Most people are living longer lives. And most are staying healthier well into old age. So, if you are close to retirement, or have just retired, if you were a stay-at-home mom and your kids are grown and out of the house, even if you’re restless in a job you’ve held for 30 years and feel the urge to move on, I propose that now is a time for new purpose, for a new flowering. Yes, you can move to Florida, travel more, visit friends and family, do many of the things you’ve longed to do once you had more time. But what if you also always wanted to paint—even had talent when young—but then life and responsibilities got in the way? What if you have always wanted to take a cross-country bicycle trip or teach in an extended education program? What if you have political aspirations or want to throw yourself into social activism? What if you want to master a new language or learn how to play piano? Well then, what are you waiting for? Possibilities for growth exist like never before. It’s a great time to challenge the assumption that life must slow down after a certain age, or that we have only one path to follow, and all the others stopped being options years ago. In a recent Ted Talk, Jane Fonda describes the last three decades of our life as “life’s third act,” a time of a deepening of self, and of “fruition and growth.”
The Internet as an Open University
One of the things that makes this so much more possible is unlimited access to that vast library of knowledge known as the Internet. The Internet has become such a part of our lives that it is hard to believe that it has only existed since the 1990s! But now, it permeates our world. And as far as re-inventing yourself goes, it’s one of your best tools! Recently, I needed to figure out how to record an audio narration with background music to post on my Facebook page. I typed in: “How do I make an audio recording with voice and background music,” and voilà! a slew of choices from YouTube tutorials to written instructions popped up. I chose the ones that most appealed to me and several days later, I had accomplished my task. Add to this the various paid tutorial sites and the extraordinary abundance of apps and software out there, and, and there is no excuse for not exploring something you’ve always wanted to pursue.
The Brain and Its Plasticity
But, you say, I’m getting older. My brain is slowing down. How can I learn a new language or acquire a challenging new skill at this age? Well, brain science is debunking the myth of an older brain necessarily losing capacities. Brains can, in fact, keep growing all through life by forming new connections between brain cells (neurons) in a process called “neuroplasticity.” Essentially, the brain never stops changing through learning. So, whenever you are learning something new, you are, in fact, growing new neuronal connections! How cool is that?
Hobby Vs New Career?
So, am I talking here only about taking on a new hobby? What if, instead, you want to start a brand new career? Well, there are plenty of folks out there who, after 25 or 30 years in a given profession, have launched into something entirely new. In conducting interviews with a number of modern Renaissance Women, I found many examples of this. And each time, these women conquered daunting learning curves and obtained new mastery. Now when I think about whom I would consider the ultimate queen of
re-invention, that would have to be Maya Angelou. From her early years as a dancer and singer, as well as an actress, she branched powerfully into a career as a writer while simultaneously being active in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King. Angelou also worked as a poet, journalist, composer and screenwriter. In her 50s she became a professor and in her late sixties, she directed a feature film! All while still writing, speaking and composing. In fact, Maya never stopped expressing her many gifts and talents, up until her death in 2014. Now if one person who, in fact, came from a very traumatic childhood, could accomplish all that, what’s stopping you?
The Why of Re-invention
Now of course, if you’re not feeling any inclination to re-invent yourself, that is also perfectly fine! There are plenty of wonderful retirement communities and travel opportunities, and of course the pleasure of spending time with grandchildren! But… if you are the inquiring and curious sort, the kind of person who wants to feel continually stimulated and excited and finds great joy in expanding your mind, then re-invention is for you. But the one thing you must reject right here and now is fear! The fear of being too old, the fear of failure, the fear of risking something you’ve never tried before. Because, really, what have you got to lose? You have your health, you have more time, possibilities stretch out in front of you. Grab one, and run with it!