I strolled towards the entrance knowing what was inside, but confident that because of the early hour the room would be empty. One foot in the door and my confidence immediately shattered to a million pieces. People perched on stools, all along the bar, drinking, chatting, smoking, and watching the sports channel. Anxiety crept through my veins with every step. I wanted to turn around and make a dash for my car. I couldn’t. I had volunteered to pick up all the wristbands for Mardi Gras night in the Cape.

I stood there praying the bartender would see me waiting and rush right over. I realized this was the first time I had ever walked into a bar alone–in my life. My anxiety grew to ridiculous levels. I wanted to laugh out loud at myself, holding my breath so I wouldn’t breathe the second-hand smoke, not making eye contact with anyone for fear of having to have a conversation about the weather or what I do for a living. My discomfort must have shown all over my face because the bartender called me “sweetie” not once, but three times.

Later, when I recounted the story to my friends they did what good friends do and laughed at my awkwardness. I think it was all part of their plan to get this writer to leave her keyboard behind and have a little fun. Well, I have fun. It’s a different kind of fun that usually involves dressing in sweats and curling up at home in front of a book, TV, or computer. Occasionally, I get really wild and go to dinner and a movie. Sometimes I even stay out past midnight.

I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve always been very responsible and a tad dull. My friends are on a mission to change that, thus Mardi Gras night.

I made it through a conversation with a complete stranger, managing not to counsel him on the damage cigarettes could do to his lungs, took my wristbands, zipped up my new winter coat and bolted. Outside a tourist stood by the pool in his swimming trunks reminding me why the bar was packed. I live in paradise.

I thought about how my life has changed–how much I’ve changed over the years.

Just as writing a novel can feel like stepping out of one world and into another, I feel as though I’ve shed the layers of a life I’ve known for 21 years, and now I’m searching for what’s next. My children are independent. They still need me but in a different way–a way that doesn’t demand all my time, leaving me space to find myself.

What’s next? It’s time to dream again as I did when I was a teen. What do I want to accomplish in the next 21 years? Perhaps, learn how to line dance, run marathons, write more novels, travel, make a difference in the community, learn how to speak Spanish, and learn how to care for horses. I’ve always wanted a horse. They’re all activities that will keep me from sitting on the couch thinking dangerous thoughts that begin with, “Some day….”

It’s the list that creates my new adventure. The one that reminds me to go outside my comfort zone, try something new, move past fear, and embrace life, even if it means trading in my sweats and having conversations about the weather.

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