By Karen Putz
Way back when I was a teenager, I loved the sport of barefoot water skiing.
One day, I turned to cross the wake and crashed into the water.
When I climbed into the boat, I had become deaf.
That moment changed the course of my life. I grew up hard of hearing and being ashamed of having hearing loss. It was no fun missing out on group conversations and constantly asking people to repeat themselves. After becoming deaf, I hit a dark time in my life.
I woke up one morning and made a simple decision: I was going to embrace the journey of being deaf. That decision led me through a whole new world; one where people used sign language. I met my husband (who is also deaf) and I ended up passing a gene to my children and they too, became deaf.
Fast forward to midlife
My husband forwarded me a link to a Today Show segment featuring Judy Myers, a 66-year-old woman who learned to barefoot water ski at the age of 53.
I quickly did the math — I was only 44. If this gal could do it in her 50s and 60s, I could barefoot water ski again!
Except… I was over 200 pounds and quite out of shape. I was going to have to power through it.
I flew down to Florida to meet Judy and to take a lesson from Keith St. Onge, the 2X World Barefoot Champion. Keith got me back on the water on my first try. The moment I put my feet on the water, passion came flooding back. I was hooked. I started entering tournaments and competed for four years. One of my mentors was Jim Boyette who was still competing at 90 despite battling Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and cancer!
The most valuable lesson I learned upon returning to the water is this: you’re never too old to tap into the energy of passion.
You see, passion is energy. It is how you live, not just what you do.
Many of us have bought into the idea that we’re supposed to slow down in midlife and beyond. We are bombarded by media that associates aging with retirement and the cessation of work. We are taught that getting old is a dangerous thing—and most likely encompasses broken bones, declining health and diminished energy.
We don’t have to settle for the typical messages of aging.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t even imagine being able to barefoot water ski backwards on one foot—but at the age of 56 and even with a few extra pounds, I can water ski backwards on one foot at 39 mph. My teenaged self would have been impressed. The point of this? When we forget the age aspect, our bodies are capable of learning new skills, especially when you have a mentor who may be older in age and who is doing the things you want to learn.
And…if no one is doing what you long to do, maybe you have to be the first.
I love the story about the world’s oldest power lifter. Edith Murway-Traina started going to the gym at the age of 91. She wasn’t too crazy about working out at the gym, but she started challenging herself with weights. At 98 years old, she is officially recognized as the oldest competitive powerlifter and at 100 years old, she’s still going strong with weightlifting.
While writing my book, “Unwrapping Your Passion, Creating the Life You Truly Want,” I interviewed more than 200 people about the topic of passion. Jackie St. Onge, the mother of the 2X World Barefoot Champion, gave me a definition that I absolutely loved.
“Passion is your joy,” Jackie told me. “It is the essence of who you are. You have to unwrap it to find it. The mind, body and soul become one when you find it. Passion comes naturally to a person. It’s like running water: turn on the tap and it flows.”
In my study of passion, I uncovered five distinctive traits of people who are living at the highest level of passion.
• Authenticity — Passionate people know who they are and what they want. They have something to strive for: goals, dreams, plans. They can articulate their passions to others. They continually choose in favor of their passions. They recognize their talents and share them freely with others.
• Open-mindedness — Passionate people begin new endeavors with a beginner’s mind. They have an intense desire, openness, and willingness to learn. They are creative when it comes to ways to get what they want and need.
• Self-drive — Passionate people will go above and beyond for something they believe in. They are disciplined and focused when it comes to something they are passionate about. They seek out and engage with others who are in alignment with them.
• High Energy — Passion is energy, and when you’re engaged in something you’re passionate about, your energy level is above average. Passion and enthusiasm are entwined.
• Resilience — The ability to bounce back is a valuable trait that determines the longevity of staying engaged in a passionate life.
The “bounce factor” is different in everyone, but when you are driven by passion and purpose, you are less likely to give up and walk away when faced with obstacles. Passionate people are willing to fail. They are persistent and, sometimes, relentless. The other word associated with this trait: grit.
The good news: all of these traits can be learned and ingrained into your lifestyle so that you can have more passion, joy and adventure in your life.
If you don’t know where to begin or it’s been a long time since you felt passionate about something—begin with what you’re curious about. Look back in your past—what is something that you’ve always wanted to learn more about? What are some past activities that brought you joy? Begin there. Sign up for a class.
Immerse yourself in the newness. Watch YouTube videos to learn new skills and become inspired again.
Forget your age. Be willing to begin with a beginner’s mind. Be willing to look completely foolish as you learn a new skill and master a new path.
One more thing…
What if you’re at the end of your life, can you still tap into passion?
Down in Australia, Alfie Date moved into a retirement home at 109 years old. Off the coast, a group of penguins were caught in an oil spill and the nursing staff was looking for residents with knitting skills. The penguins needed tiny sweaters to keep themselves warm after being cleaned.
Alfie passionately stepped forward—he learned to knit in 1932 and was happy to pick up the needles again. He taught classes at the home and quickly made new friends. At the age of 110, he died peacefully.
So yes, you can choose to unwrap the gift of passion at any age.
Featured image: Karen Putz (right) water skis barefoot with her mentor, Judy Myers, in Florida. Putz returned to the sport at age 44.