The Longevity Gap
Things I Do Differently Now That I'm Old

Growing Old with Unrealized Ambitions

It has been awhile since we've had a reader-suggested conversation which makes it high time, I think, to do so.

Today's comes from Anne Brew who tells me in an email that although she spent her career as a primary school teacher, she always liked loud engine noises and her undercover ambition was to

” on the deck of an aircraft carrier, guiding the jets in with what looks like two table tennis bats.

“Since Great Britain no longer has an aircraft carrier I suppose I would have to use an American one. And I suppose I would have to enlist to be trusted with that job.”

I get that. Similarly, though less exotic, I have spent years enjoying those lively dancing traffic directors in busy intersections when I see them. You know the ones – usually in European cities, sometimes standing on a box who make traffic control look like a fun to do.

I've always thought I would be good at that. And there is the obvious frisson of danger – not too much, just enough to keep you on your toes (so to speak) – that a driver might skim past just a little too close.

That possible career choice along with dozens of others have briefly engaged my mind as alternatives to where I spent my work life though none were anything I longed for or regret not doing.

One big unrealized ambition, actually a daydream, is not career- or job-related. It's about wealth.

There is plenty of good one can do for others with unlimited wealth and I like to think that I would do that. How many homes does anyone really need or cars or expensive gadgets and doodads.

That doesn't mean, however, that people of great means should not indulge personal whims; only that they should also share their good fortune. But that's for another time. Today, we're daydreaming.

If I had unlimited wealth, I would buy me my own large airplane, an Airbus 380, and outfit it as a splendid traveling hotel with living room, eight or 10 guest suites, entertainment areas, a world-class kitchen and chef.

For style, think updated, greatly enlarged private railroad car from the 19th century with luxurious fabrics on well-made furniture, fine wood trim and pretty little wall lamps.

There would also need to be an excellent gym because the reason for the big, roomy airliner with all possible comforts available in flight is to gather up certain friends, the ones who are adventurous about great good food, and travel the world eating the best there is in their places of origin in season accompanied by the finest wines or whatever local libations are the recommended accompaniments.

From Parisian haute cuisine to the biscuits and red-eye gravy in Nashvville. From a tajine in Marrakesh to lobster in Maine. Fresh gnocci in Rome, sushi in Tokyo and so on.

The gym, then, to keep our bodies from turning into Jabba the Hut.

You can probably tell that in odd moments, I've daydreamed this for decades, redecorating the plane as my tastes have changed, adding phones, movies, large screens and recently, wi-fi along with a mental list of restaurants as I read reviews from storied restaurants great and small from around the world.

I suspect that if this ever became reality, I would quickly tire of being always on the move but that does not detract from the enjoyment I get from thinking about it and that's all I really need from the idea – it's fun to imagine.

Anne Brew concluded her note to me with this:

“It suddenly occurred to me that as a 66-year-old woman living in the U.K. and not being a member of the armed forces, it's now certain I will never do this and it's come as a bit of a shock.

“Do you or your readers have secret ambitions that will now never be realised and how does that make them feel?”

Now it's your turn, readers. Following Anne's lead, what are your secret dreams – career or personal. Did any of you accomplish them? Was there disappointment when you realized you've reached an age when it won't happen? How have you, if necessary, dealt with letting go?


It doesn't happen very often, but once in a while I'll be having a fun thought, and I think, "When I do that..." and then it hits me that I won't ever do that.

Since I was in my teens I've wanted to own a half dozen houses and have them all decorated differently---ultra modern, Victorian, seaside cottage, etc. You'd have to be rich to do all that so I settle for having different themes in different rooms of my house. But in my day dreams I go back to "my houses" and I'm glad I can do that. If I ever end up in a nursing home (which the odds are high that I will some day, not having any children) I figure my house dreams will come in very handy.

Hmm, well, I've vicariously lived some of my dreams via writing fiction. Not the same, of course, but a nice outlet.

I guess most author's number one fantasy is having a bestseller. I used to dream about that, but since I'm somewhat of an introvert, have realized it would probably be uncomfortable due to the public pressure of media attention.

However, the one dream I've had that will probably never come true is having oodles of money to help mistreated/abandoned pets. Difficult to let that one go, but right now I do hope to leave whatever funds I can to the cause. So it's not totally unattainable, though probably funds will go to either assisted living or nursing home if I live long enough.

What creative daydreams!

