“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

I have a bookmark that has this George Eliot quote on it, and I smile every time I look at it. It makes me think of people like Grandma Moses, who was in her late 70s when she first started painting, after arthritis forced her to give up the embroidery she had enjoyed for most of her life. She, of course, could be the poster child for it never being “too late.”

But Grandma Moses was certainly not the only person who found her calling late in life, or who returned to a life or love she had given up long ago.

There are several people I know personally – and many others that I know of or have read about – who gave up on their dreams at an early age because people made fun of them or didn’t take them seriously. Or because, as they grew older and needed to make choices and decisions about colleges and careers, they opted for more practical endeavors – the kind that offered a better chance of earning a decent living.

I’m one of the people who did it the other way around. I started college majoring in medical technology, but struggled through my first year of school in classes that I hated and did poorly in, until I got brave enough to explore other options, including starting over if I had to. As I contemplated switching my major to English and adding a minor in Journalism, my advisor asked if I had talked to my parents about my decision, since for them it might mean the difference between having a daughter in a highly respected, well-paying career, and having a daughter who couldn’t find a job. I changed majors anyway, and have never regretted it.

And even though I still enjoy the different types of writing I have done ever since then, it’s been only in recent years that I’ve discovered gifts and skills in other areas and have pursued ways to use them. Never in my life did I imagine I would now be speaking in front of groups of a few dozen or a few hundred people, sharing inspiring and motivating messages with them. Or coaching individuals – drawing out of them their own unknown and untapped potential. And I certainly never imagined I’d be traveling to Uganda, which I’ve done three times now, exploring ways to create a better life for young women now trapped in a cycle of poverty and prostitution.

At an age when many people are slowing down, and contemplating how and where to spend their retirement years, I feel like I’m just getting started. That can be discouraging sometimes, especially when that little voice inside of me starts telling me that it’s too late, that I’m too old, and that I don’t have enough time, energy, or experience to make a difference or to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

But then I glance at my bookmark or simply remember the words George Eliot wrote so long ago: “It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” And for good measure, I have a refrigerator magnet that says, “She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going. But she was on her way.”

One of my favorite sayings is, “The night is still young,” no matter what time of day it is or what stage of life we are in. I love meeting people who are roughly my own age and are just discovering – or are finally following – something they are passionate about, something they have decided to finally explore and pursue, something they can throw themselves into in a way they never would have imagined before. I also love seeing the change it brings about in them. And even more, I love envisioning the change it can bring about in the world.

It is indeed encouraging and reassuring to know that it’s never too late to be who you might have been. And it’s even more exciting and fulfilling once you set out on that journey, discovering with delight – and probably some surprise – the person you are yet to become.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on April 3, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014

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