(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

I’d like to raise a toast to myself for doing another trip around the sun! This year, I turn 55. If you asked me thirty years ago if I’d reach this age, I would laugh out loud and answer “nay” considering how reckless I was in my youth. In my late teens, I was your quintessential rebel without a cause. When I look back on my troubled years, I am surprised and grateful to have come out of it alive and above all, learned and wiser thirty six years later. 

I’ve been so fortunate to have experienced what it’s like to wear many different hats, career-wise. In my early 20’s, I went back to school and sought a diploma in Hospitality and Restaurant Management course from Compu College in Vancouver. In my mid-20’s, I started my career in the hotel industry from the bottom: My first job was at the Spices Restaurant of The Peninsula Manila in 1993. I was a young Commis waitress eager to put into practice what I learned from college. At The Peninsula Manila, I was blessed to be a part of a luxury five-star hotel whose mission is to deliver the best personalized guest experience that is innovative, efficient, engaging and elegant combined with warm Filipino hospitality. The Peninsula Manila staff were all highly trained by the best in the hospitality industry. Outside work, I lived a fun life with my friends and colleagues at The Pen. We also did volunteer work for various charities outside work.

In my mid-20’s as a singleton living my life by working hard and playing hard. (Photo courtesy of the author)

After a year, I was promoted as a Restaurant Receptionist also at Spices Restaurant. In 1995, I was promoted again, but this time, as a Captain Waitress at the Peninsula Manila’s Nielsen’s Coffee Shop (now known as Escolta). My mid-to-late 20’s was about working hard and partying hard. My only responsibility was to myself! However, I was no longer a rebel. Instead, I’ve shifted from a fractious soul to a hardworking hotelier by my mid twenties. Still, I knew how to have fun — good, clean fun! At the Peninsula Manila, I felt I belonged and was accepted wholeheartedly for who I am. I’ve made long lasting friendships from the people I worked with at The Pen! 

In 1998 at the age of 30, my life changed for good — I was married briefly and from this short marriage, I became a mom. I was no longer partying hard. I focused on raising my son and worked towards another career promotion. In 2000, my marriage had ended. My personal life took a downturn but my professional life was thriving. In 2000, I was promoted to Corporate Receptionist under the Food and Beverage Department at the Corporate Office of The Peninsula Manila. Two years later in 2002, I was promoted again and became the Food and Beverage Division Secretary. I was working long hours and also had to juggle my responsibilities as a single mom to my only son. My thirteen years at The Peninsula Manila was where I thrived and grew as an independent young career woman who transitioned to a confident single working mom.

In my mid-30’s as a single working mother. (Photo courtesy of the author)

However by 2006, I wanted more for my son and for myself. I decided to take on a job as the Executive Assistant to the Owner of a chain of four-star hotels in Dubai. It was a brief taste of more changes to come in our lives as mother and son. I was only in Dubai for three months when I decided to execute my long-term plan for my son and myself. While waiting for my son’s Canadian citizenship documents, I worked for 8 months as the Executive Assistant for the Director of Food and Beverage of Sofitel Philippine Plaza. That was brief but also incredibly fulfilling career-wise. 

In July 2007, my son and I moved to Vancouver for good. In my 40’s in Vancouver, I was busy raising my son on my own and juggling professional career growth at the same time. When we moved to Vancouver, I decided to change industries. Instead of working in the hospitality industry, I decided to work for a biotech company in their legal department managing patents and contracts for the company. I stayed with the same company for four years and I was paid handsomely therefore I was able to provide a good life for my son. In 2012, I changed from the pharmaceutical industry to the financial industry: I assisted the President and owner of a leading financial media company that serves financial institutions, media publishers, public companies and brand advertisers. After a year, I moved on from the financial industry to the construction industry to assist the owner of one of the leading construction companies in Vancouver.

In my 40’s with my son. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In 2014, I changed industries again from construction to non-profit. I assisted the lady CEO of BC’s leading non-profit agency to steward the growth and development of amateur sport in the province. By 2015, I’m back in the hotel industry assisting the Managing Director of Rosewood Hotel Georgia. In 2016, I switched from the hotel industry to the venture capital and private equity industry assisting four different managing directors all at the same time! 

By having experienced what it’s like to wear many different hats from the age of 23 to 49 years old, I learned that varied job experiences gave me diverse skill sets. Moreover, by changing industries, I’ve broadened my work experiences. By changing industries, I’ve become more resilient and therefore making my transferable and technical skills the cornerstones of my career growth. The best part was having the wonderful opportunities to have assisted different successful leaders from varying industries. 

From these leaders, I was able to learn and take on their habits and applied these to myself. From my past employers, I learned to read a lot! I expanded my knowledge base and read books, articles, newsletters, and other resources within my field and outside my field. I read everything from various genres and topics like biographies, history, politics, entertainment, fiction, non-fiction, science, and industry research. 