When I was still working and dreaming about what I'd do in retirement, I knew I wanted to volunteer with causes in which I had a passion. Those would involve both animals and people. So far I have happily volunteered at Dogs for the Deaf, a therapeutic riding group, and Wildlife Safari all in Oregon. Animals and people are so interdependent that it is always very rewarding. I've been very lucky!

I have always fantasized about writing a great science fiction novel. Over the years I've taken writing courses, gone to workshops, and even written a few first drafts. But I never worked at this dream with the effort it takes to succeed. Nothing is stopping me but myself.

What really holds us back from making our dreams come true?

Ronni, I like your fantasy about wealth. I have no idea what I would do if I wrote my novel and made a million bucks. The only thing that comes to mind is it would be fun to have enough money to hire research assistants for when I write a blog post that needs a lot of research.

hmmm....I was an only child and wanted a big family. We had 7 children, when they were almost all raised I went back to school and became a mortician; then I went to grad school and studied aging, grieving and bereavement. We owned restaurants and I had a catering service. Kind of did everything I wanted to..however, in my next life I would like to be a Medi-Vac helicopter pilot....Always wanted to fly a helicopter. Have to have a reason to spend another life here!!! I figured out early on that I am at my most creative when I am broke flat..It would be nice to have enough to give to help others though. and that book I would like to write...I have a lot of good stories, but they all start with "the night was....." ...and maybe a big old house to putz away at renovating!! Thanks for the opportunity to star gaze Ronni!!

Me too, Jim Harris - a research assistant.

My cousin, who retired from a job that took him all over the world working for a bank, wanted, since he was a little boy, to drive a bus. So he got his license, and he now works part-time for a company that takes people on day trips. He loves it and it's a dream come true.

My dreams? How many do you want to hear about?
My first dream was to be Miss America--not gonna happen, as I was plain as a mud fence.
My second dream was to be a fine actress--I had horrible stage fright and couldn't learn lines.
My third was to marry a man who could provide me with a huge house of my dreams and a dozen children. That died about halfway into my first marriage and after three miscarriages.
My current dream is to be able to write my own life story in such a way that someone wants to read about it and take some snippet of wisdom from it. I keep working on it.

I am forced to realize that I will never run an ultra-marathon (event more than 26 miles). I haven't quite given up on hiking one ... but it is unlikely.

One of my mentors in aging (besides Ronni of course) was Dr. George Sheehan who taught that, physically, we are all engaged in an "experiment of one." I like that.

Growing up in NYC, I had the great pleasure of listening to some of the best radio DJ's of all time. Men like William B. Williams, Murray the "K" and Harry Harrison were my idols. My dream was to become a radio DJ and actually did have a radio program when I was in college. But my dream of big time radio went unfulfilled. Am I disappointed? Yes, a little. Does it drive me crazy. No way. And now that you have made me think about it, I only personally know of one person that actually grew up to do what he always dreamed of doing. Perhaps, in the next world, we get that job we always wanted.

I had this driving urge to become an orchestra conductor. I guess I didn't realize that women just didn't do such a thing.. So I contented myself with piano studies and [thanks to a sympathetic friend who once gave me a real baton] conducting in the privacy of my home.. I take solace from Bruce's thought that maybe we get the job we've always wanted in some future world..

And yeah, who doesn't dream of having unlimited access to money? I entertain myself sometimes when I can't sleep by walking through a dream house, with broad and smooth wooden planks for floors [where I walk barefooted and feel little grains of sand under my feet--] and a deck that leads to a beach. And a view that is either to the east or the west,so that I can see the sunrise or the sunset.. And the sound of waves all the time. And a tidal pool which I go and study from time to time.

Back to reality --- which isn't all that bad, really.

My current dream is to be commandant of the FEMA death camps i keep hearing about. No death sentences, but plenty of hard labor!

Growing up, I loved the theater and make-believe in general. I don't think I ever thought I'd be an actress--that was a dream too far--but I knew I would like to be involved in the theater.

Then in high school I found journalism--something I was genuinely good at and which would pay the bills. I thought it would be ideal to become a theater and film critic, and I managed to achieve that dream at a newspaper, though not in a major city.

Later, when I worked at the University of Washington news office, I covered the Drama School, among other things.

I'm generally happy with the career I had, though always in the back of my mind was this wish to be involved in theater. I know now that it will never come true, but it's okay. I donate to the Drama School and I patronize the wonderful professional theaters in Seattle, and that's enough.

