“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” George Eliot
In December of 1963, my parents gather my three sisters and me into the living room of our home on McMillan Avenue, located in the West End of Birmingham, Alabama. They have an announcement. We hear that Dad has accepted a management job in his current company, which is good news. Then we hear that the new job is located in Jacksonville, Florida, over 400 miles away. We will move within a few weeks. For my sisters and me, this is sad news. All of us will be leaving lifetime neighborhood friends. Three of us are in high school – a pivotal time in a young person’s life.
My dad is leaving behind a position as a sales representative to gamble on a job as manager of a new cemetery property. It is an opportunity –a chance to increase his income – a step up the corporate ladder – a move to improve the life of his family.
Just one problem — the results are not as he had hoped – in fact, they are just the opposite. It is the beginning of a three-year period that will become the toughest financial time in my parents’ married life. For my sisters and me, it is also personally hard, because of loss of friends and having to start over in a new high school.
In an effort to help bring in additional money into the household, Lucille Hackbarth, my mom, decides to look for part-time work. She finds a job at our local high school where we attend classes. The lunch cafeteria needs a check-out clerk. Minimum skills needed, combined with a part-time schedule during school hours, make this a perfect job for my mom. Except for one thing: they turn her down because she is not qualified – she lacks a high school diploma.
Understandably, my mother is shocked and upset. She knows she can do the job. Although it is a high school education that stands in the way, at the time it feels more like a piece of paper is blocking her path. She needs a document marked with the word, “Diploma,” in big bold letters. Part of her disappointment is aimed at herself and the burden she carries through the label, ‘high school drop-out.’ She is 47 years old.
Any change in life is difficult. For my parents, it is overwhelming. With their backs to the wall, Lucille makes a decision, a decision that is loaded with irony. In the same school where she is not qualified to work, she now enrolls in adult night classes to earn her high school degree. The classes are designed to help her pass the GED, a high school equivalency test. Not surprisingly, she discovers right away that she is the most senior student in the class. They are all adults, but most of the class is much younger than she is. My mother is a great student, studies hard and passes the GED Exam on her first try. I am not aware at that time of how big a moment this is for her – the evidence will be discovered years later in a $7.50 receipt, the price of the test that year. She will keep this receipt in her treasured items for the rest of her life as a reminder. “With faith, change is possible. With change comes hope and hope does not disappoint.”
Motivated by her achievement, which may seem small in a world of higher education, Lucille makes a new decision – the title of high school graduate is no longer good enough. She wants more. She takes that piece of paper and enrolls in nursing school. A few years later, she graduates and becomes a nurse. For the next 25 years, my mom will dedicate her life to being a great nurse, caring for her patients and along the way helping my dad and her to have a better financial situation, and eventually a healthier retirement.
When is it too late in life? Is age a relevant issue when making a significant change or major decision? At the time when my mother was born, life expectancy was not even 60 years. What she undertook to do at age 47 would be like someone doing that today in their 50s or 60s. How many people would even consider it?
Colonel Sanders created and built Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 65. Was he too old? Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as “Grandma Moses,” became famous for her paintings very late in life. She started her artistic work at the age of 78. Who among us would consider embarking on another career in life at such an advanced age?
Grandma Moses, Colonel Sanders and Lucille Hackbarth had two things in common: 1) All three were older in life; and 2) All three made new career decisions. They chose change.
Most people find change difficult. If the change is about career and the person is advanced in age, the level of difficulty is increased. I can only imagine today what it must have been like for my mother, when everything was on the line. Moving to a new state, going back to school and doing this in the face of financial difficulty at the age of 47. This was change with a Capital “C!”
The question of “When is it too late?” is not limited to career decisions. And, it is not a factor of how old you are. The question of “When is it too late?” is about change. And change is about more than jobs and age. Change is about becoming the best at what we were always meant to be in life.
When is it too late to change? To be better at the person you want to be? To be closer to what you were meant to be? More of who you are capable of being? My simple and emphatic answer is . . . Never! As long as you have a single breath to breathe, you can change.
In the movie The Bucket List, two older guys, played by actors Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, become friends as they approach the end of their lives. They become mutual partners in a quest to finish their personal bucket lists, things to check off before they check out. If you saw the movie, you may remember some of the items on that list. It included some worldly trips and fantastic experiences: see Rome, drive a Shelby Mustang, see the Pyramids, ride the Great Wall of China, and go skydiving. Many of the items on the list required money to accomplish and the character played by Nicholson had the money to accommodate this need.
Job change and worldly experiences are big things. For some, world travel may be outside of your budget. For others, career change is not desired or needed. You may already be in the right place at the right time.
If you like the idea of a bucket list, and I do, you might want to take this one step further. Create a legacy list. Instead of just an experience or world trip, what about actions that positively impact others? What have you not finished, as it relates to the important people in your life? What can you do to contribute to another? Who is the person whom you still want to be, can be, and need to be?
A legacy list? Yes. The good news is there is no financial cost to what I suggest. The tough news is that any of these may be the most difficult thing you ever do. You will have to give what is often the most fragile and hardest thing to give in life – your heart.
- Forgive someone. If possible, forget about whether or not they asked for it. Forgive in your heart, even if you cannot do it in person or if the person has departed this world. Let go of the huge burden you may carry with the baggage of an unforgiving heart.
- Ask for forgiveness. If you wronged another person, write, call or meet with the affected individual and ask for forgiveness. Instead of saying, “I am sorry,” which is a step in the right direction, try posing the question: “Will you please forgive me?” Be vulnerable.
- Tell someone, “I believe in you.” These words of faith are the second most powerful words you will ever say to another individual. There are lots of ways to say it. However you express it, the person who hears it will never be the same because of you.
- Write a letter to someone telling them of the impact they had on your life. Share specifics. Do not be surprised if the letter ends up affecting you as much as the recipient.
- Say “I love you.” When really meant, these words are a life-changer. It is what everyone remembers after a person is gone. “See how he loved.”
Any of these gifts may be life-changing for you, or for those affected. They also may be difficult to fulfill – they involve change at the deepest level. They come from the heart. If you have the financial resources, worldwide travel is easier and, of course, memorable. The changes involving your legacy may be difficult, but they are forever.
I can be more. I want to be more. I want to be the best at what I was always destined to be in life. I want to have impact. I want to leave a legacy.
When is it too late?
Today, I am going to . . .