Apart from reading, I also learned from these successful leaders the importance of maintaining a routine. I discipline myself to sticking to a daily routine, a habit that I still adhere to up to this day. I also learned to challenge myself by learning new skills each time I changed industries. I did not change jobs; I changed industries. There lies the huge difference. By doing so, I was able to learn to adapt to difficult situations and learned to understand complex concepts. From these successful leaders, I learned to maintain a healthy lifestyle. They taught me that developing a healthy lifestyle is vital to increasing productivity and heightening my overall senses. 

By supporting and assisting these successful leaders, I was able to learn to set and pursue smart and realistic goals. I was able to identify and separate long and short-term goals. From these successful CEOs that I assisted, I learned the importance of networking and how to be organized in life.

Celebrating my fifth decade in 2018. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In 2017 at the age of 49, I stopped working for others and instead, opened a small cafe/ Filipino restaurant in Downtown Vancouver with my family. I managed our family owned Filipino restaurant for two years. Whilst it was not successful financially, still, I’d like to think that it became successful in some ways because it was well received by the community and we did have long lineups during our Friday buffets. Also, we were able to successfully introduce the popular Chicken Adobo Ube Pandesal to the Vancouver culinary scene. I learned a lot from managing our family’s restaurant for two years and from the mistakes I made while running the restaurant. I discovered what it’s like to run a small business. I now understand that in order to be successful in the food industry business: it’s important to have a great location. You need to be visible to foot traffic. The restaurant industry is a hit and miss — most importantly, you need to have the business acumen of the likes of Chef Michel Jacob, Chef David Hawksworth and the legendary Umberto Menghi of Giardino which unfortunately I don’t have! 

I will forever be grateful to my Mom for believing in me and for giving me the opportunity to work alongside her in our family restaurant. My Mom is a kind, generous, classy and gracious lady. Despite some difficulties and professional differences, I will forever cherish in my heart the fun moments I had with my Mom during our Herbs and Spices Cafe days! In life, you should only take with you the happy memories and I can’t stress enough the importance of learning from your mistakes and being genuinely apologetic about these and most importantly, moving onwards away from the negative experiences.

At our Herbs and Spices Cafe restaurant before it closed in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the author)

As soon as we closed our family restaurant in 2019, I decided to work with my boyfriend, Ron Zalko at his successful fitness club — a business that he built on his own over the last 43 years! Ron is known as Vancouver’s Fitness Guru and he is quite famous and well known especially during the 80’s. Ron is a pioneer in the fitness industry and started the fitness revolution in Vancouver in the late 1970’s.  He was the first Canadian to complete the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships in Kona in 1981 and also raced again in 1982. Ron is also the founder, visionary, and architect of Ironman Canada, an annual event for 30 years in Penticton. Over the years, Ron has trained many celebrities at his club including Lady Gaga, Faye Dunaway, Diane Carol, Donny Osmond, Seal, Triple H, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Jessica Biel, Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Micheal Clark Duncan, Alannis Morissette, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, Bif Naked, and Eric McCormick to name just a few. 

In 2019 when I decided to work with Ron, he became my mentor and I learned so much about the fitness industry from him. Through Ron’s guidance and training, I learned the art of selling fitness membership. Because of Ron, I discovered (at the age of 51) that I have a strong passion for sales! Even during the pandemic, we did extremely well in terms of membership sales. On my own, I was able to generate a revenue of half a million dollars in 2020 — a great feat considering it was during Covid and the gym industry was badly hit by the pandemic restrictions imposed by the government!

Exchanging vows with “The Last One” at age 54 during our wedding on July 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Ron and I started dating in the fall of 2018 — we met on a blind date which was arranged by our mutual friend who later on became Ron’s best man in our wedding. Ron and I started living together in 2019. After three years of living together, Ron proposed to me on May 25, 2022 and we got married on July 25, 2022! I chose Ron as my lifetime partner because of the way he truly loves me and the way he treats me — like a Queen. As husband and wife, we’re not only committed to each other personally, we are also committed to each other professionally. We work together six days a week running the daily operations of our fitness club. 

It’s not all sunny days; it’s also full of challenges. With the highs, come the lows as well — that’s life for you.  We have lots of competitors and there are still many people out there who are hesitant to come back to working out at a gym because of the pandemic. But my husband and I don’t see these roadblocks as an undefeatable obstacle or adversity. On the contrary, we embrace these challenges and view them as stepping stones and be inspired to build an even more successful business. My husband is such a positive motivating force in my life. I’ve learned so much from him in a span of five years. Every day, I learn something new from him. We love and genuinely enjoy being together 24/7! He’s my husband, my lover, my mentor and my best friend rolled into one complete package. In Ron, I found my equal! 

