There's a fabulous anecdote from the bestselling author, Julia Cameron, in The Artist's Way,
Julia recounts the questions her writing students often ask her when they begin the creative process and start to feel that creeping sense of self-doubt.
One of her favourites is this:
“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?"
To which she would always reply:
"Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don't.”
It's a poignant answer that has always stayed with me, especially when I feel the inevitable pull of procrastination and I start putting things off for "another day" or “someday soon”.
The idea that it's too late to start a new creative endeavour or career or hobby is the ultimate excuse for creative inertia.
We often think: who the hell am I to start this crazy, wild ride or new career in my 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s?
But when I start to feel that way, I look to wonderful women like Iris Apfel, the 90 year old fashion icon and New York starlet with impeccable style and individuality.
Or Wang Deshun, the catwalk model in his early 80s, affectionately termed 'China's hottest Grandpa".
Because when did we start thinking of life being only for the young?
I sure as hell don't believe that life stops when we reach a certain age. Or that it's somehow less valuable, exciting or useful simply due to the passage of time and ageing.
When I was at law school, we used to drink cheap plonk at a place called Charlie Chan’s in Chinatown, Sydney. An old university friend told me recently that his dreams had softened a little since the days we thought we’d found the answers at the bottom of a glass in Charlie Chan's.
Back then, our dreams were big and bold and grand, we agreed. Life felt like an infinite thing, the future stretching out before us in all its glory. An exciting journey yet to be mapped out. Filled with visions of success, marriage, fame, family, money, awards and accolades, travel, creative fulfilment and more.
And whilst it's true that reality kicks in as we grow older and offers up a few hard knock lessons about life, it also offers us the brilliant opportunity to understand who we really are and what we want.
When we realise our time is more limited than before, we can break free of the crippling insecurities of our 20s and discover what we love, what we’re good at, what it is that makes us really tick.
So the older I get, the more I realise one thing: it’s never too late to be extraordinary. And it’s never too late to see the extraordinary in ordinary things.
A gorgeous Italian chef on Masterchef one night relayed his most important lesson in life as follows:
“If you can dream it, you can do it.”
A man who very nearly became a lawyer (but didn't), Massimo Bottura chased after his dreams bit by bit. Just as he as he meticulously created his tasty lasagnas with the crusty bits on top (his favourite part), Massimo carefully set about crafting his dream life. This flamboyant, 'poet's chef' talked so passionately about simple, good food and how he loved to cook and how he pursued that passion relentlessly.
There's no age limit on this kind of pursuit or ambition. If you're hamstrung by fear and think it is too late to start something new, remember this: time is not the enemy but it's not waiting for you either. Your biggest obstacle is almost always you.
Don’t just give up because you think it is impossible. Take one small step every day to further your dreams.
Love painting? Take a casual class a week for one term and see what happens.
Too busy with work and kids to indulge in any of your wildest fantasies or daring hobbies? Take one, affordable short online course that you can work on at a time that suits you.
Starting something doesn't have to be big and dramatic and expensive. One of the first steps I took to start writing was purchase an e-book from Valerie Khoo's Australian Writer’s Centre (formerly the Sydney Writer’s Centre). It cost me $97 and it was called “Reinvent Yourself”.
This one little manual propelled me on the creative and entrepreneurial path I am on now.
Now I might not be J K Rowling (and I am learning and improving every day!) but on my 31st birthday, I decided to take one simple step towards the achievement of my goals and dreams and I am so grateful that I did.
Can’t afford to quite your job? Don’t. Just find hobbies you love and go from there. Ask to work part-time or a 9 day fortnight and spend that extra time working on your passions and side hustle.
Find a more creative role in your current industry - if you're an artistic lawyer, you might jump into a business development or marketing role in a law firm or you may try your hand at legal journalism. If you're a fabulous wordsmith with a science degree, try writing for a science publication, host a meet up group for people with the same interests or think about a role in teaching the next generation to be scientists.
I’ve moved around from law to copywriting to advertising, from government to private practice. Searching for that little sweet spot where everything makes sense. Using my skill sets in a valuable, satisfying and intellectually stimulating way. And I have to say, I've been all the more enriched because of my refusal to focus on just one passion.
The point is: life is a bit messy and meandering and we don’t all know exactly what it is we want to do from day dot. Life and professional careers rarely take a predictable, linear path.
No matter what you want to do - whether it's a career or hobby in the arts or science or sport or business, it is never too late! Business, in particular, as Marie Forleo has pointed out, requires maturity and stamina - and age gives us both of those qualities in spades.
Think about all the 'late bloomer' success stories around us - Louise Hay started her self-help book empire aged 58. Grandma Moses started painting in her late 70s. Ida Keeling set the world record at the Penn Relays for the best 100 metre race time aged 99. And she didn't start running until she was 67! These inspiring women all prove that you can kill it at any age - you just need the will and determination to get stuck in and go for it.
And don’t ever let anyone tell you that trying many things is a bad thing.
If you're a multipassionate entrepreneur, people will keep telling you to just pick one thing. And if you only love one thing, then go for it, just do it.
But if, like me, you feel drawn to many creative and business pursuits - embrace it, love it, find a way to make it work. You can do the things you love and you don’t have to give it all up. One day, you may even find that your diverse interests and passions converge to form your sweet spot and help set you apart from everyone else in the marketplace.
As Iris Apfel once said: "You have to try it. You've only got one trip. You've got to remember that."
So how old will I be when I start, you ask? The same age you'll be if you don't.
It's never too late to be extraordinary. Start now.