One of my delights in life is the A Way with Words podcast. In addition to intriguing language and grammar discussions, hosts Grant and Martha often impart resonating wisdom that stops me in my tracks. In an episode from 2014, they shared the story of author Harriet Doerr.
Harriet quit college to start a family but eventually returned to school at age 65. She published her first novel at age 73 and it won the National Book Award. (The segment in the podcast starts at 32:05 if you want to skip straight to the story in the recording.)
Harriet’s story is remarkable. The thing is, it shouldn’t be. Why are we surprised by what a person has left to offer and accomplish in their lives? No matter what age, no one should be dismissed as having giving their best years already or be discouraged from starting on a new path.
We’re so often taught to lament our age and fetishize youth. Sure, physically I’m quite a bit worse for wear these days. But even so, I don’t pine for my younger days. I originally wrote this post back in 2014, at age 42. Now I’m staring my 50th birthday in the face.
You know what? My feelings about this subject have only solidified more. I like who and where I am now so much more than my younger self, even that self from only eight years ago. And here’s why, as so eloquently put by co-host Grant Barrett.
…when we get older, we strip away what’s not important. We stop the little things that don’t matter and start concentrating on the life work, be it raising kids or writing a book or finally building that business. We just stop doing the little useless things that were distracting us from doing the big thing.
…late-life starts have just as much potential. We have a myth that genius comes from the young but I don’t think that’s true. There’s something about the accumulation of life experience, as well, which can color and provide nuance to writing that you just can’t get in the eyes and ears and pen of a twenty-year-old.Grant Barrett
Harriet Doerr’s story is important. It reminds us to change the narrative about age and to embrace the value of experience, wisdom, and living all of our days with gusto and intent right up to the finish line. Our best days are not necessarily our youth-filled ones. I know mine aren’t.
I often joke that I’ve earned every one of my gray hairs and wrinkles—I wear them proudly. And I may have more past than future left, but I can’t wait to see what it brings.
Ken Schmaltz says
“…when we get older, we strip away what’s not important. We stop the little things that don’t matter and start concentrating on the life work, be it raising kids or writing a book or finally building that business. We just stop doing the little useless things that were distracting us from doing the big thing.”
Great post at a great time. I’m one of those mid-lifers who’s transitioning from paying the bills to banking satisfaction. It’s a work in progress, and not everyone is happy about it for a variety of reasons. But I have a lot to offer the world of much more value than what I was doing.
I think you pin-pointed this whole concept with the notion of value. I think by mid-life we start to value ourselves and our time differently. And when we approach that from a healthy place, we set forth on a path of meaningful fulfillment… a mid-life awareness. (As opposed to an unhealthy mid-life crisis in which people buy absurd sports cars and have cosmetic surgery, trying to recapture youth that will never return instead of embracing the value of age and self-discovery.)