Aside from having a colourful career, I’m also a mother to my only son, William. In fact, I’m a mother first and foremost. The best job I have ever had is that of a mother. It’s the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. It’s been tough and challenging as a single working mom, but for the most part, it is extremely rewarding. My son is the only real family I have. My son and I are extremely close and as we both grew older, the dynamic of our relationship has evolved through the years. We are each other’s confidants now. We have an open communication and now that he’s older, he’s more free to share things with me. I’m so proud of what he’s achieved on his own. He’s a sensible young man and above all, I’m proud of his kindness. He’s also resilient and a determined young man. Of course, he’s not perfect and he has his share of ups and downs but he bounces back from his mistakes and learns from them. He’s not a quitter. I always knew that he’s a better kid than I ever was. 

Thus, here is my life story’s arc so far: My  late teens were my wild, dangerous and bad rebellious years. My 20’s was about starting my career, chasing dreams and changing my life around for the better. My 30’s and 40’s were all about raising a son on my own and juggling career growth in different industries. Life in my 50’s is now all about contentment and walking the path towards redemption. It is about spending quality time with my son, my husband and a few trusted and well-chosen friends. It’s about choosing who I allow to be in my life. I have a few chosen friends who have become my family. I have a small group of girlfriends whom I call my Sisterhood Tribe — we are not sisters by blood, but sisters by heart. We talk about our careers, our love lives, our children, movies we’ve seen, books we’ve read, fashion trends, places we’ve travelled to, and restaurants we’ve been to. We don’t talk behind each other’s backs, instead, we got each other’s backs!

Just turned 55 last July 10 — no Botox, no fillers, no facelift, less makeup and no smoking. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In my 50’s, I’m living a contented life, I’m living my dreams and my best life. I’m at a stage in life where I am truly enjoying what I do for a living. I’m passionate about membership sales and encouraging people to live healthier lifestyles. I’m also passionate about writing for a newspaper on the side. I’m grateful that I am able to have a platform where I can share my voice. I’m happy with the relationships I have with my son, my husband and a few close friends. I live a quiet and peaceful lifestyle. I live a healthier and happier lifestyle. 

I’ve embraced ageing joyfully in my 50’s by practising the following ways when it comes to embracing ageing:

Cut ties with toxic people no matter what their relation is to you. (Photo courtesy of Quotement.com)

Avoiding toxic people and cutting off toxic relationships. In my 50’s, I’ve finally chosen to avoid people who don’t add anything to my life. I avoid people who I’m in conflict with. Life is too short to surround yourself with people who are stressful to be with. I’ve stopped communicating with people I fight with. I’ve learned to eliminate toxicity from my life even if it means cutting ties permanently. I’ve learned to apologize for my mistakes and I’ve also learned to forgive at the same time, but it’s also important for me to live my life drama-free. By doing this, I found real freedom and happiness. 

In my 50’s, I’ve learned to live my life stress-free by only  choosing the people I want to surround myself with: people who are devoid of insecurities and jealousy; people with whom I’m like minded and people who accept me for who I truly am without judgement.  I don’t want to surround myself with people who create drama and who are control freaks. People who badmouth you to others are highly insecure people. They talk bad about you because they’re so unhappy with themselves.

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Practising self-acceptance on a daily basis. I’m taking my power back as a mother, as a wife, and as a business woman by making daily choices in life that are authentic to me. For instance, it’s my choice to still colour my hair and avoid going grey — not because I’m afraid of ageing — but because I love the way I look with my preferred hair colour. I choose to age naturally without Botox, fillers and facelifts. Recently, I made a powerful choice of getting rid of my breast implants (which I’ve had since 18). I decided that at the age of 55, it’s about time I accept my natural breasts just the way they are! Much to my surprise, they’re naturally perky and I’m not flat chested after all and didn’t really need implants to begin with! 

I decided to get rid of my breast implants for two vital reasons: my doctor discovered through mammogram and MRI that my implants have ruptured and it is best for my health to get a breast explant as soon as I can. Secondly, at 55, I prefer to grow old as naturally as I can. At 55, I finally accepted my flaws and imperfections and I’ve learned to be truly comfortable in my natural skin. For me, this is the heart of ageing happily: by simply accepting that we are older and not clinging to our youth and our past. At this age, I have nothing to hide anymore. I’ve become more open, more transparent and more true to myself which is quite liberating!

