Let’s start with this short story. A medical student was shocked when he received a failing grade in radiology. Approaching the professor, he demanded to know the reason for the grade. “Do you remember the X-ray you took of yourself?” the professor asked. “I do,” the student said. “A fine picture,” the professor said, “of your lungs, stomach and liver.” “If it’s a fine picture, then why did you give me an F?” the student asked. “I had no choice,” the professor said. “You didn’t put your heart into it.”
By the time you are reading this article, I will be 70 years old. I’ve never been this old before. My childhood here in Phoenix seems like it was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There were still dinosaurs alive when I was born. Recently I went to an antique show and people started bidding on me. My retirement to-do list has just one thing to do: wake up. I’ve survived the ‘60s twice. My doormat says, “Knock slowly. I’m putting on my pants.”
When I look up into the sky, I have no idea which cloud holds all my data. Being cremated is my last hope for a smoking, hot body. When did my wild oats turn into shredded wheat? I run like the winded. My stomach is flat. The “L” is just silent. When I drive to the store my wife is thinking, “My soulmate is out there somewhere pushing a pull door.”
As I observe people, I can’t believe how old some people my age are. That’s not criticism, just observation. There has been no gold for them in their golden days. I understand major health issues, things that have happened in life, physical work, genetics and the like can make anyone look older than they are.
Allow me to share a recent “a-ha” someone noticed about me in this stage of my life. Whether young or old, this revelation has the potential to transform the way you think, and even look, in and during your golden years.
Recently I traveled to South Africa for three weeks of speaking engagements. I spoke in seven different cities from the top to the bottom of South Africa in the business, education and church meetings. One Saturday, I spoke five times in formal presentations from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., excluding our lunch and dinner times. I presented some 20-plus times on the trip.
Everyone kept asking me, “How old are you? You have so much energy. You are relevant and contemporary. You inspire us. This is different. You are creating personal revivals inside us. You’re pointing us forward. You are in your early 60s, right?” Please understand the people said this, not me. When I am speaking in Singapore, the English-speaking Chinese guess I am in my late 50s. I like to travel stealth.
On one occasion in my trip, a man was guessing my age. I told him I was turning 70 soon. That surprised him. Then he said something to me that I will never forget. It shook me. It changed me. It was like he handed me a key of life I had never seen before in the way I see now.
Here’s what he said. “I know why you are the way you are, looking, thinking and speaking younger than your age. You look forward. You think forward. You’re not retreating; you’re advancing.” I didn’t know I was doing that. He gave me words that captured a real-life principle. Here’s the principle: Barring very difficult health or life difficulties, a key to finding some gold in the golden years is to keep facing and looking forward. I think many older people quit looking and thinking forward, moving into a survive-rather-than-thrive mode. Like the story this article started with, they quit putting their heart into life.
I love it when people have heart, especially older people. They accomplish more, persevere, look up, live up and perform up, even in the hard times. Many times, the difference between abundant life and abundant strife is heart. Older people, maybe you aren’t what you used to be physically, but you can have heart. And younger people, look forward, engage life with heart and finish strong.
Jesus had heart. He said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work He started.” Jesus was born to accomplish an incredible mission and He loved it. He raised the dignity of people. He healed them physically, emotionally and spiritually. He loved them to the point of dying for them. Even at the end of His life, Jesus kept facing forward.
The lesson here is we can’t live on someone else’s forward-facing heart. The best way to face forward is to set unachievable deadline for yourself and put your heart into it. You will find the deadline you set is really a lifeline. It might even restore some of your youth. Maybe you will be stealth like me.
You see that? I can still tell you a thing or two about a thing or two.