In a Times article, titled “Believing Myths About Aging Makes Growing Older Worse” the author noted: “If you’re alive today, there’s a good chance you’ve come to believe in a series of myths about the second half of your life. Start with the whopper: the traditional view of aging—or what I call “the long slow rot theory.” This is the idea that all of our mental and physical skills decline over time and there’s nothing we can do to stop the slide. This myth originates with psychologist Sigmund Freud. In 1907, a few months before his fiftieth birthday—and terrified of growing older—Freud wrote in his book, On Psychotherapy: “About the age of fifty, the elasticity of the mental processes upon which treatment depends, is, as a rule lacking. Old people are no longer educable. Freud believed that anyone over fifty was so beyond their sell-by-date that even therapy was impossible. This is the origin of the long slow rot theory. It’s also why we believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. You want proof? For starters, Freud wrote a number of his most important books in his fifties and sixties.
Like many myths, Freud’s statement contains a sliver of truth and a slather of blather. While our mental and physical skills decline over time, it turns out that most (and possibly all) of them are use-it-or-lose-it skills. This means, if we never stop using these skills, we get to hang onto them— and even advance them—far later in life than anyone thought possible.”
I believe that you can age well and have the time of your life in your later years. I once shared my thoughts on this issue in a conversation with my niece Dee-Dee years ago. Dee-Dee now has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s. She is independent, has a profession many would envy, is financially independent, owns a beautiful home and is very supportive of other family members. I am quite proud of her many accomplishments. However, she is quick to tell anyone that I am partly responsible for the trajectory that her life took when we had a conversation many years ago.
According to Dee-Dee, when she was younger and had a stable job, she thought about going to college to earn her bachelor’s degree. At her age, Dee-Dee would have been classified as an older college student. When Dee-Dee mentioned to me that she was considering going to college, I told her to go for it. According to Dee-Dee I said something that resonated with her. When she asked if her age was a barrier to her going to college. Was she too old? I responded with the question “How old will you be if you don’t go?”
If you are fortunate enough to see new days, then with each new dawn, we are aging. There is no escaping that. The choices we make, while living each day, impact the quality of our later years and how well we age. You are never too old to reach higher and pursue opportunities. There are countless stories of people doing just that. Julia Child’s TV career began when she was 50. Colonel Harland Sanders built Kentucky Fried Chicken when he was 65. Cancer survivor Harriet Thompson ran her first marathon at age 76. Older Americans are going for their dreams and forging new paths.
People are looking at their lives, figuring out what they love doing, what brings them joy and going for it with no regard for their age. According to CNN, at 40, successful attorney Danielle Ponder quit her job as a public defender to launch a singing career. She just played Lollapalooza. Danielle went against the norm and followed her heart.
In past Earrings Off! episodes, we highlight guests Debbie Ward and Maureen Ross Gimmee who both went back to college as older students. Since completing their undergraduate degrees, like Dee-Dee, they both later earned master’s degrees. In the podcast episodes, Debbie and Maureen talked about how their careers improved drastically after that.
Of course, being an older student may require juggling your schedule, your family demands, and your finances more than the average student. There will no doubt be many situations or people that will be resistant to your taking time away from them to attend school. You will have to become quite adept at time management and setting boundaries.
However, you will find there are also advantages. No one is making you attend college. You will be there because you want to be there. You are also mature and can draw on real life experiences to excel and reach your goal. Whether it’s going back to school or some other goal, there is no time like the present to inspire you to go for it.
One of my favorite pastors, Dharius Daniels of Change Church, said in a recent sermon, “You don’t change your life by changing your life. You change your life by changing your mind.” Believe that your goals are possible. It’s not too late!