I was reading the paper today, and there was a great story about Judy Collins, of “Both Sides Now” and “Send in the Clowns” fame. I was shocked to read that she is 75 years old! But quoting from the story:
“(she) is still as enthusiastic about making music as she was in her heyday. ‘I feel like I’m in high school again,’ she says.”
And fun fact (at least I never knew this) – the song Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was written about her by Stephen Stills!
But as I was reading the Judy Collins story, another story I had read earlier in the week came to mind about another person who acts like he is still in high school. This story was written by a personal trainer about his experience working with Kobe Bryant as part of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team. Here’s a brief excerpt:
The night before the first scrimmage I remember I had just watched “Casablanca” for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM. I lay in bed, slowly fading away when I hear my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up. “Hey, uhh Rob, I hope I’m not disturbing anything right?” “Uhh no, what’s up Kob?” “Just wondering if you could just help me out with some conditioning work, that’s all.” I checked my clock. 4:15 AM. “Yeah sure, I’ll see you in the facility in a bit.” It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn’t even 5AM.
The trainer came to the conclusion that “he (Kobe) simply is not human when he is working on his craft.”
Of course Judy Collins and Kobe Bryant aren’t the only ones who come to mind when we hear such stories about people who have committed their lives to one pursuit with such zeal.
– John Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 59 years, until the age of 88.
– Bruce Springsteen turned 65 years old last year. He has been performing with the E Street Band for over 40 years, and still puts on high-energy, marathon shows that last close to three hours. One show in Melbourne last year clocked in at 3 hours and 48 minutes!
– Woody Allen will be 80 years old this year, and still averages writing and directing about 1 movie per year. In addition, he was just signed by Amazon to write and direct his first television series.
– Toni Morrison, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning author. will release her latest novel this year, at the age of 84.
– Joseph Ominsky, a Philadelphia lawyer who kept going to work every day until the year he died at the age of 98.
I could go on and on, but as I read their stories, I can’t help but wonder what is it that keeps them so motivated and so productive? They have achieved great success and left their mark on the world, and are at an age when no one would fault them for easing off the gas pedal a little bit. Yet they still outwork people half their age. And while many such individuals are earning a significant income, I don’t think it’s money that motivates them.
So what is it?
I would certainly say that passion is a large part of what drives such people. They have found their passion in life, and pursuing that passion must not feel like “work” to them.
I would also venture a guess that they recognize that what they do matters to a lot of people. I know I still get awestruck when I attend a Springsteen concert, and always eagerly await the latest Woody film. Does the energy from their peers and fans rejuvenate them?
But I also wonder if they are driven a bit by fear. The fear of not knowing what’s next for them, of not knowing how to fill their days. Do they fear that they would be letting people down if they were to stop doing what they do? Would they miss the recognition by their peers and fans if they were to move on to something else? Have they gotten too comfortable/too secure with the way their life is and simply don’t know how to stop? Do they feel an obligation to keep doing what they do, since so many people “depend” on what they do?
I find myself thinking about such issues more frequently as I get closer to my planned retirement from teaching nine years from now at the age of 66. I could keep teaching if I wanted to beyond that age; Villanova has several faculty in their mid to late 70s who have been teaching for 50 plus years and who are still as passionate about what they do as the day they started.
But I look at them as well as all the examples noted above, and I think, what’s wrong with me, why don’t I want to keep teaching forever?
I think part of it has to do with passion. As noted in a previous post, I am still searching for my passion, my purpose in life. While I have enjoyed teaching and felt that I have had a positive impact on many students, I have to admit, if I’m honest with myself, that I am not like Kobe in terms of having a burning desire to be the best teacher ever.
I think the other part of it is that I don’t believe I have a fear of change, but instead I am actually excited about the prospect of doing something new when I retire from teaching.
What that “next big thing” will be is still to be determined, but my hope is that whatever it is, it will keep me going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny.