A few days ago, someone a few years younger than I blamed ageism for his unemployment. I responded quite strongly, “Well, of course, you’re not getting a job because you are carrying around that energy.” Resignation is giving up and it is usually driven by the notion we are not succeeding because we are too old, too fat, too young, a woman, a middle-aged white man, on-and-on. It is that moment we give up and stop aspiring, rebelling, striving, learning and growing.
In our programs I get to see people at their most aspirational. I get to see their truth and what they want to accomplish in the world. From that vantage point, I can also see that physical age has little to do with innovation, value, contribution, and more. Becoming an old fart can happen in ones teens because it is what we believe that determines whether we are fresh or dated. My thoughts on age began to change shortly after I launched Inspired Work.
It was 1992 and I was sitting in the ballroom at the Beverly Hills Hotel next to Boyd Willat the designer of The Dayrunner and many other successful ventures. We were members of The Inside Edge, which was something of a breakfast club for human potential leaders. We met every Tuesday morning to hear authors speak and to connect with the likes of Jack Canfield, Tony Robbins, Barbara De Angelis and others. It was a heady experience for a newcomer like me.
That morning, my eyes crossed the room towards the entry. A charismatic old lady had just walked in with an entourage. Her face was filled with slightly wicked laughter all framed with curly gray locks.
I turned to Boyd and asked, “Who is that character over there?”
He responded with a bit of awe,
“That’s Emily Coleman. Many think of her as the grandmother of the human potential movement.”
I had no idea what that meant but was propelled to introduce myself. Moments later, I was in front of Emily as she broke into a big grin. After introducing myself, her smile widened and she responded,
“Oh, I’ve heard about you! I’ve been looking forward to meeting you.”
She hurriedly wrote out a note at the reception table and handed it over.
“Here’s my phone number!”
I felt it uncouth to read it in front of her. Sitting next to Boyd, I opened it and read,
“You’re cute! Let’s get together!”
Our friendship proved to be a turning point. I grew up in a violent adoptive home. For years, Emily Coleman was my self-appointed mother. After that memorable meeting, Emily participated in our next Inspired Work Program. I witnessed someone who reveled in her entire life whether she was 20, 50 or 70. Emily was writing a book entitled, Growing Old Disgracefully. Emily believed that in order to stay young and vital we need to be willing to break all of our taboos, all of our set limitations and to never ever resign ourselves to mediocrity.
In the early days of our Inspired Work Programs, Emily was part of the support team. She had a unique ability to inspire love and dismay. Emily led the first nude encounter group in the United States and insisted on telling us stories about what happened, in vivid and acute detail. Around her, I learned that laughter, humor and never taking oneself too seriously helps keep us vital. She taught me that when we are seduced into becoming a victim or a martyr that is the moment we turn old. I learned the moment we stop nourishing our imagination, we become old farts. It is easy to envision a group of teenagers wanting Emily in their midst regaling them with ways to attach flowers to her pubic hair because she had nothing else to wear.
Yep, she left many of us slack-jawed. But, she had set herself free.
After her somewhat crude foray into human potential, Emily went on to help thousands of people find loving and fulfilling relationships. She wrote books about connecting with others and she shook up our sensibilities about what it means to love someone in the modern era.
We had a ritual. I would drive to Newport Beach and cross the tiny bridge to Balboa Island. Every time that I walked into her home, her eyes lit up and she exploded with joy. I remember a life changing moment.
“Why are you so excited with me?”
“Because you have a gift and changing the world isn’t for the timid and it can be a lonely ride. I see you.”
That was turning point. I was used to getting accolades during our programs and love notes. But few understood what it took to do my work. Two years before, I had a series of insights about work and knew that if I did something with those insights it would change the world. Moving forward required letting go of the status quo, of previous beliefs about my own career path, and finding an entirely new support system. It was lonely and Emily not only understood that, she opened the door towards my finding some of the best people in the world to mentor and back me.
Her health failed but she never gave up. We moved our visits from Balboa Island to assisted living. I remember walking down the hall with her and this old guy on a walker smiled and leered as we passed. She growled, “Go find someone else, you old lech. My heart belongs to this guy, my son!” Apparently, Emily was stirring up competition amongst the men and this guy had become a little too aggressive.
Whenever someone says, “I am too old,” think of Emily.
When someone declares, “I’m too fat,” think of Oprah.
When someone sneers, “Too young,” think of Taylor Wilson, who built a fusion reactor in his parent’s garage.
When someone claims, “I’m too weak,” think of Stephen Hawking.
Rules that are not based on truth are meant to be broken.