To celebrate his milestone birthday, Winnipeg-based photographer Ian McCausland opted for conversations instead of cake. In his compelling project, FiftyX50.com, he set out to interview and photograph 50 people in the year they turned 50. While all his subjects walked away with well-written profiles and stunning portraits, McCausland himself may have gathered the best gifts. 

Q: Why did you decide to embark on this project?

A: While I haven’t traditionally had problems with my birthdays, this particular milestone was really bugging me. I was searching for some sort of support in the face this milestone and thought who better to talk to than others who are at the same point in their journey. I was actually kind of hesitant thinking I would get a great response but it’s been overwhelming.

Q: Which interviews surprised you the most? And why?

A: One of the earliest interviews was with Sherry Punak-Murphy. She was so forthright and open about her struggles with mental health. Her sharing made me realize that this project could actually inform and inspire others.

A more recent profile of Indigenous singer Rhonda Head really surprised me. While I was most interested to learn of her journey from her small Indigenous community in Northern Manitoba to singing opera in concerts all over the world, I didn’t expect her to reveal that she survived two brain tumours. That just proves that everyone has an interesting story under the surface; you just have to ask a couple questions to start the conversation.

Clare Mackay. Photo by Ian Causland.

Q: If there is a common thread among all these interviews, what is it?

A: The most common trait among all my subjects is that they’re super busy! Scheduling time to profile each of them has been the most challenging part of the project. Fifty year-olds are typically at the busiest in their career arc. Plus they have kids to raise, aging parents to care for and they are often pursuing or discovering their passions. Everything seems to culminate around this milestone.

The other common thread is we all want to travel more. We’re at the point in our lives where we might have the time, money and energy to do the exploring we’ve deferred while fulfilling other obligations.

Sanjay Agarwal. Photo by Ian Causland.

Q: What’s the biggest misconception about turning 50?

A: That you’re winding things down; that retirement is close at hand and you’re done. Retirement is an old concept that’s now being challenged and reinvented into something more like a new phase of life. We’re living much longer than previous generations, so at 50, you’re potentially looking at 25 years of gainful employment. That’s a whole other lifetime to pursue passions and interests you want. We all saw our parents reach this milestone and think ‘Wow, that’s old!’ One of the standard questions I ask is ‘How old do you feel’ and we all feel like we’re 28 to 30 years old! So at 50, we’re just getting started!

Jenn Arndt. Photo by Ian Causland.

Q: What personal gifts has this project delivered for you? In other words, what have you learned along the way?

A: I’ve always believed that everyone’s story is worth telling and this project confirms it. I’ve had complete strangers sit down with me and in less than an hour, I’ve laughed, I’ve cried and had people share their perspective on their entire lives. I’ve learned to carve out some time for reflection after each profile. I’m incredibly grateful to all my subjects for graciously offering their stories to me and to share them with a wider audience.

Through all the stories, I have learned that as much as we make plans and strive toward a goal, life has a way of shaping your journey in unexpected ways. A car crash, a giving mentor, an economic downturn, a new love—so many things can send you on a path you can’t ever see.

All my subjects consistently offered the same advice to the next generation: don’t worry, relax, everything will work out.