03/23/2015 04:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Nothin' but a Number

And it's too late baby now it's too late, though we really did try to make it.
-- Carole King

This is the inevitable theme of conversations with friends these days, variations on career and home and money and relationships: I haven't yet achieved what I set out to do. Or, nothing is like I thought it would be. A symptom of age, maybe. I missed the boat, or what did I do wrong, or in the worst of times, it's not fair.

We've all been there, or soon will be, even the youngest of us getting older, the inevitable fate we all share. Maybe life's a lighter load when we're 20, because it feels like there's all the time in the world. By the time 40 rolls around, the ticking clock hurts our ears.

Flickr/Jason Parks

Age really is the great measure of modern culture. Young = good, old = you don't want to know. How young was Mark Zuckerberg when he founded Facebook? How old was Madonna when she fell off that stage? When can you party, when can you not, at what age should you be a VP? Age weighs, it compares, what should happen, how am I doing, even if whatever it is, is not meant to be.

Age seemed different for our parents. They appeared older, sooner, settling into the middle of their story without worrying about what it looked like on Facebook. At least from the perspective of a 12-year-old, whose biggest concern at the time was the fate of Marty McFly. The earliest parental age reference I remember is when my mother said she was about to turn 42. Forty-two! Life is over.

And now here we are, my friends and I on the same 40-something train. This destination we feared so much, it's not so bad, really, and nothing like the stereotype in your head. I'm still a kid on the inside, though the mirror begs to differ. Why embrace the idea that middle age is where dreams go to die? We could still have another 50 years -- or more -- on this planet. Companies have been built, novels have been written, families have been raised in less time. Think of all we can still achieve.

Flickr/David Michalczuk

Getting older isn't bad as an absolute value, considering the alternative. I don't know the official definition of middle age, to me it's always been five years from now, though Wikipedia tells me otherwise. We try to Botox and SoulCycle and organic-free-range-whole-foods our way out of it, squinting for the fountain of youth at the bottom of a Pressed Juicery, but chasing youth only validates the false belief that old is bad.

Why is age associated with potential, with worth, anyway?

Maybe we should embrace a new paradigm that measures not on age, but on something else. Like time. Time invested, time working your ass off, building relationships, time sweating the small stuff, getting good, making something great. Time to stumble upon a bit of luck. Skill. And it's passion. Working hard to achieve that dream, at 26, or 62.

Time, skill and passion. We can do that at any age, because we're valuable at every age. In other words, age is meaningless. Don't let anybody tell you it can't be done.

Some proof:

Kate Pierson is one of the singers in the B-52s. She is also 66 years old and just released her first solo album. To rave reviews.

Frank McCourt published his first book, Angela's Ashes, at 66. And won the Pulitzer the following year.

Michael Keaton's first Oscar nomination was this year, at 63, for Birdman.


Greta Pontarelli started pole dancing at 61.

Lloyd Kahn learned to skateboard at 65.

Yvonne Dole is still an ice skating competitor, at 89.

Ruth Flowers, a DJ at 68.

And the list goes on.

I'm proud of all my north-of-40 friends, breaking every stereotype as they have their own epiphanies about what's next. Will, going back to school for his degree. Tony, who wrote a book about Shakespeare, while directing Shakespeare plays. Lisa, crafting a children's book, while writing a pilot on the side. Forging ahead, no matter what.


Let's get real though, there are no guarantees. Whatever you want, may not come to pass exactly as you wish. Make plans, God laughs. But is the pursuit still worth it? If pursuit means the chance of achievement is somewhere north of zero, then the answer, without question, is yes. Especially when the joy is in the doing.

It might take a long time to have your own epiphany. But better to get a late start down the right road. Better to chase the right thing then spend a lifetime with your head in the sand. Find your life's calling, even if it takes a lifetime. It's the most important thing.

One other thing. Age has an upside: wisdom. I have smarts I couldn't buy at 25. Even if I had a DeLorean, I still wouldn't go back.

Age is nothin' but a number.