The One Number that Doesn’t Matter

January 21, 2019
James Whittaker
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“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

None of us are immune to change—it is one of the great constants of life, alongside death and taxes. As people age, they often become set in their ways and increasingly resist challenge. Some start to feel old at 18, others at 80—there is no consensus. Regardless, if allowed to fester, this mindset erodes even the brightest and most enthusiastic among us.

For those worried about the future, I have some good news: age is the one number that doesn’t matter.

Fear of old age can be seen when people begin to renounce their abilities as age increases. You have probably heard someone, whether a parent, grandparent or even yourself, blame their age for not participating in an activity. Knowing what we know about the power of the mind, perhaps welcoming a new milestone—such as retiring from a career, selling a business, or celebrating a birthday—would be better viewed as an opportunity to seek new challenges or grander goals.

Those who feel increasingly despondent as their age ticks over use it to justify staying within their ever-shrinking comfort zone, but countless studies have proven that keeping the mind and body active considerably increases not only longevity but quality of life, too.

For example, Johanna Quaas is a regular competitor on the amateur gymnastics circuit in Germany. The 92-year-old continues to dazzle spectators with her strength, dexterity and mobility, performing somersaults, headstands and cartwheels at will. On the connection between body and mind, Quaas believes, “If you are fit, it is easier to master life.”

Similarly, after the sudden death of his wife, Englishman Thomas Lackey (below) decided to walk along the wing of an airplane to raise money for cancer charities. Full of vigor after his first effort, Lackey continued his wing-walking career well into his nineties, breaking numerous world records—including standing atop a prop plane for 40 minutes, despite being 94 and wheelchair-bound—and raising $2 million dollars for charity.

French woman Jeanne Louise Calment, the longest living human on record, continued to enjoy cycling beyond her 100th birthday. She eventually passed away aged 122. And just last month, 91-year-old John Carter made the news for his love of doing backflips off the high diving board.

Quaas, Lackey, Calment and Carter did not listen when people told them they couldn’t do something. Instead, they viewed their age, wisdom and experience as a blessing, warding off fear with prompt and decisive action.

In the immortal words of Mark Twain: “Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.” Those who repeatedly tell themselves they’re too old are the ones who actually are.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

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Examples of people who enjoyed success later in life and against the odds

Mobile phone salesman Paul Potts was 36 when he auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. His unorthodox music choice and everyman image struck an instant chord with the public, paving the way for his debut album to reach #1 in 13 countries. His first audition has since accumulated more than 177 million views on YouTube.

I just wandered on and did my thing, treated it like it was the last performance I’d ever do—which, had it gone badly, could have been the case.” – Paul Potts

Fashion designer Vera Wang only became an independent bridal wear designer at 40. Today, she is regarded as one of the world’s leading fashion designers, having made gowns for Michelle Obama, Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton and amassing a personal fortune of $630 million.

Don’t be afraid to take time to learn. It’s good to work for other people. I worked for others for 20 years. They paid me to learn.” – Vera Wang 

American businesswoman Robin Chase was 40 when, on a break from work to be with her children, she decided to launch a car-sharing company. In 2013, Zipcar was bought by Avis for USD $500 million in cash. Chase was even listed among the 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine.

You have to recognize failure whenever it happens and look it straight on. When the evidence says that you’re wrong, you have to be willing to relinquish even your most deeply held beliefs.” – Robin Chase

American comic book writer Stan Lee was 41 when he published Spider-Man for the first time, which is now regarded as the gold standard in the modern superhero genre; today, Spider-Man films boast more than $5 billion in box office receipts. Lee recently passed away aged 95, but continued to be heavily involved in the publishing and film industries until his last days, even appearing in 2018 film Venom.

With great power comes great responsibility.” – Stan Lee

Hollywood actor Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his big break until 43, when he appeared in the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever. Today, Jackson has appeared in more than 100 films and is ranked as the highest all-time box office star, averaging more than $70 million per film and totaling more than $12 billion at the box office.

The best advice that was given to me was that I had to be 10 times smarter, braver and more polite to be equal. So I did.” – Samuel L. Jackson

American innovator ­Henry Ford was 45 when he created the Model T, changing the automotive world forever. He successfully sued The Chicago Tribune for $1 million after they printed a story labeling him “ignorant” despite his enormous success and willingness to improve the conditions and wages of his workers.

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.” – Henry Ford

Clothing manufacturer Jack Weil was 45 when he launched classic western brand Rockmount Ranch Wear. He maintained the CEO position until he passed away aged 107 as the oldest working CEO in the United States.

