There is no such thing as too old.

Some ideas for doing the thing you think you’re too old for.

“Man in striped apron paints canvases in Bardolino” by Eddy Klaus on Unsplash
Dear Shaunta,
I’m 39 years old. I feel like I’m too old to start writing. What do you think?
From, a Ninja Writer

Hey, Ninja Writer!

It’s tempting for me to tell you that you’re not too old because I’m older than you, and I’m not too old.

I started working on a Bachelor’s degree in my 30s and an MFA in my 40s.

I didn’t start writing seriously until my mid-30s and I was 40 when I was first published.

I did buy a house in my 20s, with money my mother left to me when she died, but I shouldn’t have. I couldn’t hold on to it and wound up in bankruptcy 18 months later.

I did some interesting things in my 20s, for sure. I headed off to the Armpit of America on my own with my kids to be a newspaper reporter with pretty much nothing but the nerve to apply for a job I wasn’t qualified to do.

Again, that lasted a little more than a year. I couldn’t take living in the Armpit of America, when all was said and done. I got homesick and when I was offered an internship at a newspaper in Las Vegas, I took it and came home.

Mostly, though, what I did in my 20s was deal with the hangover of a traumatic adolescence, get pregnant out of wedlock and then get pregnant again. In wedlock that second time, but not on purpose. I had an intense marriage to my high school sweetheart that ended in severe heartbreak. I took care of my babies. I learned how to take care of a high-maintance kid who wouldn’t be diagnosed with autism until he was 13.

And I was poor.

I did not go to college after high school. I did not take a gap year. I did not take a train to New York City. I did not get drunk or experiment with sex or drugs. Or rock and roll, for that matter. Pretty much all I did was try to keep my head above water and my babies bellies full.

And it was okay. I don’t regret my 20s, it’s just that I would not want to do them over.

My 30s were better. I met my husband just as they were starting. Getting married again meant I wasn’t poor anymore. That maybe sounds callous, but it’s also true.

I love my husband. He’s my heart and my foundation. We’ll be married 15 years on August 3rd. His parents celebrated their 55th anniversary last Friday and if we live into our 80s, I absolutely believe that we’ll be married five decades, too.

But also? Marrying him meant I wasn’t poor anymore. Which meant that some of the energy that went into figuring out how to keep my lights on could be redirected into writing novels. And that worked. I wrote my first novel when I was 33. I went back to school and learned how to write better. And I sold a book when I was 40.

So, yeah. You’re not too old. Even if you’re reading this and you’re older than me. Even if you’re way older than me.

My parents-in-law live with us. They both have dementia. Since they retired, I have watched them deteriorate at a rate that is frankly terrifying. Would they be healthier if instead of retiring to the couch to watch reruns of Jeopardy, they’d gone back to school just for the sake of learning?

Maybe.

My father is a little younger than my parents-in-law, who are in their mid-70s. He’s 70. He’s still working, but also? He’s opening a little bookstore — his dream. He’s writing a novel. He raises chickens and tomatoes. He’s planning a trip to Mexico, to learn to speak Spanish. He reads three newspapers everyday.

You are not too old.

Imagine if you put the energy that you spend worrying about being too old (and doing things you don’t really want to do just because you started doing them when you were young) and did the thing you think you’re too old for instead.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

Go to the library today. Find a book about something you’re afraid you’re too old to learn to do. Even better? Find a kids book about the subject. It’ll be written in very plain language with lots of pictures, designed to teach. Start there.

While you’re at it, check out this book. Wishcraft by Barbara Sher. It changed my life.

And this one. The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn. I know. You’re not a teenager. Read it anyway.

Find someone doing what you think you’re too old to do, and take them to lunch and pick their brain. Ask them what your first step should be. Even if they’re younger than you are.

Find a low-stakes class teaching the thing you think you’re too old to learn. Try your local community college — they probably have some kind of community education program. (The person teaching the class? Take them to lunch and pick their brain. As someone who teaches those classes, I can tell you that there is almost nothing better for a teacher than an eager student.)

Try to shift your perspective. Maybe you won’t ever earn a living doing the thing you’re afraid you’re too old for. Especially if that thing is creative or artistic. So imagine your day job as the thing that supports your real work.

Energy and funds are like that magic packet of stuff you stir into your Sea Monkey tank — they make things grow. Funnel them toward that thing you think you’re too old for, and things will grow.

Love,
Shaunta


Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nationand the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.