“And we never even know we have the key.” So sang the late, great Glenn Frey and The Eagles in their classic hit “Already Gone.”
I love that song. It’s about a break-up. But don’t worry, no need to stop reading, I’m not about to share relationship advice.
Similar to my blog post about “Piano Man,” I think this lyric offers a great lesson about unlocking new possibilities in our lives and careers, especially as we start a new year.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I think the change in the calendar provokes some level of reflection in all of us. It’s natural to wonder what the coming year will bring or things we can do to improve or change our professional lives.
The older we get, the entire process of thinking about personal growth can be a cause for dread. There’s a certain irony to it if you think about it. On the one hand, we are justifiably proud of the value accrued from decades of experience. Many of us feel like we are at the peak of our professional powers, even as many employers practice soft, but very real, forms of ageism in their hiring practices. Yet that same lifetime of hard-earned wisdom and experience can be as weighty as the chains Dickens’ Jacob Marley dragged through the afterlife in A Christmas Carol when we dream about new possibilities.
What are those chains? They are the familiar voices in our heads telling us all the eminently sensible reasons to accept where we are and stop dreaming. It’s too late to learn something new. We are too old to try. And the most diabolical – what if we’re not good at it and make a fool of ourselves?
For many of us the chains have been forged slowly, link by link over a period of years. And along the way we’ve become experts at crafting comforting rationalizations to make ourselves feel better about our choices. At some point many of us develop a sort of fatalistic view of our lot and tell ourselves we only have a few years to go before we cross the finish line and finally free ourselves of the burden.
I wonder about the corrosive effects of the wasted potential and possibilities that follows from this mindset. Here we are, at the peak of our powers, better positioned than ever before to contribute and do something great, yet we allow circumstances to narrow our perceptions about what we can achieve.
I am in no way advocating that someone a few years away from a pension or retirement do something stupid. I totally understand the inescapable financial realities of those of us who have invested decades in a specific job or company. But that doesn’t mean we have to sleepwalk through our best years.
The real enemy isn’t time or our circumstances, it’s fear. Fear of failure. Fear of not being good at whatever it is we dream about doing. This is true regardless of whether you are playing out the string in your current role or looking for a new gig. And it’s true no matter your age.
If the pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that things can change in a blink of an eye and tomorrow is promised to no one. Now is not the time to let fear stand in our way. Technology and the changing definitions of work afford all of us incredible opportunities, ones that were unimaginable only a few, short years ago.
Now is the time to try something new. The scarier the better. This is really important for older people. The best way to take your mind off whatever frustrations you may have with your current situation is to focus your energies on learning. Accept that failure is inevitable initially and that you’re probably going to suck at it and make mistakes, just like you did decades ago when you started out.
I wish I got over my fear earlier. It took me more than a decade to try my hand at writing a novel and starting this blog. I may never get very good at it, but I’ve also learning that chasing outside approval or validation is a fool’s errand. Whatever endeavor we choose to pursue, it won’t be for everyone. And that’s ok. Best of all, there’s nothing like being a beginner at something again to make you feel young.
The key, as the song goes, is right in front of us. It never goes away. You can’t drop it or lose it. It’s always there, waiting for us to unlock the chains of fear holding us back. If we resolve anything in 2022, it should be to finally use it.