When are you too old to start something new?

Are you feeling too old to try something new?  Are you thinking about a new career?  Considering going back to school but feeling like that ship has sailed? You’ve always dreamed of learning to deep sea dive but wondering if your body is still up for it?

When are you too old? If your first answer is never, then we are on the same page. If not, keep reading. You’re never too old to begin again, to try something new, to learn new things.   Consider this:

Thomas Edison founded General Electric at age 45.

Harold Stanley founded Morgan Stanley at 50.

Morgan Freeman was 52 when he starred in his breakout movie “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Arianna Huffington launched the online site Huffington Post in 2005. She was 55 years old.

Colonel Sanders created the Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise at age 62.

Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House on the Prairie at age 64 after the stock market crash of 1929 financially wiped out her family.

Frank McCourt published Angela’s Ashes at 66.

Benjamin Franklin invented bi-focals when he was 76.  Thanks Ben!

Jeanne Dowell founded Green Buddha clothing at age 80 after teaching yoga for 40 years.

I could go on but you get the idea.

You’re never too old to try something new. I ran my first ever half marathon at age 50. I started my own company and learned how to build my own website last year  - and even managed to write a little bit of computer code. Shout out to Miko Coffey and video tutorials!  (Did you know you can google “How do I insert a webfont into my layout?” and computer geniuses will answer the question with a bit of computer code?)  

As a matter of fact, recent research tells us that the way to keep our brains young and healthy is to keep learning and trying new, unfamiliar things. Even better than crosswords and sudoko, learning a new mentally challenging skill improves memory and keeps our brains agile.

Researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas divided 200+ adults, ages 60-90, into two groups.  One group was assigned to learn a new skill - digital photography or quilting or both. These activities required active engagement and tapped working memory, long term memory and other high-level cognitive processes. The second group engaged in more familiar activities such as listening to classical music, completing word puzzles or engaging in social activities and outings. Each group spent 15 hours a week on their assigned activity. At the end of 3 months, the researchers found that the adults who were learning new skills showed improvement in memory compared to the other group.

Psychological scientist and lead researcher Denise Park at UT Dallas concluded “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially.  When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”

“The findings suggest that engagement alone is not enough,” says Park. “The three learning groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills. Only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved."    (from Psychological Science, the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science.)

You’re never too old to keep contributing to our world and to the generations behind us.  In every intro psych class, you learn about Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. Erik Erikson outlined 8 stages of development, each with its own crisis or challenge. Ages 40-65 comprise stage 7 and the crisis of the stage is Generativity vs. Stagnation.  Kind of says it all. We continue to grow and regenerate, learning new things and contributing to society or we become stagnate and feel unproductive.  After 65, you enter Stage 8 with the challenge Ego Integrity or Despair.  We can develop ego integrity if we see ourselves living a productive, accomplished life. Or….despair.

Last year, I was contacted by a woman interested in mid-life career and life coaching. We chatted for a few minutes to get to know each other and then she asked me how old I was.  Not a question I usually get in the first phone call, but okay. I told her I was 55 and noted my years of experience in counseling and coaching - not knowing what her response would be. She was relieved and happy, she told me. “I’m just not sure I want career coaching from some skinny 25 year old.”  It seems there is a place for age and wisdom in this world.

You’re never too old to start something new,

to learn a new skill or hobby,

to have another adventure.

So if your age is what is holding you back from starting to do something you love or dream of, from starting a new career or adventure, perhaps it is time to let go of your self-sabotaging thoughts and reframe them.

What would you do if you didn’t think your age was a factor?

What steps can you take to make that dream a reality?

What are you waiting for?


“When I was young, I was amazed at Plutarch’s statement that the elder Cato began at the age of eighty to learn Greek. I am amazed no longer. Old age is ready to undertake tasks that youth shirked because they would take too long.”       –W. Somerset Maugham