Choosing to live your life by your own choice
Is the greatest freedom you will ever have
Dr. Shad Helmstetter
One of the things I love about growing older is how many more choices I have in my life than I did when I was younger. I have new freedoms and unexpected opportunities that I never realized were there. Now that I am in my seventies, I know better than to grab the first idea that comes my way and run with it. I have developed the wisdom to select the adventures s that will enrich me the most. I have met so many people who are my age or older who tell me that they are too far gone to try something new and it breaks my heart. It is exactly because you are older and have shed the encumbrances of youth and middle age that you CAN travel new and exciting roads you never had the time to peruse in your earlier years.

My friend Willie was a taxi driver in Edinburgh and he spent his off-seasons in Thailand. He grew to love the people and their culture and understand them on a personal level. Those people became his second family. When he was 65, he had a severe heart attack. While he was recovering, he realized how fragile life can be and how close he came to losing his. He decided that as soon as he was well enough to travel, he would move to Thailand to a remote village he had discovered on his travels and set up a free school for the Siamese to learn English. “The schools they have there now are awful,” he told me. “They don’t really teach the language, and they are so expensive no one can afford them.”

He sold most of his belongings and left Edinburgh filled with excitement for his project. However, when he got to the small village he had chosen to begin his school, he realized that he had so little capital, he could only afford a very small hut. To make matters worse, the building was so poorly constructed that every time it rained, the place flooded.

He refused to be discouraged. He was determined to give the gift of fluent English to the villagers. He rolled up his sleeves and cleaned up the tiny space. He painted it and set out his sign : FREE ENGLISH LESSONS.”

But no one came to his door.

At first, he was discouraged and he wrote me,” Why was I so foolish to try to set up this school when I do not have the money to advertise and no one believes I can teach them properly?”

And this is what I said to him: “Willie, you have done a wonderful thing not just for others but for yourself. You have taken the first step to create a brand new life for yourself in your late sixties. How exciting! It took you years to become a successful taxi cab driver, remember? You had to build your clientele and find the right places to stand to get new customers. You didn’t complain and want to give up because you didn’t fill the cab every day for that first few years, did you? Of course not. You knew that it takes time to learn the game you have chosen to play…and you did it. How can you expect to fill your classroom in a school you just built a few months ago? You have chosen to take a new journey. You are learning how to attract students and teach them in ways that are profitable for them. You aren’t sitting at home worrying about whether you will have another heart attack. You are filling your time building a brand new dream.”

The wonderful thing about living a purposeful life is that your intention becomes reality; but it doesn’t do that overnight. The beauty of creating new life goals in your sixties and seventies and beyond is you have shed the chains that kept you from reaching for a distant star when you were young. You no longer have children to feed and clothe. Your relationships are formed and stable. Your income is established. Nothing you do or say reflects on anyone else. Best of all you are the only one who pays for the decisions you make.

Let me explain with another story: I decided I wanted to do burlesque when I was 73 years old. …not sexy hot burlesque like young women with beautiful bodies do, but comedy burlesque that makes fun of trying to be seductive to strangers. I have always loved The Strip Polka by Johnny Mercer. I started singing it as a finale to my comedy act and one day I discovered a delightful woman who loved to sew. She created a very silly costume for me and I added a robe and a jacket, a feather boa and an outrageous hat and


I became the Stripping Granny.

At first, the novelty of seeing an old lady rip off her clothes and move around the stage while she was singing was enough to captivate my audience, but after a while I realized that I could improve my act if I didn’t sing to recorded music. I thought it would be much more fun if I had a real pianist on stage with me. I did my show at a local talent show and my act followed a woman about my age, doing a solo piano piece. After the show was over I approached her and said, ”Gwen, I wonder if you would like play the piano for me while I sing. We could joke around while do my little dance. Using a CD to accompany me limits the comedy I can add to the song.”

Before she could answer, her grandson said, ”Oh NO!!! I don’t want my grandma being part of a strip tease.”

She blushed and shook her head. “I don’t think I can,” she said. “It would embarrass my grandchildren.”

I learned a lot from that incident. First of all, I realized that all of us have the right to make our own choices and those choices do not depend on anyone else’s sensibilities. That takes a certain kind of courage that only develops as you age. The other thing I realized is that Gwen’s grandson was imagining my doing the kind of burlesque featured on burlesque stages. I was not performing anything of the kind. It would be foolish indeed for a 78 year old woman to don a thong and two pasties and cavort across a stage like a twenty year old. That was not my goal. I wanted to get up on stage and do my very own version of the dance that I felt belonged with a song I love to sing.

And that is just what I do. I am doing my act for my own pleasure…just as Willie will gain much satisfaction from teaching others to speak his language. I am not so self-indulgent that I think I can compete with this generation’s Gypsy Rose Lee. I do not want to do that because this is a false standard of achievement. I made a choice to do burlesque that suits my own abilities and I get better at it every time I do it. The important element in pursuing this choice I made is that I am having a wonderful time while I am getting more comfortable and creative in my performance.

The joy is that I am doing it.

Now you might say ,”Sure I would love to fly a plane, or do hang gliding, scuba diving, drag racing…whatever… but I do not know where to begin. And that is the exciting, wonderful thing about making that seemingly impossible choice. Henry David Thoreau said, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost. There is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.”

That is the challenge of it all. You made a choice, now you need to read up on others who have done what you want to do. You need to talk to people who are doing it. You need to find a mentor who will help you…..not necessarily someone who will cost you money, but a person who understands what you are trying to accomplish and can help you build that foundation that will get you there in your own way. You won’t be the pilot that John Glenn was. You cannot expect to become the actress Elizabeth Taylor was. You will be you, developing talents you never thought you had. You will be on an unexpected journey filled with surprises that will help you formulate the path and every step will give you more satisfaction. And the more satisfaction you have, the richer your life has become. Everything you have done in all the years before now, has prepared you for what you are doing today. Only you can make that choice and reach for that star. The only thing that can hold you back is you.

The beauty of exploring new careers and setting fresh goals when you are older is that you not only choose what you would love to accomplish, but only you can decide if you are successful at it. When you decide to learn a skill most people begin at fifteen or twenty, you will not match them in achievement and you should not want to do that. You will create your own unique standard for someone your age. I am going to learn the Can-Can. I know I can do it. I will have the frilly skirts, the high heels and mesh stockings. I will rotate my knees and swing my ankles and I will kick …but I will never achieve the speed and grace of a twenty year old. I will be doing a wonderful dance in my own 78 year old way. I have no doubt that I will amaze my audience; but no matter how graceful and adept I become at this new skill, I would never be so foolish as to apply for a job with the Rockettes or at the Folies Bergère. My goal is to get into the Senior Follies in Palm Springs, California. That is my intention; that is my dream. And when I get there…and get there I will…THAT is success!!!

Life is the sum of all your choices.
Albert Camus