My dream was always to have a seaside cottage in Rockport, MA, and pied a terre in New Orleans and a casita in the desert southwest. Instead, I have a small apartment in Austin overlooking a nature park and woods, trails to walk and pools to swim in. Not bad at all!

I grew up in Los Angeles and was a real water baby from childhood. I surfed, waterskied, snorkeled and scuba dived up and down the coast.

I wasn't a particularly good surfer and after watching those who were great, and over time seeing the Endless Summer movies I always wanted to be a money making professional surfer-or scuba with Jacque Cousteau on the Calypso.

Instead I studied to be a teacher-and became a telephone installer. One of the first women west of the Mississippi to do this 'mans job'.

My dream was to have a cattle ranch and know enough about it to be successful. Instead of herding cattle I ended up herding 5 to 7 tear olds in a two room school. Much more fun.

I will never pitch at Yankee Stadium. I will never own the family farm in central Iowa. I will never be a cattle baron in Montana. I will never hear my niece sing at the Met; cigarettes have destroyed her voice. Becoming a Surgeon, a Veterinarian or a Psychiatrist are no longer possible. I still have hope that my best friend forever is just around the corner.

I've always said I don't want to sit in a nursing home and say, "I wish I had done this or that."

When I became divorced, after 35 years of marriage, I set out to do things I had always dreamed of doing. Since my five children were grown and doing well, I felt I now had the freedom to be self serving.

That was 20 years ago and if I end up in a nursing home tomorrow, I'm going to have great fun sharing my experiences with others and playing them over and over in my mind.

I still have a bucket list but I am living one of my biggest dreams. I sold my home and pretty much everything I had and now live full time in an RV and pick up and go when and wherever I feel like going. I think I always secretly dreamed of freedom and now I have it! Life is good.

I've come close. I got from OKC to Denver. But the dream for years was to have a nice home in the mountains. Common sense has set in regarding access to doctors, winter driving, etc., and I would now be delighted just to have a little house on a hill somewhere near here but with an unobstructed view of the Rockies Front Range. Plenty of homes have that kind of view, but I can't afford them. There is something soul-satisfying about watching the sun and clouds doing something different every day over those magnificent and familiar peaks. Just a view of sunrise, sunset, incoming storms, etc. Close enough to heaven for me.

Since my early thirties (now 73) and having heard numerous stories from older people about what they had “wished” they had done when they were younger I knew I didn't want to feel like that when I was older and that I had in some measure cheated myself out of unfulfilled dreams. I made myself a promise that I was not going to be some old person sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of the nursing home talking about what I wished I had done with my life.

Now granted, I found myself in a much better position than most of my peers for accomplishing that goal because I was only married for a short time over those years and I had no children. That equates to little or no responsibility except to myself which as we all know certainly changes how the game is played.

I had a great job with good income but twice, once in my late thirties and again in my mid-forties I quit that good job and chased a couple of those dreams. I use to play organ and sing at supper clubs and restaurants and thought what a life that would be where you simply worked a few hours a night and had all day, every day, off just to live life as you saw fit. No more 40-hour weeks or hectic deadline. That dream lasted about four months when I figured out it all just wasn't what I had built it up to be in the end. Fortunately my old job welcomed me back!

Then several years later I again left the good job to pursue a career as the world’s greatest professional photographer. I got a little further with that adventure making it to the six-month mark before realizing that the old 40-hour week and someone else having all the worries was actually the better option. It put real meaning in the old ‘do your 40 hours and leave all the headaches to the bosses’!

I’m all for folks realizing their dreams and it is really too bad that a majority of those folks can’t at least have a shot at them because I’m personally betting that a large number of them would find that all the glamour and glitz they envisioned was simply a figment of their imagination because things tend to look considerably different when the rubber actually hits the road.

At least that’s the way it was in my case I can honestly say when I finally take my seat in that old rocking chair I think I’ll be fairly content with how things worked out…..

I have always wanted to live communally, and almost did in the early 1970's, but it would have meant moving cross country to California, and away from all the rest of our family. We weren't able to convince ourselves to make that move, so that never happened. However, I recently read about some people who have been friends for many years, and who were aging and decided they wanted to live almost together, but with a bit of privacy as well. They bought land and built a row of tiny houses just outside Austin, Texas, along the Llano River. They included a 1,500 sq foot community space with kitchen, guest and activity space. Ever since reading about that, I have been wishing I were among that group. I don't see it happening here my future, but you never know. It would, however, probably be a big part of what I would do with my imaginary wealth.

