I had a delightful opportunity recently to attend Mindcamp, Canada’s Creativity Conference on the beautiful Lake Couchiching in Ontario. While the five-day event was filled with inspiring presenters, I found – as I often do – that some of my biggest wins come not from the presenters but from the attendees who I meet along the way.
Enter Mary. I spied her on about Day 3 and the first thing I thought when I saw her is, ‘I gotta talk to that lady’.
Mary was elderly and had long white hair and purple sandals and polished nails. She walked with a cane and with her slow, purposeful gait stood out amongst the other brisk walking, notebook carrying attendees.
What would bring her to a creativity conference out in the Canadian wilderness. Why was she here?
As luck would have it, she sat right next to me at the next session – a drawing session. We started up a conversation and of course she was as interesting as could be. At a whooping 88-years-young, Mary had a spirit – a jeux de vie to be envied.
Can you imagine how much confidence it must take to be at a conference like that on your own – knowing almost everyone there would be at least 20 years younger than yourself ? Can you imagine still having the desire to learn more at 88 ? Can you imagine wanting to increase your creativity at age 88 ?
All these questions and more had me in deep admiration for Mary. I hope I have the courage to gift myself of such a wonderful experience when, and if, I get to be her age. It made me think … what are we not doing because we think we are too old or too … something.
At one point in our conversation, I took out my notebook and a marker and wrote on the top of a blank page in coloured markers – Advice from Mary.
I asked her to give me one piece of advice from all her years on this earth.
She didn’t even hesitate. She took the marker from my hand and drew a circle on the page, which she divided into quarters.
And then, she gave me the advice that could possibly have been the single biggest take-away from this amazing event.
She said, in the first quarter of your life, your parents made the decisions for you.
In the second quarter of your life, your husband or your family made the decisions for you.
In the last quarter of your life, there is a good chance that your children will make the decisions for you.
In this quarter – and she circled the part of my life that I am in now – it’s your turn to decide. You decide what you will think, who you will be, where you will go, what you will do, who you will do it with. This is your time – the best time and you get to decide how you will spend it.
With all the seriousness of a momentous occasion, she put both of her hands on my shoulders and looked me right in the eyes. Promise me that you will decide.
“I’ll decide,” I said. “I’ll decide.”
As I reflected on what Mary had said, I saw the wisdom in her comments. Though not cut and dry, that first quarter of life is shaped mainly by our parents, the second quarter the majority of our decisions (for many of us) are based on what’s best for our families, if we are lucky enough to have longevity on our side, then there is a good chance that our kids will be helping us make many decisions.
Who really knows for sure but to those of us who speculate that we are in the 3rd quarter of our life, perhaps now is our time. Our time to go first. Our time to dust off our wish list. Our time to let the capable ones go without us for awhile, as we follow our dreams. If we did our jobs well, they will be so busy living their own amazing lives, they may not even notice we’re gone for awhile.
Thanks Mary for sharing your advice and for setting a great example that the only limit may be that there are no limits. You decide.