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In 2001, after a breakup, I decided to do something totally spontaneous: I e-mailed Brian, a platonic pen pal I'd met through a friend, and asked if he'd be interested in going backpacking around the world with me. Never mind that we'd never met face-to-face! But he was the only person I knew who loved travel and adventure just as much as I did. He said yes, so I quit my job, withdrew as much as I could from my retirement account and bought a plane ticket. We wound up spending four months traveling in Tanzania, India, Thailand, and the Philippines. It changed my whole perspective -- for the first time, I truly understood poverty. Now I try to be as generous as I can, knowing that the smallest thing can make a difference. The best thing about the trip? A couple of weeks after returning to the United States, Brian and I began dating, and soon after, we got engaged. We just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.
Marjorie Asturias, 42, Dallas, TexasI took in four kids, not knowing if I'd be allowed to adopt them.
After struggling with infertility and exhausting our IVF options, my husband and I decided to adopt. We took in two foster siblings -- a toddler and an infant. We were told the path to adoption was clear, but almost a year later their biological parents suddenly took them back. My husband and I were heartbroken; 16 months passed without our hearing anything. But then we got a call: The kids were back in the system -- and their biological parents had had another child and were pregnant with a fourth! We agreed to take all four kids, even though we had no idea if we could keep them. By July 2010 we had a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 17-month-old, and a newborn. Maybe it was brave to risk having our hearts ripped apart again, but if the caseworker had called and said they had seven babies, a giraffe, and a goat, we would have said yes. They're our kids. And now they will be forever.
Becca Sutton, 40, Omaha, NebraskaI bared everything at a nudist campground.
I got divorced at 50 and decided to reinvent my life. Two years later I went to a naturist campground and took everything off. I walked into a crowd without anything covering my pudgy belly, tiny boobs, thunder thighs, varicose veins, and stretch marks from having four kids. It made me understand that I have to be brave enough to love myself. I didn't have a brand-name purse or clothes to tell people I was successful. I was just me and I loved that. Now I use that newfound confidence in my business and in my personal life. This is my second act, and it'll be better than the first.
Trisha Barnes, 58, Huntsdale, MissouriI left my high-paying job and became a personal stylist.
After talking to a friend about how we only live once, I decided to leave my high-paying job as an attorney and begin a career as a personal stylist. It's the life I always dreamed of, and I absolutely love it. Now I'm doing things I never would have expected, from picking out a wardrobe for a woman who just got selected for a reality show to donating a styling session to a woman battling ovarian cancer. It's beyond rewarding to help women look and feel amazing every day: There's a sense of fulfillment in it that I never felt as an attorney. But best of all, I have the opportunity to show my three children that it's okay to make the choice to be happy, no matter what.
Melissa Garcia, 36, New City, New YorkI went to trapeze school.
I'd always been afraid of heights, so for my 40th birthday my sister bought me a day at a trapeze school. I would have to face my fear head-on. When I got to the platform and looked down I was so scared I felt like throwing up. But I was determined, so I put on the harness, stepped to the edge, grabbed the bar, and leaned in -- then screamed at the top of my lungs! But soaring through the air turned out to be exhilarating, and by the end of the day I was hooked. It was the best gift I ever received because the experience has given me courage to say no to fear in other areas of my life.
Sarah Machacek, 42, Fairfax, VirginiaI quit my job, sold everything I owned, and moved into an RV to travel full-time.
Two summers ago my boyfriend and I left our well-paying jobs, gave up our home, and bought a 22-foot RV. Why? We decided we didn't want to wait until we were old and retired to really start living. We get by on about $15,000 a year, which I make through writing, and we've never been happier. So far we've driven 40,000 miles and visited 15 states. Making a decision like this has connected me more fully to who I am and what I love.
Vanessa Rodriguez, 31, San Diego, CaliforniaI joined a roller derby league.
Six years ago a friend took me to a roller derby bout and it was love at first sight. It's a hard-hitting contact sport, and to watch everyday women, not professional athletes, play was amazing. When my city started a league two years ago, I went to a practice and joined on the spot. There's a risk of serious injury and I'm one of the oldest players in the league, but it feels brave to bite the bullet. My derby bruises have even become a mark of pride because they mean I've held my own. As I've gotten older, I've seen my weight creeping up a little: I don't look like I did when I was 25. But roller derby has made me realize that my body can still do amazing things, which is a pretty wonderful feeling.
Amy Blackstone, 41, Bangor, MaineI decided to go sleeveless -- and show the world my psoriasis.
I've lived with psoriasis -- an autoimmune disease that causes red, blistered, and scaly skin -- my entire life. Even though I've always been a confident person, I used to keep myself covered up because I was afraid of rejection and looks of disgust. It's hard to stare at yourself in the mirror and know that you don't meet the standards of what society considers attractive and still feel good about yourself. But two years ago, during a trip to Las Vegas with my mother and two close friends, I decided not to let my insecurity rule my decisions. For the first time in my life I wore strappy dresses everywhere. That may seem like a small thing, but to someone living with such a visible health condition, it was a big deal. Did people stare at me? Probably. I finally realized that it didn't matter what strangers thought of me. What I've discovered is that everyone carries some sort of wound, some sort of insecurity, but you can't always see it. Now I regularly go sleeveless and I've never felt better, healthier, or more free.
Kristin Donahue, 32, Portland, OregonI married my husband just six weeks after we met.
The first night I met Pavel I learned he was in the United States on a student visa and was scheduled to go back to Russia in just six weeks. It was a whirlwind romance, and I knew that if he left, I would probably never see him again. So just before he was about to leave, I said, "Let's get married. I can't have you leave me. I love you." He told me he felt the same way. I took that leap of faith and I'm so glad I did. We got married at city hall on my lunch break, and three years later, we're going strong. We're best friends and soul mates.
Tasha Mayberry, 31, Bridgeport, Connecticut