The west is not a place. It’s a state of mind.” – Jack Weil

Stand-up comedian and voice artist Rodney Dangerfield was 46 when caught his big break on The Ed Sullivan Show, more than three decades after he first started performing stand-up. That one performance, as a last-minute replacement for another act, became a surprise hit and catapulted the aspiring entertainer to industry legend.

My wife and I were happy for 20 years. Then we met.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Susan Boyle was 47 when she appeared on Britain’s Got Talent as a tribute to her mother. A rousing performance led to enormous popularity, and her album became the UK’s bestselling debut of all time, catapulting her to superstardom.

There are enough people in the world who are going to write you off. You don’t need to do that to yourself.” – Susan Boyle

Taiwanese-Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando was 48 when he invented instant noodles. His most famous product, Cup Noodles, sparked global demand. Ando passed away in 2007 at the age of 96, while his products have surpassed more than 100 billion servings.

Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat.” – Momofuku Ando

Charles Darwin wasn’t always regarded for his views on evolution. In fact, his first career path was physician, but he switched when he realized he couldn’t stomach the sight of blood. At 50, he published On the Origin of Species, which—despite its contradictory views with the scientific community at the time—is now considered the foundation of evolutionary biology.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin 

Chef Julia Child was 50 before writing her first cookbook, which brought French cuisine to the American public. Until passing away in 2004 aged 91, Child was regarded as a culinary pioneer with an acclaimed career as a celebrity chef, author and television personality. She was also a recipient of both the French Legion of Honor and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.” – Julia Child

NASA researcher Jack Cover was 50 when he invented the Taser stun gun. As a non-lethal weapon for law enforcement, the device is credited with saving more than 100,000 lives and is in use with more than 15,000 law enforcement and military agencies around the world.

Let me figure out something better than shooting people.” – Jack Cover

Practicing attorneys Tim and Nina Zagat were both 51 when they published their first collection of restaurant reviews. Starting out as a guide to New York restaurants based on opinions of friends, the Zagat brand quickly became a full-time business rather than a hobby. In 2011, the company was bought by Google for $151 million.

People are looking for different things at different times, and we empowered them to make their own decisions—to make choices that were the right ones for them.” – Nina Zagat

Milkshake salesman Ray Kroc was 53 when he partnered with the owners of McDonald’s, buying the company from them six years later. Kroc revolutionized the restaurant industry and passed away with a net worth of $600 million.

It’s better to be green and growing than ripe and rotting.” – Ray Kroc

Economics professor Taikichiro Mori was 55 when he quit to become a real estate investor. In 1992, the Japanese businessman was listed as the wealthiest person on the planet, with a net worth of USD $13 billion (double that of Microsoft founder Bill Gates).

I guess I am called the world’s richest man, but that doesn’t necessarily do anything for me.” – Taikichiro Mori

American restaurateur Harland Sanders was 62 when he franchised the first Kentucky Fried Chicken, modelled after the food served at his popular Kentucky service station. The company rapidly expanded and in 1964, aged 73, Sanders sold it for $2 million ($16 million in today’s dollars), becoming a salaried brand ambassador.

There’s no reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.” – Harland Sanders

After losing everything in the 1929 stock market crash, former teacher Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when her first Little House book was published, inspired by her childhood adventures. They soon became literary classics, and the basis for TV show Little House on the Prairie, selling more than 60 million copies in more than 100 countries.

Home is the nicest word there is.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder 

After arthritis made embroidering difficult, former housekeeper Anna Robertson was 78 when she first began painting. In 1949, President Harry S. Truman presented “Grandma Moses” with an award for outstanding accomplishment to art. She died in 1961, aged 101, and was memorialized by President John F. Kennedy.

Life is what we make it. Always has been, always will be.” – Grandma Moses

In 2013, Yuichiro Miura, at 80 years old, became the oldest person to climb Mt Everest. Incredibly, the Japanese alpinist has also skied down the highest mountain on all seven continents and was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary The Man Who Skied Down Everest.

It’s important to have a dream, no matter how old you are.” – Yuichiro Miura

Former pilot Gladys Burrill was 86 when she ran a marathon for the first time. Nicknamed the “Gladyator”, Burrill was recognized by Guinness World Records as the oldest female marathon finisher after completing the Honolulu Marathon in 9:53, aged 92.

Just get out there and walk or run. I like walking because you can stop and smell the roses, but it’s a rarity that I stop.” – Gladys Burrill

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