This post first appeared on May 10, 2010. I share it again as we begin the New Year:
What do you do after you stand on the top of the world?
It’s the question Ann and I have been asking after Jordan Romero summited Mt. Everest last week. At age 13, he’s the youngest climber in the world to accomplish this feat.
After you’ve achieved your dream, what’s next?
There’s a wonderful article in this month’s Success magazine about Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969. But when he returned to earth, his life unravelled. He churned through jobs he didn’t want. He drank. He became depressed. His marriage failed.
Aldrin was a graduate of MIT and a career military man. His entire life centered on service to his country. The lunar program was the pinnacle of his career. He believed that he could rest on this achievement. But when it was over, he was lost.
Aldrin’s failures, according to Mike Zimmerman who wrote the Success article, “forced him to recognize that a man can’t walk on the moon forever. And shouldn’t try. At some point, you have to dream beyond what you dreamed before. So [Aldrin] set out to fix things.”
Now in his 80s, Aldrin went on to reinvent himself many times over becoming an author, motivational speaker and advocate for space exploration. He even competed this past season on Dancing With the Stars!
“I’ve had great results in turning myself into a far more productive, more enlightened, more contributing person than I think I ever was before going to West Point,” Aldrin says. ”If anything, there’ll be a motto on my tombstone: He kept trying.”
The key for Aldrin, according to Zimmerman, is this question: ”Do we dream big enough? And when we achieve those dreams, do we dream beyond them to discover not greater greatness, per se, but deeper greatness? The kind that enriches us, that would drive an already great man to fight past his self-destructive tendencies and build on a legend?”
Do we dream? And do we keep on dreaming?
“What’s on your bucket list?” Ann asked. It’s one of her favorite questions.
There was an uncomfortable silence. And then the response: “I guess there’s nothing left really.”
I felt sad. He’s just 75. And he’s my dad.
Contemporaries of his just returned from a six week open ocean sail across the Drake Passage. They’re planning their next adventure. A friend of ours graduated from George Washington University as a Physician’s Assistant (and valedictorian) at age 60. For the last dozen years, she has cared for the poor and the oppressed in some of the world’s most remote corners. John Keston, recently featured in The New York Times, began running when he was 55. He’s completed 800 races including 53 marathons. He holds the world record for his age category. He’s 85.
Our coach had us list 101 life goals. Try it. It’s hard. But exhilerating too. There’s the ride through Yellowstone on the Honda Goldwing. The river raft of the Snake River. Biking along the Great Wall. The climb of Everest. The islands of Greece. The nascent projects. The unmade photographs. Books waiting to be written. Stories yet to unfold.
Our buckets give shape and meaning to our lives. We wither without our buckets.
Perhaps we grow weary. But I read about Buzz and I have hope.
Who knows what young Jordan Romero will do. There are so many possiblities that lie before him. May he keep his bucket full.
May you as well.