You’ll Be The Same Age Either Way
Have you ever had thoughts like these?
- “I don’t have time to experiment and figure out what I like.”
- “It’s too late.”
- “I’ll be old enough to retire by the time I figure it out.”
You are not alone. These are the most common “reasons” I hear for why people don't take the time to find work they love.
Unfortunately, they're also in my own armory of internal objections. My brain goes ‘shields up’ anytime I want to upset the status quo.
Recently, I sat down at my piano. We’ve had a rough relationship for as long as I can remember. Maybe like you, I took lessons as a child because I had to. It wasn’t to foster my natural curiosity or desire, but because people in my life wished they’d been given piano lessons. I hated the drudgery of my 30-minute-a-day prison. I couldn’t do anything fun until I had practiced, so I learned half-assed, in fits and starts, just good enough to get by (sort of).
I was told that I wasn’t disciplined. That, if I was a ‘real’ musician, I'd be more diligent. Looking back, I had the discipline. I’d sat down to see the gold Yamaha lettering each day for years. It’s just that I didn’t like it.
So after college, I quit playing. I didn’t think it was fun, it wasn’t fulfilling, and I wasn’t very good at it, so I stopped beating myself up. I decided I'd only play again if it sounded fun. That was 20 years ago.
About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to buy a beautiful old piano that had been in Talkeetna for ages, complete with the signature of every owner on the soundboard. I thought maybe I could mend our relationship and make it fun. But ownership didn't fix anything. It sat mostly silent for the next decade. I had it tuned, I dusted it, and played at it a few times a year, but mostly acted like it wasn’t living with me, taking up space in my small home. I don't really know why I didn’t sell it. Except that every time I thought about it my heart would break, like I was losing the last shreds of my old life.
Until a few weeks ago.
One rainy Thursday night, I felt an urge to sit down and practice—actually practice. I was startled. This wasn’t my usual attempt at repairing our relationship where I'd slide onto the bench seat, play by ear a little, get swallowed up by the cruel voices that oozed out of the keys, and eventually shut the cover in despair.
This time was different.
First, I simply wanted to play; I wasn’t trying to fix anything. I went out and dug around in the loft of my shed for an easy Satie piece I loved, cleaned the grit off the keys, picked out four measures, set the metronome on the slowest setting and gently, kindly, playfully taught my brain the notes. (Kind and compassionate to my inner artist? Who is this person?!?). When I finished my practice session, I thought, “Hmm, it would be fun to be able to really play one day. I wonder if I could reteach myself how to play well and love it."
Not five seconds later, snipers shot a thousand poison arrows straight into my heart where I’m most vulnerable.
- “You’re too old! It takes 10 years to learn to play well!”
- “If you haven’t learned by now, you probably can’t.”
- “What will you do with it anyway?”
- “Why waste your energy?”
- “That’s a lot of time you should spend on things that actually benefit the world.”
The battle felt like it would go one forever, until the faint whisper of a Julia Cameron quote came to mind.
“I’ll be the same age I’d be if I don’t try.”
It’s a mindset I’ve practiced for decades, because, even as a 20 year old, I was told I was too old to start new things.
I turned toward the voices and said, “I'm 48 today. And in 10 years I'll be 58. What fun it would be to be able to play well in the last half of my life! What a great way to keep my mind fresh. What a healthy way to bring myself joy and solace. What a great gift to give myself when I’m 58.”
The voices dropped their gaze, shuffled around like a teenager caught in a lie with no viable out, and faded back into the night air. Ghosted in the best possible way. But I know their absence is temporary. My internal army of resistance is as strong and relentless as the White Walkers beyond the wall of Winterfell. But they also don't surprise me anymore. Over the years, I've prepared ready defenses for their sneaky “you're too old to even try” attacks.
Maybe you face the same cruel, "it's too late for you" voices about your career.
Finding work you love is not an overnight or easy process. It takes time and a practice of treating yourself kindly as you persist through your resistance, but it is possible. And it's true. Whether you start now, you start in five years, or you do nothing, time will tick by with the same detachment of my childhood metronome. Learning to quiet those critical or harsh voices and finding a way to do the work now, is an act of love and care for future you.
I, for one, hope you cut your losses and make a decision to start figuring out what you love to do today, because you will be the same age whether you do or you don’t.
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano/act/paint/write a decent play?... Yes[,] the same age you will be if you don’t.”
~ Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way