We’ve never had more control over our destiny than we do today.
Thanks to technology, we all have nearly instant access to more information than or ancestors could have imagined in their wildest dreams, and to say that tools to bring your ideas to life are more accessible than ever before is, well, a wild understatement. As such, the power of yesterday’s gatekeepers (educational institutions, ossified media conglomerates and so forth) fades by the day, and - provided we’re willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work - we can use these tools and information to chart our own course and turn our passions into our careers. This is no longer just hype or wishful thinking. And it turns out that while this once was “the risky path” to follow your career dreams and ambition - today is probably more safe than any alternative.
And yet as awareness and adoption of the above accelerates every day, I hear so many people tell me - and more importantly, tell themselves - that it’s too late for them to participate in the revolution. The craziest part is that many of these people are in their 20s!
If you’re one those people I’m writing this for you. If you’ve ever told yourself that you’re too old pursue your passions, to make a change and build the life you dream of, I’m here to here to tell you that it’s not too late - that it’s never too late, and you’re never "too old".
Unpacking the conventional thinking
In order to knock down this self-defeating narrative, I think it’s helpful to first unpack the concept of "youth" and why we value it - and in doing so, show that it’s a state of mind much more than a physical state.
The most obvious part of why we value youth is for the superficial elements like the absence of wrinkles or ability to recover faster from a hangover - but what’s truly prized about youth is the perceived freedom and sense that your whole life is ahead of you which (according to the conventional thinking) comes with being young.
Youth is synonymous with energy and enthusiasm, a belief that anything is possible, the willingness to take a calculated risk and a readiness to embrace new ideas - and being old carries with it connotations of being stuck in your ways, inflexible and stubborn.
Seeing the pattern here? All of the above - the most valued attributes of youth - are attitudes and behaviors, and therefore 100 per cent within our control (but the grey hairs and wrinkles, you’re gonna have to live with those).
Ultimately, it isn’t actually being young that we prize and yearn for, it’s being youthful.
My point? This isn’t me playing semantics, it’s a meaningful and critical difference: youth is reserved for the young, but anyone of any age can be youthful. Youthful is a state of mind.
The key to empowerment isn’t the birth date on your driver’s license (youth), it’s the mindset that we associate with youthfulness: positivity, flexibility, resourcefulness and the belief that you are the architect of your own destiny.
And like most aspects of human psychology, that mindset is a choice - a choice that any of us can make at any time, regardless of how many candles we’ll be putting on our next birthday cake.
As proof, the world is full of people who have radically changed course later in life - their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. Not just the exceptional folks we see in the headlines, but countless real people you pass by every day: the accountant who quit to open up her yarn shop, the teacher who became a data scientist, the landscaper who went from employee to entrepreneur, and so forth.
As an example from my own life, after spending a couple decades as a commercial photographer, I became CEO of an online education start-up at 43 - a massive change of direction that as you might expect came with its share of speedbumps.
And to the extent that I’ve successfully navigated that transition, it’s been because of the mindset I choose every day. I’ve always challenged myself to approach it the same way I did when I was a happy-go-lucky twentysomething on my first photo shoots: by putting a smile on my face, rolling up my sleeves and digging in. There’s nothing quite like rolling with the punches (and finding a way to love it).
If you’re still with me, then I’m guessing you don’t think I’m completely full of it - but your brain is probably also (understandably) tied up in knots about the practical realities of your mortgage, family, student loans, and so forth that you’ve told yourself stand between you and your ability to change course.
I am by no means discounting the very real complications that adult responsibilities present, but here’s the thing: for those with a youthful mindset (flexible, resourceful, open-minded) solving for those concerns is an obstacle that can be overcome with some creativity and planning - it’s a very real obstacle, but a comparatively manageable one once you’ve told yourself that it can be done.
And therefore, the key is in taking control of your own psychology - for most, that means getting over the fear, uncertainty and self-doubt that prevent us from taking action.
Making the leap
Try this first: this as an exercise in naming and taming your fear: first write down the change your heart wants to make, then write down exactly what’s stopping you from doing it.
You’ll probably have a number of (entirely valid) concerns like the mortgage, student loans, etc on your list, but I’ll bet you that the biggest barrier between you and your dream isn’t any of those things - it’s fear. More specifically, fear of what will happen if you fail. And fair enough, I get it - when you’re 19, the stakes aren’t as high as they are as a grownup.
Come up with the worst case scenario and map that out in unflinchingly honest detail - don’t hold anything back. For most people, the root of their fear is in financial difficulty, which often spirals into catastrophic scenarios: "I won’t be able to afford the mortgage, so we’ll lose the house which will make my wife leave, and she’ll take the kids with her and my life will be over and everyone will laugh at me for even trying!"
First of all, I’ll bet you lunch that the act of simply putting all of this on paper will make a substantial amount of your fear instantly evaporate - you’ll see patterns of distorted thinking that you recognise as silly when you bring them out of your brain and into the real world with the light of day shining on them. My pal Tim Ferriss calls this fear-setting. Tony Robbins has more than a thing or two to say about using state of mind to overcome obstacles - as does a robust body of actual scientific research.
But the truth is simple. You don’t know if you don’t go (for it).
Notice something important
Secondly: with the distorted thinking out of the way you’ll start focusing on the matter at hand, which is the pragmatic steps you’ll take (eg cutting the monthly budget) such that you can make a calculated move on your dream without risking your house or marriage. This is easier than you think it is.
Yes, it will probably require some sacrifice from yourself and your family, at least in the short term - but if you ask your loved ones if they’re willing to support you on this and make a few sacrifices to help you make the change, I’ll bet you another lunch that nine out of 10 times they will emphatically say yes - and in the other one out of 10 times you can probably make a small compromise to get to a yes.
And then? There’s nothing standing in your way other than some hard work - but as they say, "nobody ever drowned in sweat".
Third: this bit is short and sweet. Nothing worthwhile is easy. But the reality is we’ve hit a tipping point. Where your dream are more available than ever before. What to be an astronaut at 50 years old? It’s completely possible. Virgin Galactic and Space X will be ferrying civilians into space in the next few years. Sure nothing will just fall in your lap, so the question nearly begs itself.. What will you do? So many things in life aren’t easy, so don’t expect your dreams to meet that expectation. The only thing you can do wrong is do nothing to fulful them.
You know how people say "if I only knew then what I know now..." Well I’ve got news for you: it’s not a dream. And it’s not just "possible". It’s very possible - even likely. People all around you are living this "dream" every day. So much so that it’s starting to get a little dubious to call it a "dream". As a matter of fact, you can do it right now.
This is your chance to have the best of both worlds - the energy, enthusiasm and openness of youth with the wisdom, judgement and maturity that comes with experience (aka the stuff that puts the grey hairs on our heads). The only thing holding you back is, well, you.
I can’t guarantee that making big changes later in life will be easy or that there won’t be some rough spots, but if you’re starting to talk yourself out of the thing you know in your heart of hearts that you must do, ask yourself this: if not me, who? if not now, when?