Am I too old to study? [Hint: Never!]

by Annelise Mitchell April 01, 2016

Am I too old to study? [Hint: Never!]

If there is anything more disheartening than thinking we should have started years ago, or it’s too late, then I have yet to hear or experience it.

This one belief keeps many of us from sleeping at night.

Even worse, it stops countless, perhaps more than we could ever imagine, from doing things they love or enjoy, and all because they think that they should have started ten, twenty, and many more years ago…

I have seen women, and men, stay in jobs that make them miserable, or remain in positions that don’t challenge them because they are worried that changing jobs or careers is not possible, too hard, there’s not enough time, not enough energy, or even not enough “smarts” … so why even try.

If you have read any of the news articles and blog posts about changing careers or pursuing further study later in life, you have no doubt come across this sea of voices, all giving advice as though they are the “arbiters of truth,” or that they have the most “realistic” way of seeing the world.

They may, for them, but not for you.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson writes: “[Y]ou will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.”

What is most important, according to Emerson and many other great thinkers and doers, is knowing what is right for you.

But most of all, you must stay away from the naysayers and listen to those who are doing what you want to do. To be sure, the naysayers are entitled to have their opinion, however, as with all opinion givers, they’ll only reveal a part of the picture.

You know the types of opinions I am talking about…

“Changing careers are only for the lucky ones, not for those of us who have bills to pay.”

“Going back to school is okay for those who want to indulge themselves.”

“You can only change careers when you’re in your twenties.”

“Employers just want to hire cheap labour. It is far better to just to stay in your job and climb the ranks.”

The list goes on and on…

Despite the sweeping claims made by these seemingly well-intentioned individuals, they each reveal their own beliefs and values. In some case, these speakers also reveal their own fears and insecurities, and I would argue, a profound bitterness that they are not doing what they love.

Why do we listen to these naysayers?

The underlying core of our belief system (if you were to dig beneath the layers) is a fear of what others may think of us or say.

However, to live a life based on what some people may say is the greatest tragedy. Doing this causes us to deny our potential, and to live a life of “quite desperation.” It even leads to negative beliefs about life and the future.

What we don’t realise is that our viewpoints are based on our perception, and often ignores all the accounts of people who become doctors, business owners, artists, writers, comedians, and numerous other vocations after the age of 40.

When we are afraid, and are thinking with a fearful framework, we will see only the “problems” or “issues” and ignore the successes. We may not even be able to hear the successful accounts because they are not even on our radar.

A recent article by Jessica Stillman, a contributor to Inc., an online magazine writes how when we think negatively, we increase the likelihood that we will think negatively in the future – it is a case of neurons that fire together, wire together. Soon, Stillman writes, we cannot perceive other ways of being in the world because our thoughts are geared in only one direction.

What amazes me the most though, is hearing people in their twenties ask the question on forums about whether changing careers or embarking on a new trajectory is too late for them!

Too late! At 25? Definitely not!

I have taught women in their sixties, who after careers in all sorts of fields, and some after a very satisfying motherhood, have decided to become teachers, social workers, lawyers, nurses, and many other areas. There are also students in their 90s who are studying degrees for the first time. I love these people.

It is never too late, no matter how old one is. Yes, it will take time to get the knowledge and skills in the area that we want to pursue, but that time will pass anyway

Can we become anything we want?

Can you become a world-class gymnast at the age of 45 years, despite no history in the gym, probably not? But we’re not talking about becoming world-class in such a niche field that requires the agility of a 12-year-old.

We’re talking about pursuing a vocation that we are going to spend a great part of our life doing. As cliché as this proverb is, we only live once, and we may as well, in our short time in life do what we feel is worthwhile, and even fulfilling.

If that means taking a pay-cut to do what we want, so be it.

If it means stepping back from the career ladder to gain further skills, so be it.

If it means moving away from what others are doing, just because it has always been done that way, so be it.

In years to come, the same feelings of angst and regret will be there, as they are no doubt plaguing you now, or you are starting to get your first inkling of, lurking in the depths of your very being, that there is something greater for you than where you currently are.

Take that feeling from within, and see it as the loving, gentle tap on the shoulder, telling you that you are intended for something better than where you are now, and that if you don’t go in this new direction,* you won’t grow, you won’t find out what you are capable of, and most of all, you will be denying the world, including your loved ones, the experience of enjoying what you have to offer.

*If you don’t know what direction you want to go in, that is because you don’t know who you are, and, now, more than anything you need to go on journey to find out.

I want you to put this quote on your wall, right now. Copy it and print it out. It is by James Adonis, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.

“There will be enough people trying to bring you down in this life without you having to do their job for them. … Thinking of self-destructive reasons why you shouldn’t pursue a new career is effectively doing the job of those who are determined to stand in your way – namely, the age discriminators.”

Yes, for some people, age is viewed as a determinant, but not for everyone. There are many, including myself, who stand in awe of all the people who pursue their interests and change trajectories, despite their fears and most of all, despite what some people may say.

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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