Yes You Can!
You may not like this. We live in an era of excuses, and everyone has lots of them. I’m here to tell you that they are mostly illusory and are holding you back from a better life. You will probably think I’m just lacking compassion. I don’t mind if you come to that conclusion after you’ve heard me out and given my words some thought, but if you start with that assumption, we both lose.
Case in point: I am 71 years old, and I just had my first cataract operation last week. It wasn’t so bad. My eye’s still a bit sore and the new lens hasn’t completely settled into position yet, so my vision hasn’t really improved so far, but I’m confident it will soon.
The problem is, I was told not to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for 3 weeks, and “strenuous exercise” is a no-no for at least that long. So I have to “act like an old man” for 3 weeks. Sounds easy, right? My knees and back could use some “down time” to recover from running hurdles.
But after less than a week of enforced lethargy, it’s already becoming a habit! Right now I feel weak and fragile — pretty much like the stereotypical 71-year-old man — and it’s hard to imagine doing one pushup, never mind my usual 22. If I didn’t have documented evidence that I can indeed run the hurdles in Provincial age-group record time, I’d find it fantastical.
Which puts me in a position to understand why so many older people firmly believe that athletic competition is a thing of their distant past; that they will never be able to drop those extra pounds; that heavy lifting would be insanely reckless; that they’d better hang on to all the handrails lest they fall and fracture that doubtless-fragile hip joint; that their walks should not be too brisk lest the ol’ ticker get stressed out and stop ticking. Hell, I’ve been advised of all those myths by family, friends and medical personnel, many times.
So without empirical evidence to the contrary, why would I question the stereotype? And if I did “act my age”, how long would it take to make the stereotype true? Longer than 3 weeks, I hope!
Here’s the thing: how can anyone acquire enough empirical evidence to the contrary to convince themselves that they can Do It? One can watch others Doing It and get inspiration from that, but it’s surprisingly (well, not really) difficult for people to draw conclusions about themselves from evidence about others. (That’s called a “failure of enlightenment effect” by Psychologists, I believe.) The only thing that’s going to convince you that you can Do It is Doing It yourself! (That’s called a “Catch-22“, I believe.)
If you’re like me, that means more than just Doing It once and patting yourself on the back. The conviction dies within days when I try to ignore societal stereotypes of what I can and can’t Do. I have to Do It as often as possible, and try to Do It better each time — or at least not worse over the short term. Perhaps I’m insecure. Well, if you’re not, this should be a lot easier for you!
Shall I run through an inventory of excuses? No, that would be both mean and pointless. Deep in your heart you know what actually prevents you from Doing It (whatever It might be for you) and what is just an excuse, doubtless backed up by a firmly entrenched stereotype. Pain is real. Bones do break. Fat is hard to burn off (my metabolism seems to convert every gram of carbs directly into an ounce of fat). Spines compress with age. (I found out last week at that I am 2.25 inches shorter than I was at 25. Over two inches! Ack! it must be bone-on-bone all the way down now.) Pulmonary embolisms (I’ve had two) reduce your lung capacity. Chemo has many impacts. Shit happens. You are definitely going to slow down with age; but that’s what the Age-Graded Tables are for!
As long as you give yourself a full list of meaningful and worthy “It“s,
You Can Do It.
Now for the surprise: I am not just lecturing old people. You younger folks have plenty of excuses too, and are prone to regard great accomplishments and heroic deeds as out of your reach, for reasons you can recite by heart. Most of them are perfectly valid as far as they go, which is usually not as far as you think. The most important lesson I have learned in my life is that
You Can Do Far More Than You Think You Can.
And you’ll be glad you did.
I’m leaving this message on a fairly random post of yours, but I sincerely could read your posts, thoughts, responses (Quora), forever.
It’s almost a contradiction of feelings, that I experience. One set of feelings of ineptitude, naivety, inadequacy, etc. The other set of feelings existing at the polar opposite: hope, invigoration, energy, curiosity.
I feel that you often would be in my short list of people I’d love to be able to sit down and visit with or have lunch/dinner with.
Thanks for all you do.
Gee, Matt, thanks! All I ever really wanted was to boost a few people’s spirits and understandings so that they can fly where I have only hopped. 🙂