Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupery
No quote has troubled me more over the years than this one from Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars. It’s clear message is that the passage of time eclipses the deepest yearnings of our hearts.
I think Saint-Exupery is wrong. I think we always yearn. I think our dreams always burn within us. The problem is that we don’t act.
My mentor, Galen Rowell, once wrote, “One of the most shocking realizations of adult life is that most of us are not fulfilling the closest held dreams of our youth. Instead of pursuing dreams that were once integral parts of our personalities, we end up in one way or another fulfilling someone else’s idea about who and what we should be, usually at the expense of our creative urges.”
It is this realization that discourages, that breeds bitterness. It is this realization that dulls the spirit, that frustrates the soul.
But this realization that we are off course need not harden; it can be harnessed; it can propel us to fulfill what we know to be our heart’s deepest desire. With Wisdom, we can use it to drive us forward.
Time is a thief. But it need not steal those hopes and aspirations that form the core of who we were always meant to be. Our dreams define us. It is our essential Purpose to achieve them.
One of the most common themes I hear after talks I give on holding fast to dreams is this: I’m too old; it’s too late.
Too old, too late is a story told to mask fear, to hide insecurity, to explain resistance, to excuse inaction.
History is replete with geniuses and giants in business, industry, art, entertainment and athletics who were not “young” when they started out, whose talents and passions were ignited and came to fruition over the long arc of their lives. Here are but a few examples: Beverly Sills who eked out a singing career until age 40 when she became an operatic star; Colonel Sanders who founded Kentucky Fried Chicken in his 60s; Charles Darwin who toiled with his research and didn’t publish his first book on evolution until age 50; David Oreck who didn’t get started in his now world-famous business until he was 40; Grandma Moses who painted in her 70s; Julia Child who did not appear on television until she was 50; Rodney Dangerfield who only finally made it as a comic in his 40s; Bahadur Sherchan who holds the record as the oldest man to climb Mt. Everest at age 77; and Sister Madonna Budner who still competes in Ironman triathlons at age 81.
There will always be other priorities, other responsibilities, other things that “require” our attention. We are endlessly capable of explaining to ourselves why now is not the “right” time to listen to the still small voice that calls to us in the night, that echoes in the recesses of our hearts.
But what we we tell ourselves at the end of our lives?
How old will you be if you don’t start now?
Our resolves may flag. Our spirits may falter. But the clay of our lives does not harden. It is always ours to form.
Dreams deferred are dreams denied. Do what you’ve always dreamed of doing.
Do it now.