Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.
― Winston Churchill
In my own life, I’m frequently reminded that age is, indeed, nothing but a number — it is our mentality that directs our life path. As I type this, my mom is on her own in Spain, walking the Camino de Santiago! This is an intense pilgrimage that requires one to walk for many hours daily. Not only is she in her sixties, but she’s never before done anything similar to this type of physical challenge. I’m really proud of her, because I know she’s pushing herself out of her comfort zone. Another friend of mine, also in her sixties, recently obtained her certification for teaching laughter yoga. This amazing woman has way more fun than most teenagers I know, all because of her life-loving, open-hearted mindset.
Reconnecting with work, passion, nature, and especially adventure is always possible: aging is no longer about working towards retirement; it’s about reinventing ourselves and re-framing our relationship with our world, as we shift with its ongoing changes.
It’s no news that, in terms of career paths, everything has changed – and continues to shift by the moment. Some statistics show that most people now hold between 15-20 different jobs in their lifetime. Other findings on the subject state that a total of 7 jobs is more accurate a number. While it can be difficult to determine an accurate number for this, due to myriad variables, the point is that being flexible is the name of the name — getting comfy in a long-term career is less likely to be the path of choice these days. Tim Ferriss welcomed in this new era with his book, The Four Hour Work Week. The book sights the value in choosing to take mini-retirements throughout our lives, instead of working straight through our younger years, only to reap the reward of a long-overdue holiday of complacency at the very end during old age.
Expansion, connection, and expression rule in the later years. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright created his seminal structure, Fallingwater, when he was in his sixties. One of my favorite authors, Charles Bukowski, explains the idea of continuing to strive for our passion, regardless of age, beautifully in his classic, melancholic style in a letter he wrote to his publisher:
“So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.”
Like many authors, Bukowski reached mainstream success later in his life, after years of moving through his own personal journey, and working jobs he disliked while toiling away at his passion for writing.
Sometimes writing and talking about this topic can be a little light on actual solutions to help us move forward with embracing our potential at any age. It’s all well and good to have a positive attitude, but how can we actually follow through? Over the years, I’ve found a few things to be particularly helpful to keep in mind when moving forward with an equal opportunity attitude toward age.
As the co-founder and CEO of Soma, Mike del Ponte knows a thing or two about what it takes to embrace opportunity at any age. With this, he understands that having role models is often an essential part of the process:
“You should have mentors. If you don’t, then go find someone incredible. Surround yourself with people who inspire you and keep you accountable. That will have a huge impact on your life.”
I know from first-hand experience what a difference having a mentor can make in our life. I stumbled upon my own mentor about 5 years ago, and have never looked back since. An amazing woman whose outlook on life completely resonates with me, she shows me that we can live our best lives now, no matter where we are, or what we’re doing. Any self-doubt and fear that we experience are just unnecessary chit-chat in our heads that can be moved through with a few key tools. Michelle has a job that she loves, a family she lives for, and a killer wardrobe to boot. She works extremely hard for her awesome life, and doesn’t settle for anything less than her dreams. Seeing her live this way has really helped me to believe that I can have, and be, anything I want, as long I keep working hard and staying true to myself.
There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.
― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
It is easy to use our society’s prejudice against aging as an excuse to not follow through on our ambitions, when what’s really holding us back is fear. Something I haven’t yet completely overcome, but am working on, is my fear of public speaking. When I taught English in Thailand several years ago, it was partly because I wanted to see myself stand up in front of a group and lead. I did, and it was actually easier than I expected. I was still a bit nervous at the start of each class, but it showed me how achievable it was. In future, I’d like to give talks to schools, speaking to women about self-confidence and reaching their goals in life. Because of this ambition, I’m quite aware of the often irrational fear-factor that plays into getting up on stage in front of our peers. I’m not alone in this fear; many adults feel this way, too!
One man, Michael, points out something that really helps me to re-frame my thinking:
“Having overcome a speech impediment, I can/do relate to this fear of public speaking. Ironically, though, my profession often puts me in front of groups of people, and I LOVE it…more than I fear the public speaking…because I have a message to tell my groups.”
The lesson in here is that when we put our minds toward a cause that is bigger than ourselves, it gives us the power to overcome our fears. As long as what we’re trying to do feels important enough to us, we’ll find a way to make it happen. If I’m really set on inspiring other women, then any fear I have about making a fool of myself or messing up will seem insignificant in comparison.
In relation to aging, this is a life-long process: if you have a dream but feel hesitant about persuing it because of your age, ask yourself what your ultimate intention is. What is your message? Chances are, when you focus on the end point, rather than the subjective personal, you’ll feel much more free to move forward without pressure.
Broadening our Perspective
I remember speaking with a film director when I was traveling in India last year. A fellow Canadian, he told me straight up: “If you want to be in the film industry, and you haven’t made an important piece of work by the time you’re 30, there’s no hope for you. Find something else.” I’d just finished sharing with him my ambitions of going into video and film. After a moment of feeling completely crushed, I quickly realized how narrow-minded his outlook was. I have the agency to choose when and how I make my goals happen. But this ageist perspective is prevalent throughout Western society – it’s up to us to swim upstream toward more positive waters.
I’ve gained courage in this area partly from what I’ve experienced traveling. From my volunteer work with various NGO’s in Asia and Africa, I’ve met so many inspirational people embarking on new ambitions at all ages. Often, if people have grown up in villages, they’ve lacked proper education during their childhood and teenage years. From this, they find themselves beginning high school-level learning in their 20s or 30s. Yet, instead of thinking, “I’m so behind,” these people see any new-found educational opportunity as a blessing, no matter what their age. When we have less in general, we also have less room for ego — and that can be a wonderful thing.
If the creators of Soma managed to make an eco-friendly, aesthetically beautiful water filter while in their late 20s, there’s no telling where they’ll go next! But Mike would likely also be the first one to say that anything is possible at any age. Feel your mission, and move forth. We need look no further than one of the most heart-filled books on living a life of possibility, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Although the hero of this book is a young boy, he could just as easily be an old man or woman, for the lesson is universal: “When you really want something to happen, the whole world conspires to help you achieve it.”
I don’t believe in aging. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.
― Virginia Woolf