts. While I shared none of her fame, we both had careers that paid our bills, allowed us to work for ourselves, with the flexibility and job satisfaction that awards. That was just a couple months before she made her huge break-through.

Watching her soar over a 6 month period, knowing we were similar in age, and had just recently been similar in professional level of success (even though hers included real talent and quite a bit of notoriety in many circles) awoke something in me.

Perhaps because of relatively early professional success in life, I think I assumed I had “made it” and my job now was to just keep doing the same thing. I have had a satisfying career to date, that has allowed for growth and flexibility, for me to parent with a good schedule, to explore different professional interests, and build a comfortable career. I have never made that much money, but I figured it was enough. Enough money, enough success, enough growth and flexibility.

But then Alisons’s career blew up. And suddenly I realized I was only 50.

There have definitely been generations of workers for whom the age 50 meant they had reached the height of their careers, or at least made all their big moves already, and now the work was to let all of their work unfold. But current generations of workers, many of whom will be working well into our 70’s, and most of whom will not have pensions on which to rely, 50 needn’t be the height.

There were other factors as well, but Bechdel’s success led me to think seriously, for the first time, what I was going to do for the next, more successful, phase of my career. Pairing those thoughts with the experience, education and skills acquired over decades in my chosen field allowed me to mobilize with a confidence fitting my age. Within a year I founded a group psychotherapy practice with 15 clinicians in Philadelphia. I am now able to have a greater impact on the clinical community in my city, free up some of my own time for writing, and have finally been able to begin to build great financial security for me and my son’s futures.

So all this to say; 50 is the new 40! In a world where we live significantly longer, I figure that at age 50, I have only lived 30 of my adult years, and I am likely to have another good 30. A better 30 years even, given that I was fairly confused in my 20’s, and start my 50’s with education, experience and an adult’s confidence. So join me and Alison; take your new big step!



Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists’ personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.

Author Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.

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