I still remember the day my mother said she wanted to become a hairdresser. I recall that I sighed with exasperation, as embarrassed as I am now to admit it. I was used to her talking about how much she’d wanted to become a hair stylist when she was younger, but I had always dismissed it as a dream that wasn’t meant to be, mainly because she’d let it go by when she’d been young enough to actually do it.
The reasons for her moving past the dream were varied: she’d become a mother of three at an early age, we moved a few times making it hard for her to root in the community, and she had a tendency to take on part-time jobs that fit her availability rather than what challenged her or met her skill set. I believe the roles included salesperson, cleaner, part-time model, electronics manager, and ceramics teacher. Each of these jobs gave her skills that she carried into different facets of her life, but she was never especially proud of them, citing them as a “means to an end”, rather than a calling. While I didn’t take much inspiration from her choices, I did find myself impressed by her work ethic. She treated every single position with the same level of respect and professionalism as the one before it, never really complaining about how demanding they could be, or how little the pay was. Then, one day, she decided that it was time to become something she’d wanted to be since her childhood, and she wasn’t going to put it off any longer.
My mother was in her mid-forties when she made this decision.
Always an artistic and imaginative person, she was never what one might refer to as career-driven, and had little interest in finding a position that paid a lot of money if it meant she couldn’t express herself in a creative way. Though I was surprised that she’d decided to pursue a new career at this point in her life, I let my (arrogant) judgment subside to see the broader landscape of the situation: my mother was going to follow her passion, and she didn’t care how old she was or who might take issue with it. If she wanted it, she had to make it happen, and no amount of criticism was going to dissuade her.
She went back to school very shortly after she’d made her decision, which the rest of the family completely supported, not that she would have changed her mind if we hadn’t. Though she was one of the oldest students at the school, it never occurred to her to care, and because of this she became very popular among her group of peers who were also unconcerned by her age. She studied hard, practiced constantly, and it became very clear to everyone that she was doing something she was meant to do. Her age just wasn’t an issue; in fact, it was an advantage to her. She had accumulated so much life experience and knowledge that she was able to integrate all of it, creating a powerful tool with which to build achievement upon achievement. To put it simply: she knew what she wanted, and she was finally ready to go get it.
Graduation came and went, and she was soon employed, sidestepping any fear or reservations she may have had in order to move forward. Eventually, she became confident enough to start her own business while in her early fifties, and developed a loyal clientele that she worked with for many years, developing friendships with many along the way, laughing and chatting happily as the scissors snipped and the comb glided through the hair. Anyone watching her as she worked would see someone who was absolutely fulfilled by what she did, that she thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was proud of her for making it happen.
I learned a few things from my mother and her refusal to give up on her dream. First, age is not a hindrance if you want to change careers. Sure, maybe you won’t get a job with Cirque de Soleil, or become a ballet dancer, but other than physically demanding jobs, the barriers to success are few if you remove the ones you yourself have put up around you. Second, following your passion is key. Most people have a good idea of what appeals to them very early on in terms of what drives them or interests them the most. Never think you have to stay in a job that makes you unhappy, because there is always another option available. All you have to do is identify it and formulate a strategy. Third, experience in one career can be transferable to a different one. You are not your former job position, but are instead the embodiment of all the skills you developed along the way. You take those abilities with you everywhere you go and can apply them to many different situations. Learning has no age limit, and is not exclusive to a chosen group. If you want to learn, you will.
While my mother was an inspiration to me, she was by no means the only person I have known to follow her passion. I have known a man in his sixties who fully recovered after suffering a massive heart attack, going on to mountain-climb in Nepal and fly solo across Canada. I have known another man, also in his sixties, who decided to fulfill his dream of living in the South of France part of the year, while working on his late-in-life career as a photographer and writer the other part. Are these people exceptional or somehow more deserving than you or me? Not at all, and they would tell you that personally. What distinguishes them is that they aren’t afraid to explore an idea, and they carefully consider what is possible and what isn’t before moving forward. The most important thing is that they keep moving forward, and reject the idea that limitations are the inevitability of age.
Did you know:
- Vera Wang did not become a designer until she was 40? Previous to this she was a figure skater and journalist.
- Samuel L. Jackson did not receive his first noticeable acting role until he was 43?
- Julia Child had her first cookbook published at the age of 50?
- Ray Kroc was a milkshake device salesman before buying McDonald’s when he was 52 and turned it into the world’s biggest fast food business?
- Grandma Moses started her art career at age 78? One of her paintings recently sold for 1.2 million dollars.
- Harry Bernstein achieved fame with his own personal memoir “The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers” at age 96?
I recently lost my mother. In one of our last conversations she told me that she had done most of the things she had wanted to do, despite her relatively young age, and she was grateful to be able to say that. As I look back on her accomplishments in life, I find comfort and happiness in knowing that not only did she do the things she wanted to do, but she did them on her terms. She never aspired to be an academic, but was eager to learn about the things she found interesting, always encouraging others to follow their own aspirations. She stayed true to herself and was undeterred by those who may have tried to tell her she was wasting her time, or tried to undermine her by telling her she was past the point in life where change was possible. She never accepted this, and for that I am grateful, because this is what made her an inspiration to me, and what compels me to keep looking for ways to fulfill my own goals.
Taking on new challenges is frightening, especially if you think you are no longer capable of doing it. The truth about it, though, is far less intimidating than the once widely-held belief that you need to slide into your older years with a sense of defeated acceptance, and it is this: dreams don’t fade with age, especially if you have the tools and determination to give them life.
What’s your dream?