My burning question: Am I too old for this?


Keep Left founder and CEO Caroline Catterall has a small existential reckoning as she ponders her upcoming holiday to the infamous Burning Man.

Earlier this year, on a nondescript day in March, my husband sent me a text saying:

“Dave is organising a crew to go to Burning Man this year for his 50th. He is wondering if we’d be keen to come. What do you think?”

Being a ‘yes’ person, and knowing it was a bucket-list item for Andrew (husband) who is also turning 50 this year, I said: “Yeah, I’m up for it.”

Fast forward to today and we’re under a month and counting until we depart for Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to take part in Burning Man – the annual gathering of 35,000 people to create a pop-up city for one week dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance.

I’ve been told a lot of things about Burning Man, and it’s hard not to be a little bit nervous. It’s definitely got a reputation for being pretty loose on a few dimensions.

And while I’m a reasonably resilient person and haven’t lived a sheltered life, something a friend said made me question whether I am, in fact, too old for this. We were chatting about someone who’d attended ten years ago and loved it, but as my pal pointed out, “A lot has changed in the last ten years.” And she’s right!

Ten years ago, my life was very different.

While I still feel like I’m in my early 30s most days, the reality is I’ve now got 2 kids, a serious business, and am mid-renovation. And I’m technically middle-aged. I’m at the stage of life where I plan hikes and wellness retreats more than nights out.

As a self-confessed neat freak and control freak, how will I go living in a camp with strangers as well as the nudity, randomness, extreme weather (so much dust), and general lack of amenities on offer (no shower for seven days, apparently!)?

But on the other hand, I’m super curious to know what this event is about, and if it’s everything it’s talked up to be. While Burning Man has its wild side, there’s also a big spiritual undercurrent and the ability to choose your own adventure. I’ve heard they schedule a marathon as part of the week’s programming, for example.

We talk a lot about Embracing Unlikeminded as a core value at Keep Left, and Burning Man will certainly give me the opportunity to do that. Possibly this desert adventure is exactly what I need to stay fresh and inspired and ensure I don’t quietly slip into middle age unnoticed.

So, consider this my left-field personal development challenge for 2023. And a social experiment of sorts as to whether I can overcome the dust and discomfort to find joy in the self-expression and self-reliance challenge ahead of me and hopefully, find genuinely new perspectives.

While I might take a day or two to get into the groove, I’m determined to not let age be a barrier.

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