I often say that most of us have the potential to do 95 percent of our best work in the last 5 percent of our lives. As we age, we become well poised to offer a range of perspectives and skills, which can only come with time and experience. This is true throughout our lives starting from when we are babies learning how to walk and speak. Our middle and later years can be a time in which many of us have raised families, had some success in our work (and perhaps reached the silver ceiling…), and may wish to pursue old (or new) dreams if we have the ability, opportunity, time and financial security.
A perfect example of someone who has learned from experience and is using her personal history and decades-long patience to find opportunity, satisfaction, and meaning is 91-year-old Barbara Beskind. Beskind was the focus of a recent Today Money piece by Scott Stump (February 25, 2015, Today.com), the title of which tidily sums up her story: ‘Age is not a barrier’: Tech designer, 91, lands her dream job in Silicon Valley.
Beskind’s inventiveness began “out of necessity” during the Great Depression in the 1920’s. As she tells it, “I wanted to make a hobby horse, and I made it out of old tires. I learned a lot about gravity because I fell off so many times.” Despite having decided by 10 years old that she wanted to be an inventor, a high school counselor told her that females weren’t accepted at engineering school. She, therefore, pursued other avenues and hobbies until two years ago, at 89, she had an opportunity to follow her original dream. Beskind applied and was hired for a one-day-a-week job testing and designing aging-related products at the Silicon Valley global design firm, IDEO, where she still works today.
While praising the welcoming inter-generational culture and atmosphere at the company, in the Today story Beskind also shared her perspective about hiring someone from her generation for that position. Suggesting that many younger designers “…can’t put themselves in the shoes of the elderly” and, therefore, often design for fashion rather than functionality, she shared her feeling that “… elderly people bring experience that you can’t teach.”
The idea of pursuing one’s passion and meaning in an “encore career,” a career after retirement, is becoming increasingly popular as we live longer and have more opportunities. Whether following through on an old dream or creating a new one, if situations permit, many of us find our satisfaction in such pursuits.
My own experience involved shifting careers in midlife (in what I have since termed my second “midlife reclamation”) from a successful corporate career to that of an educational GeroFuturist with my own consulting, coaching and publishing business. Was it easy? Not at all! Transition rarely is. Experiencing somewhat of a crisis of the Soul, I agonized while reviewing who I was and wanted to be, what was most important to me and how I could find meaning, significance and fulfillment while also giving back and making a difference for others. These are often common hallmarks for anyone pursuing their heartfelt passion and/or looking to have an encore career, whether by choice or even by necessity.
Career changes, whether they follow retirement or not, may involve some unexpected shifts, detours or delays. For those of us who are ready, Radical Reinvention is in order. Sometimes, when we consciously choose to pursue a process of breaking away from what was to what can be, we will traverse what I have long called The Canyon of the Soul. In this trek you will transform based on the best of you, as well as reclaiming the core of what really matters to you. As I mentioned in my February 11, 2014 blog, False Alarm: Reinvention is Boomer Friendly (www.karensands.com/false-alarm-reinvention-is-boomer-friendly), “Now is the last chance we get to embrace the gift of turning crisis into opportunities.”
Yes, you often have to toss out old definitions of yourself and of success, as well as aspects of your life that do not really matter, that are merely clutter. You have to remove the tangential plot lines, the side stories that distract from the main plot, and sometimes you have to even cut characters who are dragging the story down. Radical Reinvention is a purification process, getting down to your essence, to your Signature Greatness DNA, and to your core values. At the same time, you don’t have to toss the gold with the dross, so it is key to know yourself and have a clear vision.
Eight decades after dreaming of becoming an inventor, Barbara Beskind chose to make her vision a reality. Her story exemplifies that dreams can be achieved at any age. I imagine (and hope) that as we live longer, stories like this will become commonplace.
Do you have an old dream you are pursuing? What advice do you have for others wanting to do the same?
Feel free to share in the comments below.
(Image Credit: Walking Paris by Adrian Simpson, flickr.com/photos/adrian_s/30760429/)