Exercise, eat well and be well! (Photo courtesy of the author)

Living a healthier lifestyle. Ever since I met my husband, I’ve started living a much healthier lifestyle. I workout three times a week. We do a lot of walking. We eat healthier. We don’t eat rice and we avoid carbs as much as possible. We eat a lot of vegetables, fruits and drink lots of water. My husband does not drink alcohol but I, on the other hand, love to drink wine and bubbly occasionally.  However, I don’t smoke. I stopped smoking a year after we moved to Vancouver and when I cut off ties with people who smoke. The filthiest habit you could ever have is smoking cigarettes. It’s bad for your skin and hair (people who have smoked for years tend to have bad leathery skin). The foul stench of cigarettes sticks to your body, hair and clothing. And ladies beware: my male friends have confessed that they don’t like kissing women who smoke cigarettes because it’s similar to French kissing an ashtray! I know, I’m guilty of smoker-shaming but hey, to quote the great Oscar Wilde, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

I also get my blood work done every year. I have my urine and stool checked every year. I go and have my Pap smear done every year. I have my mammogram checked every year. I have my teeth cleaned and checked every 6 months. I have my eyes checked every other year. Nowadays, I avoid sweets — well, with the exception of indulging once in a while on Lee’s delicious and decadent donuts! At 55, I currently weigh 119 lbs. Living healthier also means being mentally and emotionally healthier. You can achieve these by (again) avoiding toxic relationships and doing healthy activities such as going for hikes, doing yoga, Pilates and meditating. 

I also avoid the sun like a plague — I’m addicted to moisturizers. For me, sunbathing is akin to putting yourself inside an oven and damaging your skin and health in the process. I get why some women do it — as an Asian woman, most of us have always held this belief that white men will choose us over other women if our skin is darker. What a stupid and archaic belief! Know that as a woman, your worth is much more than your skin and looks.

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Living a purposeful lifestyle. At 55, I finally discovered my purpose in life. I live a purposeful lifestyle by being a mother, a wife, a business woman, and being creative in my life. I’ve always been creative. I love oil painting, I love sketching, taking photographs, and nowadays I get creative through writing. I feel so blessed and grateful that I’m a mother, a wife, I’m actually enjoying what I do for a living, and on top of these, I get to indulge my passion for writing. The true definition of a purposeful life is: to live each day with meaning and intent rather than waiting for a purpose to reveal itself. For sure, life is full of distractions and these can take you away from your true self but when you choose to face these barriers head on and never give up on achieving your dream lifestyle, then you are living your life purposefully. When you choose to live in alignment with your core set of values — you are living purposefully.

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Be a joyspotter and a grateful human! Seek joy and happiness even in littlest ways. Find joy in buying yourself flowers. Find joy in your own company: learn to dine in a fine dining restaurant on your own. Find happiness in doing your daily errands. Be grateful that you’re alive and ageing! Growing old is a gift denied to many so be grateful that you reached this stage. Be grateful that you’re still working and earning a living even at your old age: it means you’re healthy and capable of still working! Or be happy that you’re retired and doing nothing. There is absolute joy in doing nothing! Be happy while you’re still alive. 

Just recently after my breast explant and capsulectomy surgery, I hugged my doctor when I woke up from surgery! I told my doctor: “Thank you so much for keeping me alive!” Right after my surgery, I was so grateful and blessed to wake up next to my loyal husband who stayed with me throughout my surgery. After my surgery, the first thing I did was to call my son and tell him I love him! My son was sure happy to know his mom is still around to bug him on a daily basis! I’m truly grateful that after my surgery, the result of my pathology and biopsy report was benign and there was no risk of breast cancer. 

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Never stop learning. The key to embracing ageing is to keep your mind active and engaged. Try to learn new skills. Learn a new language. Learn a new recipe. Learn about a new country. Learn the newest tech gadgets. Learn how to be in TikTok. Learn to engage in the new world the younger generation is creating. Don’t be afraid to learn something new each day. Learn to adapt and be relevant by remaining curious at all times. By learning constantly, you inadvertently become youthful and keep your  joie de vivre!

I do me! I’m not in competition with anyone and I stay in my own lane, I live my own life and I mind my own business. (Photo courtesy of the author)

You do you! Apart from self acceptance, for me, the true definition of conscious ageing is defining your own path — you do you! You don’t need anyone else’s approval and acceptance. You don’t feel the need to kowtow or succumb to what people think you should be or what your life should be. At this stage, you should be living your life already according to your own beliefs, rules, and desires. At this age, you and your lifestyle are not dictated by society. At this age, you have become your own pioneer! 

In my 50’s, I’ve realized that growing older is not about ageing gracefully, it’s about ageing joyfully and gratefully! In my 50’s, I’m living a fulfilling life! In my 50’s, I’m writing and creating my own life story: an empowered single mother who rescued herself and faced her own battles with eyes and heart wide open. In my 50’s, I  eventually chose my lifetime partner who is my equal (not a Prince Charming; my life is not a fairytale story!) and continues to live my life happily and meaningfully according to my own terms.

Matte Laurel-Zalko

A grateful creature with a passion for writing.

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