The Question We Should Never Stop Asking

June 28, 2024

The Question We Should Never Stop Asking

May 29, 2023

Chip’s Note: I love Wendy’s writing and her new book “Not Too Late” is as inspiring as it is instructive. Big hug to all of you from Iceland where I’ve been spending the week.

Eight years ago, then in my mid-40s, I attended a dinner party and overheard an older man, well into his gin, ask a young girl: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

She freely rattled off an impressive list: veterinarian, painter, computer coder. I listened with an awe that soon morphed into something akin to panic. She still had time to be all those things. But no one was asking me anymore in middle-age what I wanted to be. More importantly, I wasn’t asking myself.

I’d fallen into a cycle of sameness, one that put me in a mindset of bending mostly toward my competencies – namely the things people praised me for as a kid. I put words together for a living as an author and journalist. But I’d been a gangly, last-picked kid for sports teams (my nickname was “Bones”). And so athlete was nowhere on the list of descriptors friends and family used for me.

I once heard that if you take something you were made fun of as a kid and get good at it, then it will become your superpower.

Put another way, there can be powerful benefits to continuing to ask “What do I want to be?”

That chance encounter at a dinner party set me off on an unlikely six-year journey to become a competitive athlete in a beautiful if sometimes brutal pastime called obstacle course racing. For the unfamiliar, the sport combines endurance running with obstacles such as scaling walls, climbing ropes and carrying heavy sandbags. You even throw a spear.

This journey to become something I never thought I could be – as I approached 50 – is chronicled in my new book Not Too Late: The Power of Pushing Limits at Any Age. It came out last week. Chip’s thoughts and wisdom are in its pages, along with a bunch of other very smart people. 

What is one thing you love but aren’t doing? How can you make room for it in an already full life? What are the obstacles you’ll face, and how do you overcome them?

The road to mastery isn’t just for the young, as I noted recently in an essay for The Wall Street Journal. You don’t have to become an expert in something to reap the powerful cognitive benefits that getting on the path to mastery – and staying on it – can bring.

You will need to get comfortable being uncomfortable – looking foolish at an age when we are expected to be, well, dignified and competent. I felt ridiculous crawling around my yard performing weird movements such as a “bear crawl” and falling off a rope, again and again, in front of younger people at my gym, until one day I didn’t. 

It was a small price to pay for the return on my investment. 

Don’t be scared of the dips and plateaus - When you feel like the sand in your hourglass is more than half empty, it can be tempting to get off a path when things get hard. But that’s when the greatest progress generally happens. I almost quit racing after I failed out of a race during cold weather. But it ended up being the catalyst that set me on the path to be a true competitor.

Make age a secret weapon - We’ve all got crystallized intelligence (our wisdom) to lean on. This can level the playing field in any new endeavor. My body isn’t 25 anymore. So I rely on information – info on weather, terrain, sleep – to keep me competitive.

Remember, even if you’re trying something new, you’re not starting from scratch. The “well” of life experience will be your equalizer. I guess that’s why I like the name of Chip’s blog so much.

-Wendy

Gwendolyn (Wendy) Bounds is an award-winning journalist and author whose career spans influential media brands including The Wall Street Journal, ABC News, Consumer Reports, CNBC, SmartNews. Her latest book is "Not Too Late: The Power of Pushing Limits at Any Age."  You can reach her at gwendolynbounds.com.

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