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What Do You Mean, You’re Too Old?
Here’s a great question: who would you be if no one told you who you should be, or what you could or couldn’t do?
As a successful entrepreneur, I often hear from people who just can’t seem to succeed, no matter what they do. And invariably, it’s because they allow themselves to be blinkered by cultural and personal perceptions that have no place in a true entrepreneur’s worldview. Ultimately, what it all comes down to is excuses. As I outlined in my previous article, excuses are just stories people tell themselves so they don’t have to even try to succeed. Well, let me tell you something: you can make excuses, or you can make money…but you can’t make both. If there’s an overriding theme for this entire series of articles, that’s it.
The webs of excuses that people create to hold themselves back will vary from person to person in their strength and pervasiveness. Some people have created an elaborate framework of justification for their failures, so they don’t have to accept any blame at all…at least in their own minds. Conversely, others stymie themselves with just a few excuses, sometimes as few as one. These are the people I can help; the others are simply too hidebound to reach out with that knife of self-accountability and slice through the network of excuses holding them back.
Don’t Fear the Reaper
One of the most common excuses I hear for people not succeeding, and certainly one of the least viable, is age. People are always saying, I’m too old, I’m too old. Now, intellectually, I can see where these people are coming from; but I just don’t understand them. Who told you that you were too old, and why did you listen to them? This excuse is particularly ridiculous for anyone under the age of 50. Excuse me? Haven’t you been paying attention? The average American life expectancy is now about 80 years. So are you telling me that instead of growing and changing and enjoying life, you’re going to stagnate for the last three decades of your lifespan? Ten thousand years ago, three decades was about all anyone could expect! Heck, that’s still about all you can expect in some countries in this world, sadly.
Even a thousand years ago, you probably would have died by the age of fifty. But that’s hardly true now, so how can you just give up on the last 40% of your life? You might even get more than that-plenty of us live past 80 these days.
I hate to pop an ancient cliché here, but you really are only as old as you feel. Within certain very broad boundaries, if you can stand up and work (and often even if you can’t), there’s no such thing as too old or too young. Success in the marketplace-in the free enterprise market, where we are blessed to live-does not discriminate at all, in any particular way, whether by age, creed, gender, or skin color.
So let’s examine the age issue more closely. If you’re convinced you’re old, what are you going to do? How are you going to act? Well…you’re going to act old, aren’t you? You’re going to hobble around and complain about your joints; and instead of grabbing at the brass ring as it goes by, you’re just going to let it pass and lament about your age, which has made you helpless. Sadly, the truth is that you have made yourself helpless. Every time someone pulls out the “I’m too old and decrepit” excuse, I think about that weird old story by Franz Kafka that they make us all read in high school. Remember that one, The Metamorphosis? It seems that this young man named Gregor Samsa, who’s been slaving tireless for his helpless family-working his fingers to the bone to support his fragile sister and elderly father-wakes up as a giant cockroach one morning (for some reason never explained).
It’s not the giant cockroach that really caught in my mind…and I don’t think that was Kafka’s point anyway. Turning Gregor into a bug, and exposing him to the all the horror and sanction that came from that, was a plot device to reveal the oddities of human behavior, as expressed in his family’s reaction. Because Gregor could no longer provide for them (who’s going to work with a giant roach?) they were forced to throw off their self-imposed limitations and provide for themselves. I’ll never forget about how his father, who at the beginning of the story had convinced himself he was on his deathbed and had willed himself into a pale shadow of what he had been, was forced to change. Before long, he was working again-and was healthier in appearance and action than he had been in years. You see, he’d been telling himself the old age story for too long, and had taken it to heart. When it was no longer viable-when he could no longer ignore reality-he had to jettison it and step up to the plate. Ultimately, The Metamorphosis is about how Gregor’s family turned their lives around when their single source of support, young Gregor, was knocked out from under them. No longer could they selfishly-yes, selfishly-lie to themselves so that they didn’t have to step beyond their self-imposed boundaries.
You know, I thought that story was so stupid when I read it as a kid. Gregor wakes up and he’s a bug. Everybody hates him and mistreats him, he crawls under a couch, and he dies. The End. But it wasn’t the end…and the story stayed in my mind, which was what Kafka (and my English teacher) intended. Now I look back and realize that, intentionally or not, Kafka revealed a great truth about human nature in his story.
If Kafka seems a little too out there for you (and he is out there), then consider baseball. If you’re a player and you at least get up to the plate and swing the bat, that makes you successful-because you might get onto base, or at least knock a few RBIs. Maybe you’ll pound out the occasional home run…and some of the time, maybe most of the time, you’ll strike out. You can’t always succeed, but you know what? There you are swinging the bat, and that’s what matters. If you grumble, “To heck with it. I’m too old to step up to home plate,” then how many hits are you going to get? Zero. No other number is possible if you don’t get up to bat. It’s kind of like the old joke about the blonde in dire financial straits, who repeatedly and desperately prays to God to let her win the lottery. Finally, God appears to her and says in exasperation, “Jeez, lady, you gotta meet me halfway! At least buy a ticket!” Get the point?
