A friend and I were watching the Wimbledon finals on TV, clapping and cheering through every match. After the tournament, she leaned in to me and said, “Oh, how I wish I could play tennis. It’s such a great sport.”
“So, find a teacher and take lessons,” I said.
“Oh, I can’t.” Off my questioning look, she said simply, “I’m too old.”
“You’re 70, what’s the big deal?”
“That’s just it. I’m 70. I can’t.” She then took her now-depressed self off to the kitchen for some ice-cream therapy. I wasn’t about to let her leave it at that.
“You’re 70, not dead.”
“But my knees hurt sometimes, and I can’t move as fast as I used to. What’s the point? I’ll probably just end up hurting myself.”
“But what if you didn’t? What if you just had fun? You’ll never know unless you try.”
We stop ourselves from attempting things we would love to do, or be or experience, because we believe the misconception that our age forbids it. But there’s very little that our age truly keeps us from doing.
Maybe you won’t be able to reach a professional level – or anywhere near professional level – but who cares? If you want to do it, if it puts a song in your heart, what difference does it make that your knees creak and your wrinkles have wrinkles of their own?
Where would Nell Painter be today, at 76, if she’d told herself, “I can’t” when her dream of being an artist took hold at 64? She certainly wouldn’t be displaying her paintings in galleries – and successfully selling them.
Nell didn’t let her age stop her, even when she enrolled in the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and found herself side by side with students in their late teens.
Plus, she was learning painting from scratch, mind you, because Nell’s career had been as a History Professor at Princeton University, the furthest thing from an artistic endeavor.
So, how do you get there? How do you transform that pesky “I can’t” into a fruitful “I can” attitude?
For one, appreciate what you have. Be grateful for whatever physicality you possess, be grateful for whatever mental capacity you have, be grateful for the abundant resources that you can put to work for you.
Research shows that managers who appreciate their employees and express gratitude to them, experience a 50% increase in employee performance. You are the manager of yourself. Think about it.
If you express gratitude for, and appreciate whatever faculties you currently have, just like those workers, you’ll likely see a substantial increase in your performance.
Appreciate yourself and chances are good you’ll become more capable. Think of yourself as old and incapable, and guess what? Chances are good you’ll decline, becoming ever more incapable.
My friend found a seniors’ tennis club with a tennis coach who volunteered her time to teach these tennis hopefuls the basics of the game. The coach was mindful of the members’ different physical abilities and functionality and helped them figure out how to work around their various issues.
No, there are no budding Serena Williamses in the bunch, but the members love to play and have fun together, my friend included. She’s now a very vocal advocate of the “I can” attitude.
What activities have you avoided because you thought your age would hold you back? Have you braved any activity that others often consider ‘age inappropriate’? If you could do one thing, regardless of your age, what would it be? What’s stopping you? Please share your stories in the comments below.