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Never too late to be who you might have been

Posted on April 23, 2007

By Joel Zuckerman

That simple but provocative statement, credited to 18th-century novelist George Eliot, serves as the cornerstone of my personal metamorphosis from vending machine operator to freelance journalist, author, and speaker.

A decade ago I was filling vending machines for a living. I morphed from a regular Joe(l) hauling soda cases and candy bars from the back of a truck to someone whose books can be found in stores across the nation. I travel the world, writing about and reviewing golf courses and resorts, and profiling some of the biggest names in the game.

Golf is the thread, but not the fabric, of my remarks. My speaking presentations are anchored by a defining concept: Profound life change is possible. Anyone with sufficient conviction and desire can dramatically change the direction of their life and improve their circumstances. To make that first baby step from who you are now to who you want to be in the future, first one must overcome the fear of failure. After all, the status quo is easy: You have a job, it pays decently, and things are pretty good, so why rock the boat?

Well, you can’t grab the brass ring if you’re unwilling to stand up on the carousel, can you?

This doesn’t mean you need to turn your life upside down. If you’re a corporate lawyer who relaxes with yoga, it probably wouldn’t make much sense to give up your partnership and move to an ashram. If you’re a successful meeting planner whose true love is country music, you could quit your job and go beat the streets in Nashville, but there are intermediate steps that can help you discover if your passion can become your profession.

Think you love to teach kids? Volunteer for a few hours at a local day-care center, or enroll as an instructor in a literacy program. Want to care for the elderly? Help out at a nursing home. Love carpentry, sculpture, clothing design, nursing? One can dip a toe in the water in any and all activities, without diving headlong into the surf.

In short, see if it’s really for you. Make contacts with like-minded people, who might be able to steer you further down your path of choice. It can really happen, and I’m proof positive. 

And speaking of golf, let’s take world-renowned golf course architect Pete Dye. Pete was an insurance salesman until his late 30s, decided to change careers midstream, and is now credited with over a hundred different course designs, including a dozen of the world’s most celebrated courses. Pete Dye might never have heard of George Eliot, but he lives by the same creed.

Even a first or second failure need not deter you. Take Abraham Lincoln. He failed in business and farming. He had a nervous breakdown. When he entered politics, he lost every election he entered before 1860--for the House, twice for the Senate, and also the Vice-Presidency. But he believed in himself, realized it’s never too late to be who you might have been, and ended up as perhaps the greatest president in the nation’s history. 

Few of us will have the opportunity to change the world for the better like Lincoln.  But by applying these few tenets, at least we can change our own world for the better, and that’s something to be proud of.


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Thank you so much for the Eliot quote and your comments! As someone who is not so much reinventing herself as finding out who I've been all along, your article was an encouragement.

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