Reinvent Yourself At Any Age
Things Didn’t Turn Out As Expected?
We may see ourselves aging as a narrowing of choices and opportunities. We look back at our lives at things that didn’t turn out as we wanted. Lost opportunities we let pass by and if we’re open enough to admit it, a few bad decisions. Fortunately, we live in a time of increased life expectancy and unbounded opportunities. Don’t think of your life as deteriorating, think of your life as evolving. Whatever baggage you have brought you to where you are now, and you are free to move in whatever direction you desire.
When most people look at successful people, they usually point out the wunderkinds. Those rarefied few who started at a young age and made huge fortunes of money, like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steven Jobs. Technology aside, in the arts, we have artists and musicians that have made millions in their youth like the Beatles, and actors like Daniel Radcliffe.
For others success comes later in life, 30s, 40s 50s and 60s.
I don’t know where you are on your life’s journey, but it is comforting to know then you can still put a dent in the universe at a ripe old age.
I am not going to say that the brain doesn’t age, it does. The elderly brain has a slower “quick reflex” reaction time, but is better in decision making.
Reaction time is important in driving and video games. Reaction time can be improved in the elderly, see article on RLT.
One reason the brain slows down is demyelination, which means the electrical insulation, the myelin sheath, of the neuron thins out. The impairs the conduction of signals inside the brain. This in turn causes a deficiency in cognition, but also affects movement and sensation.
This may explain why it is more difficult to become proficient in learning new physical movements, like dance or playing a musical instrument as one gets older.
Not being able to become proficient as quickly as in our youth, doesn’t mean you can’t become proficient. It just takes a little longer.
The ability to learn new things and take on new tasks is not reserved for the young but is a lifelong ability.
The elderly brain is also capable of generating new brain cells and neurons. Maura Boldrini from Columbia University in New York study examine the brains of recently deceased people from 14 to 79 years old for neurogenesis. In the elderly brain new cells were being formed along with the formation of new blood vessels. This challenges previously held beliefs that the adult brain cannot form new brain cells.
The Biggest Obstacle
The biggest obstacle to pursuing your passion is not demyelination or brain plasticity, it is yourself. New challenges, both mental and physical, revitalizes your mind and body. Making progress toward your goal will improve your mindset to keep going. Your mindset has a significant effect on your mind-body health, far more than has ever been realized. See my article, Mindset: Exploiting The Mind-Body Connection To Become Younger
Increasing Brain Plasticity and Myelination
Learning new tasks, acquiring new skill sets and pursuing new goals will increase your brain plasticity through myelination growth (study). For those looking for supplements I ran across one study using 168 patients 70 years old or older, supplementing with B6 and B12 reduced brain atrophy by 40%. The study authors suggested these B vitamins in conjunction with DHA supplements (study) as a prophylactic treatment to prevent cognitive decline.
With age can come better decisions. Older adults have a wealth of experience to draw from as when considering a situation. Here’s where pattern matching comes into play. Imagine you could have one of two doctors examining an MRI scan of a possible tumor. Would you want a younger 32 year old doctor reading your scan or an older 70 year old doctor? If you choose the 70 year old doctor you would have a better chance of having your MRI read correctly. The older doctor has seen far more cases, and therefore has the better pattern matching experience to interpret the scan.
In addition, older adults are emotionally less reactive to situations.
Two factors that allows for divergent thinking for a solution.
Better Late Than Never
There are many people in the third and forth quarter of their life who not only pursued their passion, but became famously successful. Let’s look at some famous people who started rather late in life and still made it to the top.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses, nickname Grandma Moses, was an American folk artist. While she drew as a child, she didn’t begin painting seriously until she turned 78. She was able to pursue her passion only after she retired from her farming duties. Her paintings originally sold for $3 to $5 in local drug stores. She continued to paint until she died at the age of 101. In 2006 one of her paintings “Sugaring Off” sold for 1.2 million dollars.
Frank McCourt did not become a published author until he was 66 years old. In 1996 Angela’s Ashes won McCourt a Pulitzer Prize and became a best seller. He continued to write until his death in 2007.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
At 65 years old, Laura Ingalls Wilder began writing a series of her “Little House” books that would become famous and used as the basis of a TV series.
After a lifetime of manual labor jobs and failures Harland Davis Saunders began at the age of 62 to sell and market his style of fried chicken. By the time he turned 73, in 1964, there were over 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. He sold the US franchises for $2 million (16.5 million today), and kept the Canadian operations for himself.
What’s Your Passion?
Is it to climb Mt. Everest? Learn to play “Yesterday” on the guitar? Run a marathon? The passions that can fill your life with joy may still be pursued in your later years. In doing so, you will open yourself up to even newer experience and can ignite the passion to continue that has no age boundaries.