Age Is a State of Mind

I always marvel at how hung up on age so many of us are — even when we’re still relatively young! I often receive Dear Donna questions such as: “I’m 28 years old. Am I too old to become a nurse?” or “I’m 48 years old and just got out of nursing school. Will anyone hire me at this age?” or “I’m 55. Is it too late to go back to school for a higher degree?” If only I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if they were too old to do something — I’d be rich!

Recently, while in a stationery store, I saw a card that read, “What age would you be if you didn’t know what age you were?” What a great question to contemplate. Some people feel old at 28 and others feel young at 75. So many people in their 50s talk to me as if their lives are almost over, even though life expectancy is at its highest point ever. I always ask, “But what if you live to be 100? What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” How can you stay young at heart, mind, and spirit and get the most out of life and your career? Here are four ways:

Never stop learning. The day you stop learning you become old — at any age. Just as weight lifting is to your muscles, learning is to your brain. To keep it sharp, strong, and high functioning, take a class, engage in self-study (books and tapes), do more challenging reading, take music lessons, learn a new language, talk to people who do something different from you. Learning keeps you young and makes you feel alive and engaged in life.

Keep laughing. There is an expression: “You don’t stop laughing because you get old — you get old because you stop laughing.” There is humor in almost every situation if you look for it. Learn to laugh at yourself. Humor is therapeutic. It reduces stress, lightens the load, and keeps you young at heart.

Set goals. As soon as you stop setting goals, you switch from fast forward to stop or even reverse in your life and work. You need to be continually striving for something, challenging yourself in some way. Stretching yourself helps keep you feeling strong and brave and enthusiastic.

Step out of your comfort zone. Always be trying new things, whether a new project at work, applying for a higher-level position, or working in a new specialty. Otherwise you get stuck in a rut and start to decline. The comfort zone is a danger zone because you’re not learning or growing while you’re in it. And if you’re not growing, you’re stagnating or even worse — decaying.

Whether 25 or 85, you’re only as young or old as you determine yourself to be. Stay engaged in life, live every day to the fullest, and continue to learn about yourself and the world around you at every age.