By Andre Oosthuizen
This month the US Presidential race was won by a seventy-eight-year-old. If he gets to serve out the two terms permitted by the constitution of the country Joe Biden will be eighty-six years old when he retires from the White House.
The fact that he achieved the election results that he did is already an exceptional achievement. A run for the presidency is a two-year long marathon which places a strain on the candidates which we, outside the world of American politics, cannot begin to comprehend. The daily schedule of rallies, meetings with influential figures, the information received each day via staff briefings and strategy sessions, the travelling, the limelight – these are demands which would cause most people to crack under the pressure.
There must therefore be some degree of admiration for a seventy-eight-year-old who has withstood all these rigours and ended up with eighty million votes and a 306 to 232 majority in the electoral college. For the next eight years he will be living in a media goldfish bowl, his every decision analysed and criticized. All this at an age when many people have resigned themselves to sitting in front of the TV or griping about health problems and ungrateful children and grandchildren on a constant basis.
Moving to a related topic, there are several fascinating YouTube clips about men older than ninety who have taken up weight training. It features interviews with them and shows them doing dumbbell curls, shoulder presses, squats, and hamstring curls, pushing themselves through the same barriers as all of us face when taking on physical exertions.
There is an underlying theme here which can be encapsulated in two words: Growth mindset. Joe Biden is venturing into new territory and is about to find out whether an octogenarian can properly govern an enterprise as vast and diverse as the United States of America. Those ninety-year-old weight trainers must have picked up that first five-kilogram dumbbell and said to themselves: “I don’t know whether I can do ten curls with this thing.”
At the age of sixty I tried, for the first time, to learn to play the saxophone. I had not previously learnt any musical instrument, did not know how to read music, knew nothing about scales except for a vague awareness that things called major, minor and blues scales exist. All I had was a love of music. I did not know whether I could even produce a note from the beautiful and gleaming tenor sax, borrowed from a friend, that I held in my hands.
I have learnt a great deal about playing the saxophone since that moment. I am obviously no John Coltrane, but I can read sheet music, albeit not fluently, I can find my way through a number of songs, and I play with a band once a week. I do know two things: The musical journey has brought me many moments of joy which I cannot begin to describe. Also, if I carry on and practise a little every day, and try to learn new stuff, I will continue to improve.
The growth mindset. That is what lies at the heart of it. The realisation that you are never too old to learn new stuff, to embark on new adventures. Life is, at any age, a journey of endless possibilities.