Have you heard this admonition, especially those of you who are of a certain age?: “Never tell anyone how old you are. People will think you are too old, on your way out. You should keep them guessing.”
I muse, “Is this remark aimed at women? Is this age discrimination? Is it only women who need to worry about their career and how they look? As if looking your age is a sin. That you’d be shunned if people knew the horrid truth?Â Really?!
Bull. That’s what it means to me.
April is my birthday month. Pondering my age, my brain, thank God, is still chugging along full steam ahead. Out of the blue, it recently reminded me, “You graduated high school in 1967. You are now 67 years old. Wow! When did that happen?
My 50th high school reunion will be next year. I paused to wonder how many stories I have lived. Then out of left field, my brain conjured up a startlingly peculiar powerful question, “When did you start to dream?”
Truth is, as a young person, I never thought about dreams. I made plans and got things done, but I never dreamed. Dreams were a fantasy. Not something to waste time perusing or pursuing. Or so I thought then. This new awareness stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew I wanted to get at the root of my stark realization.
My adult self took over. I stopped to think, “At my age now , looking back, what was the most life-altering, life affirming, hope-inducing scenario?(remember,Â hope is a strength). Aha! Like a thunder bolt, the answer flashed before me, ” It was learning how to dream!” Â Maybe I was a late bloomer, but in my youth, I was stuck in real life practicality. Survival and accomplishing the next goal were enough.
I was happy enough, but looking back with wisdom now, I know the truth. I woefully lacked awareness in the dream department. I had no idea I needed to grant myself permission to create a dream, let alone experience the joyful anticipation of believing I could make a dream come true.
Little did I know my major life-learning story would soon transpire. It would flip my whole world upside down. Why? Because my kind college roommate Carol Graham challenged stubborn me. Wise beyond her years, she would not allow me to hold onto my self-limiting beliefs. She handed me the superglue remover and refused to budge until I had removed my stuckitis. In one tenacious conversation, she taught me how to dream. Better yet, she enlightened me I could craft dreams that could and would come true. She gifted me with bouquets of dream flowers that would fragrantly bloom forever.
Why was I so stuck? I learned it and chose to be so.
My beloved Mom had taught me to be grateful for my blessings. To be happy with having a nice, albeit small ranch home, enough to eat, and decent clothes to wear. To be elated when I was gifted with a college work/study program as well as athletic and scholastic scholarships. To be grateful for what Â I earned, yes. But dreaming? That was not reality. Be practical and you will be less disappointed. Mom grew up in the Great Depression. She learned be feel very blessed to have enough on the farm. She accepted life as it was. It worked for her. And she wanted me to be happy, too. I was. I learned the lesson to be grateful for everything. The concept of dreaming was foreign, however, and not on my life’s menu. It was too self-centered. It was a no-no.
College life was like a breath of fresh air. How I appreciated my small but distinguished Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. A life-altering adventure. Eight hours away from where I grew up, it was like happily living on another planet. How others lived was fascinating to sheltered me. Every penny was important. It opened my eyes to possibilities, but I never quite hit the dreaming bulls eye.
Thinking about my dreaming vacuum, my mind brought me back to the present. I thought, “When I coach, I ask people ‘powerful questions.'” These might include, “What’s your challenge? What else? What’s your vision? What if you stretched into this idea?”
It was my turn to ask myself, “What powerful questions did my roommate Carol ask me that literally changed what I knew about life?” I vividly recalled them, “Why not?” and “What do you have to lose?”Â Enter motivation and hope. But I admit hope was minuscule on my radar.
How quickly a life can transform. In the wink of your unbelieving eye, you become slack-jaw in awe.
Are you curious to know the back-story? Here you go:
I was 20 years old and a senior in college. To save money and head to grad school as rapidly as I could, I chose to take extra classes and summer school to get my undergraduate degree in three years. I loved Roanoke College and was extremely grateful to them for the opportunities afforded me. Before Christmas my senior year, roommate Carol jaunted into our dorm room, elated. Noticing her glee, I curiously inquired what was up. She began chattering how the college had offered their first “4-week inter-term”. You could chose one area to study intensely for the month of January. She blurted, Â “For the first time, they are offering a class, ‘Art in the European Capitals’, and I’m going to Europe!” I was thrilled for her. I bombarded her with a mountain of questions. I remember thinking, “I would give my eye teeth to go on that trip!”
Knowing how much I loved art and had studied National GeographicÂ since I was a kid, and knowing I was on scholarship and working, too, Carol’s empathy was on the front burner. She kindly asked, “Isn’t there some way you could swing going? You’ve worked so hard.” My immediate response was, “Carol, poor kids don’t go to Europe. I’m happy for you, but no way I can go.” Â This was too much to fathom. Dreaming was not alive in me. No way would I ever dream this could be a possibility. But persistent Carol, like a bull dog of reality, asked me the powerful question that changed my life forever, “WHY NOT?”
I told her I was raised to save money. She knew I needed money for grad school. She knew I worked two jobs. Lovingly, she asked how much money I had saved. I told her. Ironically, it was about the same as the cost of the trip, $800.Â It may as well been eight million. I could not vision a way to make this trip happen. She reminded me I had six months until I was beginning my Masters Degree in June. I had that time to work and save more money. God love her, she was not going to allow me to wiggle out of at least trying to find a way to travel.
She popped in with more powerful questions, “What do you have to lose by getting more information? Why not go to talk to Professor Masters, the trip leader?”