When you’re claiming you’re just too old, you’re drawing a line in the sand and proclaiming that you’re just going to listen a story instead of strive for success. If you’re healthy and normal, this is stupid. No, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed even if you do try…but I can assure you that you will not if you don’t. And I’m not saying that an infirmity caused by age or a disability might not get in the way; it very well might, though it’s possible to work around many disabilities if you’re determined enough.
If you just have a little snow on the rooftop, so to speak, but are otherwise healthy and mentally sound, then falling back on the age excuse is a cop-out…and, like many of the excuses I see, it usually boils down to laziness or fear. It means you’ve determined to have a story instead of results. If you say, “I’m too old,” you’re basically saying, “I really don’t want to try.” Automatically assuming you can’t do something just because you’ve lived some specific number of years on this Earth is shortsighted. To pop another cliché, where there’s a will, there is a way. (Incidentally, regarding clichés: the reason they’re clichés is that there’s at least a grain of truth there.)
Even if there is a physical problem that gets in the way, why is it stopping you in your tracks? Let’s say you have arthritis in your hands. That’s not uncommon. Well, if your hands hurt, don’t just give up. Maybe it’s difficult for you to work at a computer keyboard. If so, ask someone to partner up with you. You might say, “I know a lot of cool stuff about making money, but right now the arthritis in my hands makes it hard for me to type. If you’ll help me, we can split the profits.” Then they can get on the computer for you, and you can motor along.
Back in the 16th century, poet John Donne penned this line: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main.” You’re not alone, my friend. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. I sometimes curse the very existence of the Lone Entrepreneur Myth, the idea that there’s this financial warrior who takes on the task alone and does it all singlehandedly. That happens, but it’s vanishingly rare. The most successful entrepreneurs are backed by great teams who help them succeed. That’s certainly my story; I’ve got a great team behind me, and their help makes me successful. I’m not doing it all alone, so why should you? Get some help!
Going back to my arthritis analogy: if you can’t find someone to help you type, then invest in voice recognition software. Some of it is surprisingly easy to use. And another thing: most popular computer operating systems offer various features to help disabled people type. I know for certain that Windows does. Look into the possibilities.
Don’t tell me you can’t type just because of your arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Both are real disabilities, and there’s no shame in either; the only shame is letting them stand in your way. If you really, truly want to succeed, you can if you try hard enough. There are people without arms who have written books using voice recognition software…or by tapping out the manuscript with a pencil held in their teeth. There are disabled artists who paint in a similar way. If they can do that, and you still have hands-albeit arthritic ones-then you can find a way to work a computer. Just get some brain cells active and figure it out, okay?
Saying “I’m too old” (or, beyond a certain age, “I’m too young”) is just storytelling. You’re building a belief that’s not going to advance you at the end of the day. Instead of giving up before you even start, try something. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve learned something…and that’s valuable, because it’ll help make you more successful in the future. The only true way to fail is not to try. If you can’t even try, if you sound like a broken record saying, “I’m too old, I’m too old,” you’re guaranteeing you’ll be a failure. Do you really want that? Does that make sense to you?
The litany of people who have succeeded relatively late in life is long. Comedian Rodney Dangerfield didn’t hit it big until after age 45. Grandma Moses, the famous painter, was already retired when she became famous. Clara Peller, the actress in the old Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” commercials, wasn’t a successful actress until her 70s. Ray Croc was a so-so salesman when, at age 52, he started taking the McDonald’s restaurant chain into the stratosphere. And there are so many more examples!
One of my favorites is Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame. He was 65 years old when he made the big time. Until then, he’d been running a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky, frying up chicken for travelers. He didn’t even start that business until he was 40. Then, in 1955, an interstate completely bypassed his town-a fate that was repeated over and over all across America. The interstate destroyed Corbin financially. His gas station went out of business, and Sanders was forced to sell out to pay off his debts. He was flat broke at age 65…but did he give up? Heck no! He decided to devote all his time to selling the excellent chicken recipe he’s perfected over the years! So he started approaching restaurant after restaurant…and no one wanted to listen to him.
Imagine: all this old guy has is a recipe for chicken, and he’s approaching retirement age. He has a dream of hitting it big with his secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. Here he is, this older gentleman with his little goatee, white suit, and string tie (or at least that’s how they portray him), going to over 100 different chicken stands, saying “Hey, you want to try my recipe?” And they all say no. Some are rude enough to say, “You should be retired. Go home, Colonel!”
He hears this 100 times; and the 101st person finally says, “You know what? I will give it a try.” They tried it, and people fell in the love with that chicken. They built an empire on the back of his recipe. That’s awesome-and it’s all thanks to the Colonel unceasingly pushing his way toward success. You know, there could be a better chicken recipe out there…but even if there is, it’s probably never going to be introduced to the general public. Most people wouldn’t even try to sell their recipe. Even if they think it’s great, they’re going to make excuses…”Oh, it’s not that good. Oh, I just don’t have the time. Oh, nobody else would want to bother with it.”
