When it came in the mail I was surprised and, I’ll admit, a little irritated. AARP membership papers—for ME?! I wasn’t even 50 yet! But when I really thought about it, I realized my indignation stemmed from fear. There are still many things I want to do in my life and I was suddenly feeling like I was too old to get started, or running out of time.
Why do we sell ourselves short like that? Why do we correlate age with ability and potential? None of us know how long we’ll be on this earth, how many years we’ll have, or what opportunities might present themselves to us in life. The truth is, it’s never too late to start a new career, pursue a new passion, or discover a new talent; and there are lots of people who can inspire us to act today—no matter our age—to achieve a better tomorrow.
After a successful acting career, Ronald Reagan was 55 years old when he first ran for political office in California, and nearly 70 when he became the 40th President of the United States. During one campaign stop when people were making a big deal out of his age, he addressed it with humor saying, “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” He was nearly 78 when he left office after two terms.
Colonel Harland Sanders was 65 and retired, barely making ends meet relying on his $105-per-month Social Security check, so he got in his car and traveled the country looking for someone who would invest in his fried chicken recipe. Legend has it, he was turned down more than 800 times before he finally found success. In 1964 he sold his interest in Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 74 for $2 million, while negotiating a hefty salary for himself to serve as a spokesman and ambassador for the company.
Sometimes we find our passion and talents by accident. Renowned American folk artist Grandma Moses was a widow who began painting at age 78, because her arthritis prevented her from doing the embroidery she loved so much. Before she died at age 101 (in 1961) she saw a painting she’d originally sold for $3 resell for $10,000.
Exercise guru Jack LaLanne may be the most impressive when it comes to physical accomplishment. To celebrate his 70th birthday he pulled a flotilla of 70 rowboats—each with a person inside—one mile across an ocean channel while handcuffed and shackled. Jack lived to the age of 96, and had many quirky and inspirational sayings like, “Better to wear out than rust out” and, “Work at living today and you don’t have to die tomorrow.” But my favorite is this, “Do something today for the most important person on the planet. And that person is you.”
What are you doing for yourself today that will help you improve your tomorrows? Don’t sell yourself short as you get older. New careers, new businesses, new passions and incredible accomplishments are all possible for us despite—and sometimes because of—our age! Share your experiences with me in a comment below.
For 20 years, Chrys Peterson was the face of WTOL news, anchoring the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. She is now a correspondent for ProMedica HealthConnect and spokeswoman for Friends for Life, a monthly newsletter for women that offers health and wellness advice with a focus on cancer prevention.