Still resistant, I said, “I don’t know him. I have never had an art class. All my electives are psychology I needed to get accepted into grad school. Why should he take the time to talk to me?”
Understanding Carol piped up again with another powerful question, “What’s the worst that can happen? Go for it!”.
Those of you who know me now may be raising your eyebrows perceiving how unassertive I was in college. Sublimely unassertive, I had little identity and would never want to put someone out. But my motivation after Carol’s generous rah-rah session had me stoked. Shocked at the prospect, and shaking in my boots, I called Professor Masters. Sweetheart of a man, he saw me right away.
Have you ever had one of those bizarre life moments when it seems the universe is shining a bright light down upon you? I remember our talk as if it were yesterday. Professor Masters, 70, was a tall, well-built man with a lovely shock of thick white hair and a naughty twinkle in his eye. Sensing my fear, and I was terrified, he smiled and immediately put me at ease. He knew I was there to ask about the trip, but the conversation went back and forth about life more than travel. About dreams. About my past. About my future. What my major was and why. I remember thinking, “If I had a terrific, wise grandfather, I would want him to be exactly like Professor Masters, affirming, caring, and fun.
He surprised me when he began talking about his upcoming retirement. About his younger days. About what mattered. I was enthralled at his openness with me who was so closed off to possibilities.
After well over an hour, he piped up with, “Judy, I will give you a half scholarship. Can you afford $400?” (I had to pause typing here, as I cried to my soul, reliving his generous offer.) YES!!! I could! I remember thinking this was the best day of my life. London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Madrid, Lisbon…here I come!”
But Professor Master was not finished yet. With a gleam in his eye, he asked me, “Is your mother anything like you?” Talk about a loaded question!Â I piped up, “No, she’s the nice one in the family!” He cracked up laughing. He said, “There are about 50 of you kids going. My wife and I, no offense, would like another adult to chaperon. Would you call your Mom and ask her if she will accompany us? I will give her the trip for $400, too.” Dumbstruck, I replied, “I am ecstatic, but you don’t know my mom. Are you sure?” He said, “Knowing you is enough.” Whoa. My whole life shifted on its axis…forever. Talk about a lesson in trust and generosity.
Thrilled beyond words, I called sweet, unassuming Mom. Ecstatically, I regaled my remarkable story. Then I presented Professor Master’s generous offer to her. Her immediate response was, “Judy, secretaries don’t go to Europe!” I felt Mom’s practicality smack me right between my eyes.
Now it was my turn to create and turn up the volume on Mom’s muted dream machine, just as Carol had done for me. I used Carol’s powerful question, “Why not?”
Mom was always too humble, God love her. She voiced her reasons for negating the possibility. She said it was beyond her realm. She could not ask for a month off work. She would need spending money. Despite my protestations, Mom would not consider it. With profound melancholy, I hung up the phone. I knew she loved art. I knew she scouredÂ National Geographic.Â But like me, she had never had a vision travel could ever be a possibility. Heck, we never had a family vacation. She and Daddy had had only a couple days together in Cuba once, after an emergency trip to see a dying relative in Florida. (Remember my first coaching positivity book was about the strengths I noted while visiting Cuba?) Regardless, Mom was grateful for life’s basic necessities. That was enough.
Never one to feel outwardly sorry for herself. I knew this would be a very hard pill for her to swallow. An hour later, my phone rang. It was Mom. This really surprised me, as frugal Mom rarely called. Giddy as all get out. she blurted, “Judy, you will not believe this. Mr. Adams, (Mom’s superintendent of schools boss, a retired Army general who had traveled the world) heard part of our telephone conversation. Seeing my sad face, he called me into his office and asked why I seemed so glum.Â After I told him your story, he retorted, “I may be retired, but I’m giving you an order. You WILL be going to Europe. You call Judy back right now and tell her you are going. You will never get a chance like this again. You deserve to go!”
And the rest, they say, is history. I had never heard Mom so excited. A cherry was added to the top of her cake Friday at the end of her work week. The school district threw Mom a surprise party. They donated and paid for her trip! As if that were not enough, they gave her rolls of Kennedy half-dollars for spending money. How’s that for “pay it forward” positive psychology? I think it may have been the happiest day of her life.Â Unassuming, always help others, Mom.
All this transpired because “powerful questions” rocked our worlds.
Mom was my roommate in Europe. She told me she thrilled with the gift of our relationship and that I wanted her to be my bunk mate. We positively reminisced about our European photos for 74 years. How grand was that?
No matter what your age, I challenge you to dream.
Sit yourself down. Ask powerful questions to swing open your doors to a richer life wrapped up with a well-being, flourishing bow. At age 20, I woke up to joyful optimistic dreaming. My dreams became some of the best realities of my life. I discovered life was not lived only to make sure all life’s ” responsibility boxes” were checked off. I learned dreams CAN come true!Â Remember the research whereby they asked folks near death the powerful question, “What do you regret most in life?” For many of them, the answer was “lost opportunities. Not doing what I could have done. Not going places I wanted to go.” Sobering. And I don’t want that to be you down the road.
“What else?” I smile and ask myself that magical powerful question.
Age is only a number. Life has no age limits unless you install them. I plan to let ‘er rip and keep my tootsies tapping to new destinations as long as my vitality thrives.
How about you, “What do you want? How do you plan to get it?”
I love this positive aging and dreaming quote from Mark Twain. . Hope you do, too:“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Be open to nuanced dreaming. Make your novelty dream come true as soon as you can swing it. I’d love to hear how you do it.