Most people would stop right there. Well, that’s ridiculous. If the recipe is any good and they believe in it, then they should say, “Hey, you know what? I’m going to try to do what the Colonel did. I’m going to try to sell it to someone, and build a fried chicken empire!” But even the few people who try to follow the Colonel’s route are probably never going to become a threat to KFC, because they might try a few things, and if someone says, “Eh, there’s nothing special about that recipe,” then they’re going to just give up. They take it to heart and convince themselves they’re an awful, rotten person, so it’s time to give up.
I think you’d agree that most people-including you, sadly-would give up after the first or second rejection. The 30th, the 40th, the 50th rejection, the 100th rejection… wouldn’t most people give up? Why wouldn’t they give up? Well, the Colonel didn’t…and every time I eat at KFC, I’m grateful! Good for the Colonel. I’m glad that old guy kept going. If he hadn’t, then I wouldn’t be there, eating that delicious chicken. KFC exists because of Colonel Harlan Sanders…who made it big when he was an old man. That’s important for you to recognize. And here’s the topper: the old guy never slowed down. In 1980, a year before he passed away at age 91 from leukemia, he traveled 250,000 miles visiting KFC stores all over the world. Wow!
So I want you to look for examples that prove you’re just plain wrong if you say you’re too old. I call these people “counterexamples”-those who found success late in life. These are people who are still vital and active, going for it and making it happen because they have a success mentality. Consider fitness wonder Jack Lalanne. He’s slowing down a little now, because he’s in his late 90s (!), but even in his 70s and 80s he was still super-active, lifting weights, swimming very long distances, and performing prodigious feats of strength. Jack Lalanne has been capable of all these things because he knows the truth, and I want you to know the same truth: Age is just a number.
If you define yourself as old, then what happens? You perceive yourself as old, and you perceive yourself as being somehow less than someone who’s younger than you. That’s a terrible way of limiting yourself. Even if you do have physical limitations, you can work around them. There’s no reason for that excuse. You just have to get committed to get successful. If you’re not willing to try that much, don’t whine about how you can’t succeed. If you’re too tired to try, just admit it to yourself. Just face the fact that you’re not dedicated enough to do the hard work necessary, stop complaining, and move on to something easier. How is griping that life is just too difficult because of your age going to help you any?
You have to understand that there’s never a set age when you’re too old to succeed. Sure, there’s a standard retirement age. It’s arbitrary, and it was set fifty or sixty years ago-back when age 65 was an age that most of us could expect to reach but not live too far past. Well, the bar’s set a little low for the modern American, as I’ve already mentioned; so don’t let the retirement age hold you back. I guarantee you, once you’ve spent a little time retired and trying to fill up your days, you’ll be bored out of your skull. You’re going to need something to do…so why not work toward your dreams? There’s no need to give up on things just because your age hits some arbitrary number. In fact, if you do give up on your dreams and just veg out after a certain point because you can’t or won’t believe you can succeed, I can almost guarantee that you will fail. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Incidentally, it’s possible to be wrong at the other end of the age scale, too. Now, you can’t expect a little kid to get rich all by themselves, or at least not usually. But past a certain point, it’s possible for a young person who really wants to make money to put aside the X-Box games and football practice to start his or her own profitable business. I know people in the marketing field who got started in high school and built from there-and now, in their twenties and thirties, they’re very successful. This happens quite often in the software business. Back in 2002, an American junior high school student named Benedict Casnocha started his own software company at age 14 and soon became a pioneer in e-government software (software for local governments). He’s a 22-year-old millionaire now, at an age when most folks haven’t even finished college, and has been called “one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in America.”
Here’s another example: Ashley Qualls started an Internet business offering MySpace layouts and HTML tutorials at age 14 in 2004. She got rich very quickly, and before long she bought a $250,000 house for herself, her Mom, and her sister, paying for it in cash. Most kids have to make do with an allowance at that age! By March 2006, someone offered her $1.5 million for her business, along with the car of her choice. She turned them down. Today, she’s worth more than $4 million.
These guys are just two examples of many young people who’ve reached out and grabbed at the brass ring of financial success. Yes, they’re exceptional…but mostly because they tried to be successful instead of just going to school and getting involved in the typical extracurricular activities and teen drama. They decided to make a difference, and they did. They didn’t give up on their dreams just because they were kids. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Your personal “somewhere” might be when you’re 12, or 23, or 39, or 45, or 57, or 65. Age doesn’t have to be important unless you let it be. With the Internet and all the other online opportunities out there, you don’t even have to let other people’s personal prejudices get in your way. No one has to know how old you are when you’re online…and in the business realm, no one’s going to ask you “a/s/l” like they do on IM chat (that’s age/sex/location, if you were wondering). They don’t care about your a/s/l as long as you can get the job done effectively and for a good price.
So don’t let your age get in the way of your financial success, especially if you’re a little older than the average entrepreneur. Cut that excuse right out of your thinking, and go for it. After all, if you want to win that lottery, you’ve got to buy the ticket-even if you think it’s the eleventh hour, two outs, bottom of the ninth. If you don’t try, you really will lose…and that’s a shame.
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