How many times have you heard someone say, “you’re too old to do that” or “at your age why would you want to start something new?” If you pay attention you will find it is a common theme. It was a recurring theme I heard when I interviewed the women for my film.
I was 65 when I decided I should try something new. That was three years ago. I was comfortably sitting in my decades long career as a senior executive in a large national company. There was no pressure to leave but I was having a recurring feeling of uneasiness. I was busy enough to ignore it most of the time, but it was ever present and annoying as time went on. I finally gave in and sat with myself trying to figure out what it was. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was the ticking clock. The clock that reminds you to think about what’s next.
I think most people who reach their sixties go through a natural kind of inventory of their life. Standard retirement age is approaching, eligibility for Medicare and Social Security is looming. If you are in a job or career there may be discussions about exit plans. There is a lot to think about and for me I kept coming back to the list of things I had never tried.
I knew it was time to retire from my career. It was time to pass the baton to someone younger. While I remained creative and invested until the end I also felt I could do the job in my sleep and never wanted to become so comfortable that I would feel like I was coasting. I need to be challenged and I love to see and do new things. The thought of retirement with nothing planned to fill my days and hours frightened me.
As I was contemplating my possibilities something presented itself to me that pushed me in a direction leading me to where I am today. I have always taken different routes to work or any familiar place. People have often commented on that while driving with me. I have been asked why I do it and the simple answer is I like to see what’s going on outside my small sphere. I am relentlessly curious about everything. I have also found that by taking detours over the years I have been led to important life lessons.
There I was on a typical work day changing it up and heading for the best detour I have taken in a long time. It was March 2014. I returned early from an exhausting meeting in Washington DC and decided I needed a break. I took the afternoon off to hang with a friend and while driving with her came across what appeared to be a film set on a dirt road. My love for film and curiosity led me to do a Google search, betting I knew who was filming there and I was correct. M Night Shyamalan was making a microbudget film in Chester County, PA and I was on the side of the road reading about it. Intrigued, I hit a link in his website which led me to the opportunity to win a day on the set with him. The proceeds would go to his educational foundation.
The short version of this story is that I was the highest bidder and did, in fact, spend a ten-hour day with Shyamalan, his cast and crew, not too long after that detour led me to him. During the lunch break on set I sat with Shyamalan. He asked me what I did for work. After I told him he smiled and said, “what do you really want to do?” My answer was immediate. In all seriousness I told him I wanted his job. He quickly responded that I better hurry up.
It was that detour and that short, simple conversation that led me to make the decision to become a filmmaker. Why would I not do it? My entire life and varied work experiences had led me to a place of confidence in my abilities. I know what I am good at and it is very clear as to what I am not good at. I had certainly done new things in the past, with success, so why not this?
The negatives of making such a change are easily listed. My age. The finances. Doing something completely foreign and unrelated to my experience. This short list was confirmed by a few people as I began to announce I would be retiring from my job in about a year to pursue filmmaking. People that know me very well were positive, encouraging and not surprised. Others immediately found the potential negatives such as, you’re too old to start something so different. What if you blow all your savings? What if you fail?
As long as I have my health, and on some days my battle with chronic Lyme disease challenges that, I should be able to do just about anything. Why is 65, or now 68, a number that equates to sipping fruity drinks in a rocker? Don’t get me wrong, I like fruity drinks and I do hang out in a rocker on occasion. As far as the finances, well, that is a real issue and I believe I planned the best way possible to ensure I could do this without breaking the bank. Then there is the F word. Failure. What if I fail? Well, I have failed at many things so far in my lifetime and I now welcome those failures because I have learned valuable lessons along the way. I was not about to let fear get in the way and I was not about to leave the earth without giving this a shot.
In December 2015 I bid farewell to my corporate career and I began my new adventure. I found a partner in a Philadelphia production company and set about to make my first film, a feature length documentary about women over the age of sixty. My film is now completed and last week I began the task of submitting to film festivals throughout the U.S. Whether or not I will be accepted is unknown at this writing, but I am full of hope that the film belongs somewhere and will find its way. In any event, I learned so many new things during the last couple of years. I have learned a lot about film-making. I love the process. It is like a shot in the arm to be so excited about work. It is how I felt when I was younger and started something new. I will do it again with more insight and a better sense of my creative abilities.
When people ask for my advice regarding second or third acts I always suggest finding a mentor. Find someone your age or older who has made a radical change at retirement age and is happy with the change. They will be able to honestly tell you about the pitfalls and the positives. They may become your biggest cheerleader and you will need cheerleaders.
It is true that we are never too old to try something new. As long as our minds and bodies are in working order we have the ability to learn. Letting go of fear and following your passion, whatever it is, may add years to your life.