Today would have been Phyllis Diller's birthday. She passed away last year at the age of 95 and went, according to her son, with "a smile on her face." Diller was the Queen of Comedy and a mother of five who blazed a great, big trail for those after her. Phyllis Diller was "leaning in" before "leaning in" was cool. The next time you take a sip from something today -- and I don't care if it's wine, iced coffee or gazpacho -- drink to her.
According to legend, Diller didn't perform standup until she was 37. That was in 1955. With the way society's changed since, I assume that's the equivalent of starting out in comedy at age 50 today. But it doesn't really matter. 37. 50. Either way, it's rare.
Because most of us don't do that. Most of us don't try new things. We're busy. We're tired. We're so tired. We're also afraid. We don't want to be rejected. We don't want to look stupid. And we don't want to fail. To borrow a book title: We're too big to fail.
The irony, of course, is that if you are a parent, you're constantly pushing your kids to try new things. Ninety percent of parenting is getting your kids to try new things. (Five percent of it is wiping them.) And, miraculously, they do try new things. All the time. Their world just keeps getting bigger and bigger. As yours used to. As mine used to. Until -- one day -- ours didn't anymore.
It's why Phyllis Diller continues to inspire me. Of course, I admire her talent and her timing. But I'm inspired by her "chutzpah" as it's called in Yiddish, or "cojones" as it's called in Spanish, and I'll spare you what it's called in English.
It's not just Phyllis Diller. I have friends who inspire me too.
Marti, a friend since college, started playing soccer when she was 39. She's a working mother of two and had never played before. But that didn't deter her. She had watched her 9-year-old son play for years and decided to stop just watching from the sidelines -- literally. "It's easy to let your adult life morph totally into watching your kids' sports on the weekends," she said. So, Marti joined an adult recreational soccer league, and she loves it.
My friend Anna studied painting and graphic design in college, but she married, had three kids and became a stay-at-home mom. Anna took up painting again and is now, for the first time, exhibiting and selling her artwork. My favorite? It's her self-portrait inspired by Allison Slater Tate's beautiful essay, "The Mom Stays in the Picture." Anna did it. She put herself back in the picture.
And when Shannon turned 42, she gave herself a birthday present. Shannon -- a mother of two who had never played a sport and didn't even consider herself athletic -- suited up and went out for roller derby. (That's her in the photo above.)
"Before [derby] I had no idea what I should be doing. I needed an outlet. I didn't know I needed an outlet, but I needed an outlet," said Shannon. With roller derby, she found it. More than that, Shannon found what Sir Ken Robinson would call her "element."
Robinson, who's famous for his TED Talk "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" watched by a zillion people, wrote a book called, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and its follow up, Finding Your Element. To be totally honest, I haven't read either book. That said, I did watch a clip from a speech he gave about the topic on YouTube; so, yeah, I guess you could say I'm an expert. (Look for my TED Talk on Robinson next year.)
If you'll allow me to simplify and possibly butcher Robinson's theory: When natural aptitude meets passion, people are able to find their element. When they find their element, they feel more fulfilled and are able to be more awesome.
OK, Robinson never actually said "awesome." He's been knighted by the Queen of England and speaks more eloquently than that, but you get the point.
My friends Anna, Marti and Shannon did that. I don't think they were trying to find themselves. I don't think they felt particularly lost. But I do think they needed something more. And I think they found it. I think, for the time being, that each of them has found their element.
I believe that need for something more -- even if it's just a little more -- is also why so many of us blog. According to Scarborough Research, there are about 3.9 million mom blogs. (I hope I was included in the count. Nobody called me or approached me with a clipboard at the mall.) I couldn't find a number for dad blogs, but I'm guessing it's somewhere between 203 and 1.9 million.
I think that so many of us blog because it's our way of finding our element. We blog because we a) like to write b) want an outlet and c) hope to leave fingerprints. The Internet makes it easy to leave fingerprints.
They say, "Life's too short." (They also say "YOLO!" but those people should be slapped.) Hopefully, life will not be too short. Hopefully, life is going to be pretty long. And if it is, it won't ever be too late to start something new.
Phyllis Diller entertained the masses for more than half a century, and she didn't start until she was almost 40. She may have been a late bloomer, but her bloom lasted for a long, long time.
It's never too late to bloom. It's never too late to leave your mark. It's never too late to leave fingerprints. It might, however, be time to stop using clichés in this paragraph.
Thank you, Phyllis Diller, for inspiring so many. You inspired me. And you inspired my friend Shannon. In fact, when it came time to choose her roller derby name, there was only one name that crossed Shannon's mind.
She calls herself, "Phyllis Killer."
Happy Birthday, Ms. Diller.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women’s conference, “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power” which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.
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