Learning may never end, but as we age our motivation to keep challenging ourselves and trying new things, can. Science says this is often about a lack of confidence that results from a fear of memory loss. I’ve approached lapses in my own motivation with: Now that you’re all grown up, what do you want to do next? What do you want to learn next?
With my adult sons living far from home, I’m itching to design my next decade from scratch. This admittedly is partly to fulfill unfulfilled dreams, partly to experience things I never had the time to experience before, and mostly because I figure I’ve earned the opportunity to enjoy myself. To that end, I’m working on my What’s Next? list. Not a bucket list, but a more positive, purposeful, ongoing set of goals. Big little dreams. My inspiration? Women like Ernestine Shepherd, who at 71 began training to become — and then became — a competitive bodybuilder; Julia Child, who wrote her first cookbook when she was 50; Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose first children’s novel was published when she was 65; and Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known as Grandma Moses, who took up painting seriously at 78 to great acclaim.
My What’s Next? List
There are more than five things that I’d like to learn, of course, but for now, collectively, these are my North Star. They will keep me pointed in the right direction — and, more importantly, always looking up.
- How to Find My Voice Without Words
Like most writers, it took me awhile to find my voice — to let it shift and shimmy until it became something I was comfortable sharing. As the years have passed, I’ve found myself looking for new ways of seeing and saying. On my 60th birthday, my sons gave me everything I’d need to begin painting. I had no idea how to paint, I only knew I had to try. And try I did. Right from the beginning, painting took me away. It was a beautiful escape from reality. I’ve still not taken a class. I will. But for now, without rules, I’m free to not overthink, and to find my voice ... again, but differently — on canvas.
- How to Make — and Drink — a Martini
Confession: I’ve never had a shot of liquor. Or a martini. When my coworkers were doing Jell-O shots in our 20s, I was thinking, Why not just eat the Jell-O and skip the shot? But cocktail connoisseurs have identified the martini as the most popular nightcap. James Bond and his “shaken, not stirred” martini made the whole process look crazy sexy. In a nod to James, and my editor, Iris (who's mastered martinis), I’m looking forward to researching, tasting and sharing my martini trials. Who knows, a new art form might take shape from it all.
- How to Mentor Better
I've been lucky to be mentored by a few very special souls. The shot of adrenaline they’ve supplied has usually come when I needed it most. Though I’ve tried to mentor and encourage informally for years, my interest now is in finding a more formal way to remind others of their worth — to help them create their own What’s Next? list. I love this concept, from a story about mentoring: “a mentor is someone who speaks with you.” The with part is everything. A mentor doesn’t talk to, or over, but with.
- How to Plank for More Than 3 Minutes Without It Feeling Like an Hour
I consider it a miracle that my chicken arms support me for a three-minute plank. But let’s get real: it’s three minutes. The longest plank recorded by a woman is 4:19:55. I’m not a math genius, but that seems like a lot more minutes. A lot more understanding of the right balance of protein, calories and sleep required to build muscle. Clearly, I’m going to need to try harder. Strength is freedom, and I want to lift and bend and twist and dance for a long time to come.
- How to Make My Grandmother’s Chicken Soup
When I was a girl visiting my grandmother in New York, she’d take me with her to the butcher. We walked there, and I got to push her empty folding cart all the way, then pull it all the way home, filled with parts of the chicken I didn’t want to think about. Back in her kitchen, I’d watch as she spent the day making soup.
Occasionally, I was allowed to help her chop ingredients, her plump fingers guiding me so I wouldn’t cut myself. “You have the hands of a pianist,” she said, “so delicate.” She’d pluck the stray feathers from the chicken’s wings and place the poultry in a giant pot of boiling water. There were multiple vegetables peeled and chopped; herbs washed, patted dry and bundled; multiple chicken drippings; a few rounds of fat skimming; lots of tasting with tiny spoons; and copious quantities of flat noodles cooking in another pot. It all took forever, and by the time we ate, the soup had achieved, at least in my mind, perfection. The anticipation was everything.
I want to feel that way again — that food can express love, simple ingredients can be beautiful, and that my grandmother is never far, even though she’s no longer here with me physically.
If we avoid trying new things, we might miss the opportunity not only to discover more about who we are, but to rekindle memories that inform our creativity and help us find meaningful perspective to share with others. So give it a try, make your own What's Next? list — and find your North Star.