Starting Over After 50

“Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul.” –(General MacArthur)

I never thought about aging.  I was running marathons, 9 to be exact, and qualified for Boston if you know what that means, and when I stopped running I was at 3.28-hour marathon. I was almost managing myself as a semi-professional.

One day  I came in from running and I looked in the mirror and saw this old person looking back at me. Holy crap! THAT’S not me!  No way. I know I was hot and tired and very sweaty but wow that was someone OLD. But it was me. Why was I shocked when I looked in the mirror that particular day?  Because of our culture: beauty lies in youth, smooth face, no wrinkles, no dark spots, and certainly no gray and nothing sagging.  Our culture and the beauty industry have taught us that. Ingrained this idea in us.

Jane Fonda refers to the aging process as a bell curve:  young, midlife, and then decrepitude. (Check out her TED talk about life’s third act.) Our culture hasn’t caught up with what it means for those of us changing the aging paradigm of “You’re too old to do this”, or “You can’t dress like that”, or whatever the culture tells us is “not age appropriate.”

Andy Rooney once said: “The idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”  

Here is an interesting fact:

AARP’s CEO says in her book Disrupt Aging:  

We’ve added more years to average life expectancy in the last century than in all previous history combined.  

In fact, nearly 30 more years have been added to the average life expectancy, which according to my account is another life added to the one we already have.  Jane Fonda refers to this as life’s third act. What does that mean to you?  What does that mean for me?

Chip Conley in his book Wisdom at Work, said that everyone who turns 50 should get a letter that asks:

If you live to be 100 years old, what talent, skill or interest would you pursue?

Well, I have an answer.

Though I’ve always been entrepreneurial, I am now an Entrepreneur. A business owner.

This is not a stretch to be over 55 and a new business owner.  Nationally, the share of new entrepreneurs between the ages of 55 and 64 increased more than for any other age range over the past two decades—from less than 15 percent in 1996 to more than 25 percent in 2016, according to the Kaufman Foundation.

Teaching entrepreneurship for 15 years, I’ve helped nascent entrepreneurs achieve their dream of business ownership.  I was having the time of my life, nothing more rewarding than to watch someone change from student to entrepreneur. When I accepted a position as an administrator in another university, my responsibilities, my time and energy switched from solving students’ problems to solving university problems.  And I missed that interaction with students and new business owners.

TS Eliot says about the passing of time, and of one’s life:

“This is the way the world ends, not in a bang but a whimper.”

I didn’t want to end my career this way. I finally said to myself:  No way!!

I would be remiss for not adding something about the R-word:  retirement. Did you know there are 75 million boomers ages 51-69 in the US?  If there are 10k boomers who retire every day, that is still a huge number of boomers who are not retiring.  In fact, 65% of baby boomers plan to work past age 65. And many of them are looking for something else to do.

I was not interested or even considering retiring, so I resigned to pivot, to go another direction.

When it came time for me to achieve my goals I had to change my perspective.

Jane Fonda says:

“Wisdom is not in experience but how we interpret our experiences that makes us wise, whole. It Brings wisdom and authenticity.  It helps us realize what we could have been.”

I began to reinterpret my experiences. I always taught students that entrepreneurship starts with the entrepreneur, of course.  And unless you know yourself very well, don’t start. I turned to several resources to guide me in my own introspection.  I became a learner. I turned to my business books and background, particularly the business model canvas, where I used it for my personal development in developing my mission and vision.

My readings in other books and articles helped give me a new perspective. Like the author of the article Beginner Again says you don’t have to change yourself; change the way you look at yourself.

If you’ve ever started over before, as a result of a move, a new job, or new life changes, you feel excited, concerned, some sadness, and a lot of stress.   When we moved from Texas to California nearly 4 years ago, we downsized. Now, Texans do NOT know how to downsize, but we tried. We had to give up a lot of our belongings, that quite frankly, were just sitting around, unused and unappreciated anyway.  But it was sad, like giving up on memories, but at the same time refreshing.

I gave myself the patience and the permission to move out of my comfort zone, And I realized how refreshing that felt. My frustration is to be expected, my fears my stress are to be expected. I accept them for what they are and accepted myself for having them.  I became kinder to myself.

Mark Twain said:

“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach 18.”

When I think about it, if I had the wisdom and experience of life in what we call “older age”, but with an 18-year-old body, energy, and enthusiasm, I would be so much more productive and accomplish faster those goals.  I am working hard to achieve now in the last third of my life.

Some lessons I’ve learned over time:

My first one comes from Chip Conley, who says as he decided to see his maturing self in a positive way as an elder and not someone older, he had to strategically forget part of his historical professional identity, that was no longer of use or value to others.  Dump some baggage. For me, this process began when we decided to move from Texas to California.  Not just getting rid of extra furniture and belongings that sit around collecting dust and are quite useless, really.  It is looking at past experiences and interpreting what is useful and what isn’t.

Another lesson is on attitude. The research found that older people with a positive perception of aging lived seven and a half years longer than those with a negative perception.  Do you realize that is a bigger increase in lifespan than what is associated with exercising or not smoking.

Take away, if you enjoy the prospect of growing older, you live longer!

General MacArthur once said:  “Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

How do you interpret your experiences?  I used to wake up in the morning with negative thoughts.  I found a new friend in myself by stopping the negativity. When I was running marathons, though I didn’t aspire to be in the Olympics, I just enjoyed running.  Running taught me the importance of endurance, of working toward a goal, and what it feels like to achieve that goal.

The way we feel really comes down to the pictures we have in our head and the words that we say. It’s as simple as that.  Be open to your own definition of aging, of your aging. I learned mindfulness:  Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.  It is not just mediation, although it is an important component. There are benefits to mediating or no one would do it. When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.  

One last thing.

Send a note to yourself. You are not too old, and it is not too late to start over!  Don’t be afraid to start over. It’s a chance to rebuild your life the way you wanted all along.

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