I’ll be fifty later this year. When I say that aloud, it still shocks me. I don’t feel a day over thirty-five—until I look in the mirror.

Sometimes my heart aches a little when I take stock of my thinning hair, my saggy middle (no, not the one plaguing the first draft of my current manuscript), my wrinkles and age spots. Of course, there are other things I love about being this age, most significantly my experiential wisdom. There’s nothing quite as reliable as education acquired through the school of hard knocks. It yields hard-earned knowledge, which in turn inspires a sturdy kind of confidence. The kind that awakens a different kind of beauty: the beauty of empowerment.

Sure, by every objective measure, I was physically prettier at twenty-five than I am today. Yet, I wouldn’t trade a tighter body (or even my thicker hair) for the self-assurance, courage, and freedom I know at this age. I’m still a daughter and a sister and a friend, but I’m also a wife and a mother. I’ve learned to persevere, to let go when I must, to grab for what I want, and to handle rejection. I’ve learned that I am not defined by the way that I look, but rather by the limits my own fears and doubts impose. That understanding makes it easier to clear away doubt when it crops up (which, of course, it still does, although with less frequency).

And what I think I’m finally accepting, despite the reflection in the mirror, is that I am more beautiful as this woman than I ever was when my muscles were taut, my hair glossy, and my skin still wrinkle-free. I hope my daughter (and other young women) learn this secret much sooner than I have, because then they can waste less time blowing out their hair and more time dedicated to the things that bring them genuine fulfillment.

xo-Jamie