In one of my all-time favorite books, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer tells us, “Every passionate thought that you have regarding how you want to conduct your life is evidence that you are in harmony with your own unique nature – your fervent belief is all you need.” I whole-heartily agree. In my own book, Turning Inspiration into Action, I wrote about discovering your passion by asking WHAT inspires you:
When you ask WHAT inspires you, you’ll start seeing things differently and seeing different things.
You are brainstorming with your life. Do not filter things out, just yet. Do not ignore something that may appear far-fetched or crazy or unrealistic.
You are exploring what you want to do with the rest of your life. Not what your parents want you to do. Not what your boss thinks you should do. Not what your spouse, or family or friends, or culture expects you to do. Not even what you expect of yourself.
Give yourself this beautiful gift. Simply take some time and pay attention to what inspires you.
Paying attention to your passionate thoughts and aligning your life with your own unique inner nature taps into a deep-seated power. I believe living life on your own terms, even when it’s not in alignment with societal norms, or perhaps especially when it’s not, is the secret to building a more meaningful, successful and happy life. And that’s precisely the lesson an amazing group of ‘aging’ Olympians reaffirmed for me during the Olympic Games in Rio.
Perhaps the greatest teacher of aligning his personal gifts and passions with his life is the age-defying swimmer Michael Phelps. With his Olympic victory in the 200-meter butterfly, Michael became the oldest swimmer to ever win an individual Olympic gold medal, at the age of 31. He went on to win four more gold medals and one silver medal, further cementing his living legend status as the greatest Olympic athlete of all time. Phelps competed in his first Olympics almost half his lifetime ago, at 15. Compare that to the legendary Mark Spitz, whose Olympic career began at age 18 and ended at age 22. But Michael was not the only old-timer in Rio defying historical, cultural and Olympic expectations about the so-called “aging athlete”. Look at this long list of boundary breakers who didn’t let outside forces tell them who or what they should be, at any age.
Anthony Ervin, 35, USA
Just three days after Michael Phelps had earned the “oldest swimmer to ever win an individual Olympic gold medal” title, it took Anthony Ervin only 21.4 seconds to claim that title for himself, winning gold in the 50-meter freestyle. When he started the race, Anthony became the oldest U.S. male swimmer to compete in an individual race at the Summer Olympics since 1904. Now he’s once again the fifty-meter champion, 16 years after tying Gary Hall, Jr. for gold in Sydney. Anthony won another gold medal in Rio in the Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
Oksana Chusovitina, 41, Uzbekistan
Oksana is the oldest woman gymnast to ever have competed in the Summer Games. The Olympian is 41 years old and this will be her seventh Olympic Games. “I am feeling good,” she said. “On the podium, everyone is the same whether you are 40 or 16. You have to go out and do your routine and your jumps. But it’s a pity there are no points for age.” Amazingly, the 41 year old qualified in fifth place for the Women’s vault, and finished in seventh place in Rio!
Meb Keflezighi, 41, USA
On February 13, 2016, Meb placed second at the US Olympic Marathon Trials, finishing in 2:12:20, one minute behind Galen Rupp, qualifying for the Olympic Games at the age of 41 in the Men’s marathon. He won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and finished 33rd out of more than 150 participants in Rio.
Jo Pavey, 42, Great Britain
Jo qualified for her 5th Olympics at the age of 42. Yes, that’s 42. In a field of the 37 fastest 10,000-meter runners, she placed a respectable 15th.
Mary Hanna, 61, Australia
Dressage rider Mary Hanna became Australia’s oldest competing Olympian when she saddled up at the Rio Games. “Every time I have done the Olympics, I’ve thought this is probably the last time I will do it but, after the last time, I thought: I am going to keep going with this because I feel fit and healthy and why shouldn’t I? So, here I am,” said Mary, who will become the third Australian woman to compete at five Olympics. She competed in two events but did not earn a medal in Rio.
Bernard Lagat, 41, USA
41 year old Bernard Lagat qualified for his 5th Olympics competing in the Men’s 5000-meter run. He’s yet another testament to the fact that age doesn’t matter, and anything is possible! Bernard qualified for the finals and finished in fifth place, just 3 seconds behind the gold medal winner.
Phillip Dutton, 52, USA
Phillip entered the 2016 Olympics as the oldest U.S. Olympian. And he was busy, competing in two individual and two team Equestrian events, and winning a bronze medal in the Individual Jumping.
Kerri Walsh Jennings, 37, USA
Kerri went to Rio to secure her fourth consecutive gold at the Olympic Games. Following the retirement of her former partner Misty May-Treanor, Kerri paired with London silver medalist April Ross. Although Kerri fell just short of her “four golds” goal, the duo defeated the number-one-seeded team of Larissa and Talita of Brazil in a fierce battle to win the bronze metal. With the win, Kerri became the oldest female beach volleyball medalist in history.
Jake Gibb, 40, USA
This was the third straight Olympic appearance for Jake, who was the oldest player competing in beach volleyball in Rio. His last two appearances in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 resulted in fifth-place finishes with former partner Sean Rosenthal. His partner in Rio was Casey Patterson, the exuberant 6-foot-6-inch athlete, who picked up the nickname “Mr. Boom” in his early pro days. Casey made his Olympic debut on Copacabana at age 36. The pair lost to Spain in their third match.
I am so grateful to these amazing athletes – they have reminded me that anything is possible, at any age, as long as I am following my heart! I’m 55 years old and I believe that a better self is always possible for me – today, every day, for the rest of my life. Paying attention to WHAT inspires me, understanding deeply WHY it’s important to me, and then aligning my life around those things is the process I use to continuously create my absolute best life.
So, to round off this post, I go back to my mentor, Dr. Wayne Dyer, who offers this advice: “Ask yourself right now, ‘What’s my own nature if I have no outside forces telling me who or what I should be?” What inspires you?
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