Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The second half

I recently posted a picture on Facebook of all the books I have authored, ghostwritten, or contributed to. Including foreign and second editions, it comes to almost 30 books. And if I included the books I don't have copies of, or the technical publications I've contributed to, it would be nearly 50% larger.

In response, I got a nice compliment from a Facebook friend who is in her 30s. I replied by saying that her shelf would be even better someday. (And I wasn't just being nice: she is an incredible writer.) Which got me to thinking: I didn't even publish my first book until I was almost 40 years old.

In fact, almost everything I "do" nowadays, I started later in life. I was nearly 45 when I gave my first paid public speech, and nowadays I make much of my living from speaking. This year, at age 56, I just finished the graduate work to become a psychotherapist, as mentioned in another recent blog. And my interest in communications skills dates back to my first management position, nearly a decade into my original career as a software engineer.

Aside from the obvious lesson that it is never too late to start things, I've learned a more subtle lesson as well. Many of the biggest things in my life have been happy accidents where, at the right time, someone cheered me on. I would love to say that my success as a writer was planned ever since I was seven years old. In reality, I didn't have a clue early on that I would ever pursue this. After all, I was a "C" student in writing in college, and never published a thing in the first few decades of my life.

What changed was that in the 80s, my wife and I took a night-school writing course together in Los Angeles, and people told me – for the first time in my life – that I was good at it. From then on I thought of myself as a writer. Eventually the rest of my life became a process of learning, growing, and becoming all the things I thought of myself as. Or dreamed of being. I wish I had known that decades earlier – who knows what I might have done in all that time. But it is never too late.

I truly believe that no goal is too ridiculous to pursue if you want it badly enough. For example, I am thinking right now of an engineering classmate from my Cornell days. I have never met him, but every few months I would read in our alumni news how he had a day job as an engineer, and did standup comedy at night. Or public access television. Or acting. I used to think to myself, "how will he ever merge these different interests?" Here's how – he eventually became television's Bill Nye, The Science Guy.

So what new direction could you start, right now, for the next phase of your life? And more important, what kinds of well-placed encouragement might change the lives of people around you? I am far from through growing and changing, and so are you.

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