Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. 

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Facing Your Fears At Any Age

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016 at 3:50 AM

Age is a funny thing. Sometimes we look younger than we are, or feel older than we look. Some people have "old souls" that impart wisdom from a young age, while others maintain a childlike sense of wonder well into their 90s.


No matter how old we are, most of us have one thing in common: fear. We are all afraid of something. You might be afraid of death, or spiders, or subways, or seaweed. You might be afraid of failure - or even of success. Modern society makes it pretty easy to be afraid. We fear violence, we fear terrorism, we fear debt, we fear people who are different from us.


My mom, for example, is afraid of a lot of things. My stepfather used to call her "snowflake" because she wouldn't drive her car if there was even one snowflake falling from the sky. One of her biggest fears is airplanes. At the age of 65 she had never owned a passport. She had only been on an airplane once in her life (a 3 hour domestic flight), and she had never left North America.


Until last week.


Last week my mom put her fears aside (to the best of her ability) and took a 9 hour flight to visit me in Prague. It wasn't easy for her. In fact, she was terrified. But she did it. We're spending two weeks together before she heads back to Canada, and I know it's a time that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.




My mom's first trip to Europe got me thinking about how we often use age as an excuse. We often believe that we're too old to learn a new skill, or adopt an exercise routine, or find love, or spruce up our sex life, or [fill in the blank]. Of course, it's possible to have physical limitations that sometimes (emphasis on the sometimes) reduce our ability to do certain things. But in many cases, age should not limit us. Here are some examples (from here):


  • After a career in science, Peter Mark Roget compiled the first thesaurus and published it at age 73.
  • At age 65 Colonial Sanders started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • Henry Ford introduced the Model T at age 45, but invented the assembly line at age 60.
  • Andrea Bocelli didn’t start singing opera seriously until the age of 34. Some ‘experts’ told him it was too late to begin.
  • Phyliss Diller became a comedian at the age of 37. She was told by many club owners that she was “too old” to become a success.
  • Stan Lee, creator of Spider-Man, was 43 when he began drawing his legendary superheroes.
  • Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was almost 40 and didn’t launch her popular show until she was 50.
  • At 90, Pablo Picasso was still producing art.
  • At 85, Coco Chanel was the head of her fashion design firm.
  • Thomas Edison invented the telephone at age 84.
  • Barbara McLintock was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine at the age of 81.
  • Benjamin Franklin signed the declaration of independence shortly after he retired from printing at age 70.
  • Yoko Nakano took up running at age 60 and ran the 2016 Boston Marathon at age 80.


Personally, I'm approaching my 40s, an age that many people associate with "mid-life." But in reality, mid-life means you're only halfway through! If I focus on my best years being behind me, then all I feel is regret and loss. But when I think of all the amazing experiences I've had up until now, I get excited about what's to come.


Here's a question. Is there something you've always wanted to do, but you've been telling yourself that you're too old? Maybe you want to travel to Europe, or take a tap dancing class, or learn Spanish. My advice is: do it. It's possible to fill your later years with joy and enthusiasm and meaning, it's just a matter of seeking these things out in whatever way feels right for you.


What have you been telling yourself you're too old to do? Are you willing to give it a try? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!





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