Age is only a number

October is one of my favorite months, perhaps because that’s when I get to blow out my birthday candles and celebrate another successful year.
Who doesn’t love birthdays?
My age is irrelevant; in fact, I subscribe to the iconic comedian Jack Benny’s philosophy. 

He turned 39 in 1933, and remained that age until his death in 1974. 
I’ve been 39 for a few years now, and it just keeps getting better.  

As a constant advocate for lifelong learning, I am directing the advice in this column not only to those who have years of job experience, but also those who are just getting started in the work world and everyone in between.  

Here’s what I want everyone to repeat after me:  your age does not dictate your ability to accomplish.  Reaching that magical retirement age does not mean you are finished contributing to society.  Let me give you a few examples of people who refused to “act their age”:

Admiral Rickover, the designer of the first nuclear submarine, was still a consultant to the Navy at the age of 82.

Both Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keefe, American artists, continued to paint well past the age of 90 and on into their hundredth year.  Russian artist Marc Chagall was designing stained glass windows for churches in many parts of the world at age 90.

Frank Lloyd Wright, considered one of the greatest modern American architects, created an entirely original concept of architecture when he was well past the age of 90.  Wright was fond of saying:  “Youth is a quality, and if you have it, you never lose it.”

George Bernard Shaw, Irish dramatist, was still working on a play at the age of 93 when his prolific life ended prematurely due to complications from a broken leg.

Verdi continued to compose operas as well as the well-known Requiem when he was in his 80s.  He created a retirement home for musicians.

Arthur Rubinstein gave a concert at Carnegie Hall at age 90.  He was almost blind and unable to read the notes.  Nevertheless, he played with his usual perfection.  Afterward, he was heard to remark, “The music is in my mind.”

Albert Schweitzer was an outstanding German organist and philosopher who created a new life in Africa for the underprivileged.  He was a physician, a clergyman and an expert in music.  He was active until age 90.

Pablo Picasso, having painted over 20,000 pictures, is considered by many to be the greatest artist of the 20th century.  At the age of 90, he remarked, “I often feel young … like 20, and I am only concerned when I feel that I am aging.”

Robert Frost, nearly 87, read his poem, “The Gift Outright” at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in 1961.

Perhaps you detected a theme here – many of these highly accomplished people were creative types who were not bound by the traditional expectations of retirement.  I wonder if there is a correlation. 

Regardless of your vocation, I strongly encourage you to never stop using your talents and abilities.  Even if you are looking forward to leaving the workforce at some point, you have marvelous opportunities to leave your mark on the world.

Most of us are familiar with the myth of the Phoenix, an Egyptian bird of great beauty that was found in the Arabian Desert.  There was only one, and it lived for hundreds of years.  When it sensed that it was about to die, it built its own funeral pyre, lighted it by fanning its wings, then flew into the fire and arose young again from the ashes.

The Phoenix came to be associated with the sun god who disappeared as an old man each night and appeared as a child the following morning.  For centuries the Phoenix has become a symbol of rebirth and renewal.

Historian Arnold Toynbee, shared this reflection on life at the age of 81:  “As one grows older, the temptation to dwell on the past and to avert one’s eyes from the future grows.  If one were to fall into this backward-looking stance, one would be as good as dead before physical death had overtaken us.  Our minds, so long as they keep their cutting edge, are not bound by our physical limits; they can range over time and space into infinity.  To be human is to be capable of transcending oneself.”

Mackay’s Moral:  No matter how many birthdays I’ve had, I haven’t hit my peak yet.

By Harvey Mackay

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