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Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number (Sometimes)

Forget about your age: Just do it!

Students often approach me seeking educational and career advice. Representative questions might include: Is it too late for me to change majors? Am I too old to pursue an MBA? What is the latest age at which I might explore the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D.? Or take this hypothetical but illustrative classic scenario, which comes in slightly different versions depending on an individual’s unfulfilled dream (e.g., to be a physician, artist, journalist) and the imposed constraints (family pressures, financial strain, religious expectations): I’ve always wanted to be a physician but instead followed in my parents’ footsteps in minding the family restaurant. I am now in my thirties. Is it too late to change course and follow my latent passion for medicine? I usually retort with the following awe-inspiring story that took place at my university. The late Dagobert Broh was born in 1904 in Berlin, Germany. With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, Broh who is Jewish, was forced to leave Germany. Despite his long-lasting desire to pursue a university education, he was unable to do so until a time when most people begin to think of retirement. He began to take university classes in the 1960s and eventually graduated with a Bachelor’s, obtained his Master’s degree in 1985, and finally his PhD when he was 91 years old! Imagine how a 30 year-old student feels about his/her “old age” to pursue say an MBA once Dr. Broh’s story is revealed.

Examples of “older” individuals completing great feats of persistence and drive need not be restricted to the cerebral realm. Athletic accomplishments abound as well. A few days ago, Diana Nyad a sixty-four year old long-distance athlete managed to swim from Havana (Cuba) to Key West (Florida) in 53 hours and without the use of a shark cage or swim fins. This was apparently her fifth attempt, the first of which dates back to 1978. Hence, that which she could not achieve in her twenties, she managed to complete in her sixties!

Bottom line: My objective with these two brief but profoundly inspirational stories is not to romanticize aging by somehow suggesting that it all gets better with age. It doesn’t. However, I do believe that most of us place undue mental shackles on ourselves by wrongly assuming that we are “too old” to undertake new and exciting challenges. If you are of sound mind and body, many exciting and challenging adventures are within your reach irrespective of your age. Let us hope that these are not the hopeful but deluded ramblings of a middle-aged man (me, really?) wishing to feel young!