Why having big goals is even more important late in life. Let's talk.
Call it the Covid wakeup call. I have no idea. Perhaps it's just so much that is weighing on so many of us from society. Again, I have no idea. However so many folks are barking about being old at forty.
For me, that's nearly thirty years ago. I hardly feel old. Nor do I plan to get old in the brain, which is where so much aging happens, and happens fast. One way to stave off getting elderly early is to have huge goals late in life.
We don't stop playing when we get old, the saying says, we get old when we stop playing.
My play is adventure travel. That play creates incredible demands on me mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and most especially, physically. That's why this past weekend I created a brand new BHAG, Big Hairy Ass Goal:
I am now in training to summit Kilimanjaro for the second time the year I turn 70, ten years to the day after I did it at sixty.
Why on earth?
Well, several reasons.
First: the discipline involved to get in that kind of shape is right up my military veteran's alley. I've been doing adventure travel for years, but under Covid, a goodly bit of that athletic prowess suffered because of surgeries, a car accident and quarantine. Life happens.
When life happens, you and I have to happen to life. We can wail woe is me, or we can choose to climb aboard another goal and get going.
Second: the older I get, the greater demand on me to maintain a high level of fitness. If I don't exercise, because of the many concussions I have suffered, I deteriorate fast mentally. So it's incumbent upon me to up my game. But it's hardly just that. It's that by stating another huge goal, one which is also in alignment with my clients, my stated goal of moving lives, I live my truth.
I don't get to move lives unless I move my own.
Three years ago this month I summitted Mt. Kenya, which was harder and more technical, with my client's crew. It was brutally hard, and I tore the labrum in both hips. It's taken years to recover from that. I did, and with more good training, a solid PT partner, and a lot of patience, I will be able to do Kili again. We'll see. None of us is guaranteed a summit. We are guaranteed an experience.
The journey is most of the fun.
Do we need goals as we age? I'd say yes. I guess it depends. This NIH paper delves into more of that discussion:
The way I read that study, those who have goals do better. While that's overly simplistic, the point is that as we age, having a focus works for us. Being physically able, strong and mentally alert, which are connected, also supports having those goals.
Some years ago I was at the Denver International Airport. There I met an older woman, in her late sixties, who was having a hard time moving around. She told me that she had suffered an injury during her yoga class.
"I was in training for my eighties," she said sadly. "I hurt myself and haven't been able to get back to workouts."
The type of injury she had would be well-served by pool work. I suggested this to her and she perked right up. I have no idea if she did. For my part, I have found that running- not swimming- in the shallow end does wonders for the legs and lungs, while the water buoys us and prevents pain. Worked when I rehabbed a broken back and a broken pelvis. The point is to move. Move a lot, and not give up.
You and I are going to get waylaid by life. Covid smacked many of us. Injuries on top of quarantine cost me some of my physical prowess, which wasn't much to begin with, as my big brother was the natural athlete in the family. I have to work hard to make progress, and it's easy to lose what I have to laziness and excuses.
I can't afford either of those as I age. That is, if I expect to age vibrantly, with plenty of options.
Between now and what I hope to be summit night, November 27th 2023, there's a lot of work to be done. I am scheduled for shoulder surgery in two weeks. There will be hand surgery to correct severe CMC joint arthritis next November. I am already in training with my fitness instructor on how to workout one-armed. When an arm or hand is down, you can concentrate on leg work.
The way I see it, have a BHAG to point towards and keep me motivated, track my progress are going to move me swiftly through recovery. I have a job to do: get ready for a difficult climb. I don't have time to be sidelined; time to get well, recover well, and get back to full workouts. That's the whole point. The surgeries are inevitable outcomes of a lifetime of bodybuilding and being hard on this body.
Having the Kili goal in two years is intended to move me through those surgeries because something bigger is afoot. So while my upper body might be somewhat limited, the lower body isn't.
Leg work is pretty essential for climbing Kili. Leg work is also essential for life. When you and I have good, strong legs, we can get up and down out of chairs with ease, we don't need six family members to help us to our feet when we sit on the floor with the grand kids. We are mobile.
Mobility gives us options.
At the gym the other morning I spoke to a fellow veteran and bodybuilder. He's a welder, and he's built like Arnold. We were talking about the young folks in his profession who can't do a third of what he does, but they want the wages he's making in his fifties, strong as a great bull, and able to do the work of three.
"They can't stand for any length of time, they can't lift, they can't do any kind of physical labor," he said. I understand. Years of sitting, screen scrolling, and lack of PT at school or outdoors play time which builds muscle take their toll. Young people in their twenties and thirties can't even begin to do what I do at 68. We're setting our kids and grandkids up to be elderly at thirty. They already are in some ways.
This is what I do to stay strong.
Over the last few weeks I've been moving heavy pieces of firewood from a downed tree over to my property. On hilly, uneven ground, in the rain, on mud.
This man and I both grew up on farms. That kind of early training makes a difference and it also sets values for physical strength for life. There's a reason farmers and laborers live long lives, if you don't smoke or drink. Labor makes for strong bodies. Options late in life.
Being strong is part of a value set. You may not share ours. However, being strong enough to keep from getting seriously injured is well within our reach. To that, the other morning I was heading downstairs in my stockinged feet, moving very fast, as is my habit. One foot skidded off the carpet stairs and I grabbed the bannister and pulled myself up without even thinking.
If my reflexes had been poor or my strength non-existent, I might be in the hospital right now with a busted hip or worse. Those reflexes have saved my life in skydiving and in plenty of other places. Keeping them sharp keeps me out of the hospital in situations where average folks end up in traction. That is earned, that's not lucky.
You and I set ourselves up for Early-onset Elderly when we take lousy care of the skinsuit we're in. Ultra-processed food, no exercise, and lots of ugly self-talk about how old you feel.
Look, if that gets you where you want to go in life, Sparky, have at it.
For my part. I am back in full training mode. I am pushing hard to be in the best possible shape going into shoulder surgery, which guarantees swift healing. I have expanded my downstairs gym. And I have a re-energized purpose.
Setting myself back on the path to the top of Africa's tallest mountain is both a statement of joy and a recommitment to the highest possible level of fitness I can achieve. Covid cost us a lot. It's time to reclaim what's ours by birthright: a healthy, vibrant body well into our later years.
I'm in training for my eighties and beyond. I fully expect to be active, engaged, athletic and joyful. I have no time or patience for being elderly, which is a state of mind.
Is it time for you to set a BHAG? No matter how old you are, there's always time to point at something high, aim, and put in the effort. You never know where it might take you.