I would like to be a secret bazillionaire who would deliver - secretly, of course - gifts to those who toil mightily under the radar. I got this idea from watching the tenacity and kindness of a 40-something woman who was working in the nursing home where Mom stayed for a while. Said worker was raising 3 kids, AND her mother and dad were living with her. Dad was disabled, Mom was ill. This woman was taking care of everyone. I would have wanted to pay off her house. I would want to give away cars and washing machines and a year's worth of groceries to these heroic Americans.

Though I've led a rather exciting life, I still have a couple of "I Likes" left. I'd like to have another couple of one woman shows. I'd like to go see all the great art galleries around the world. Instead, I will cheer on George, any grandchild that wants cheering on, and support any of my friends who are artists as best I can.

Maybe next year I can find a new gallery. :)

Get ready for a wall of text.

Here are some of my dreams, done and maybe to come. Who knows? I don't like endings.

My little kid dream was to be a teacher. I loved writing and reading books like Nancy Drew.

It took a freaking long time to achieve that dream, but it happened, and oh, I loved being a teacher. I retired at the top of my game, and looked forward to writing a book, volunteering, traveling and writing.

But when we take road trips, my mind wanders to DELILAH!

Who is Delilah?

She's a very cool radio host.

I want to have a similar radio show where people call in from anywhere in the world to tell me about their lives.

We chat. Then the caller asks me to play a song that relates to their story.

Delilah has this. I love that show. I am qualified for this, having heard just about every weird ass story across my classroom desk, in the senior home and food bank, plus the ESL classroom where I volunteer.

Our many trips to the USA made me way more friendly.

"Hi. How are you doing?" And we're off to the races.

I know the lyrics to tons of fifties, sixties, seventies songs.

My other dream is this:

In my next life, I learn everything about building an Eco efficient small home in the Old Port of Montreal.

The floors are made of hard wood on purpose, because pot bellied pigs stomp around.

I have the same husband, and family,
No change.

We adopt a three legged dog, pot bellied pig and a one eyed cat.

I write songs and interview singers for my Delilah show.

My radio show theme song?

"Running Down A Dream"

(Tom Petty)

At this stage of life (closer to 80 than 70) the things I want to do just keep appearing -- rooted in curiosity about life and the mystery and adventure of it all.
So for me that means anything to do with reading and writing and editing and hearing myself and others describe the experience of life.
The little girl who wanted to be Brenda Starr girl reporter, for instance, is learning podcasting as a volunteer for Bainbridge Community Broadcasting thus having the opportunity to delve deeper into local library and senior center events....Volunteering nourishes my still-in-the-world-self and allows me to take the time I need to report on the inner experiences of this stage of life. The dreams of an earlier time seem to continue, and I enjoy that they are dressed in the costume of an old lady!

It's living on a houseboat for me - exploring the rivers and canals of the world.

Actually I think the daydream is better than the real thing. That way, you avoid all the hassles.

These comments are such interesting reading!

When I was young I wanted a house out in the country with a wood-burning stove, a dog, and Leo.

Well, I have a wood-burning stove in my garage. Next weekend I will be seeing Leo for the first time in 20 years and probably the last time in our lives, at the alumni banquet in our dying little home town.

Cara, your words are so amazingly close to my thoughts! Except that I’ve not been successfully at writing fiction, just the occasional short story and letter to the editor.

If my make believe world I own a large company, have many employees. I travel, wear nice clothes and drive a sport car. I own a nice hotel, live in the penthouse.

2nd pretend dream. I was an entertainer.

From the time I took my first train ride with my grandparents I was hooked. I developed wanderlust in a big way. I wanted to travel and see everything.

I wanted to see every castle that existed because I think I read every fairy tale ever written.

As I matured my desire to see the world became a passion and eventually evolved into dreaming that if I had the money I would spend a month in every major European City and take day trips to the rest of that country.

I had to modify my dreams to tours and, although a month in each city was far beyond my budget I did get to see London, Paris, Rome, Vienna,Prague Seville, Fez, and Budapest. I also visited friends in Switzerland.

I saw castles along the way including my favorite Neuschwanstein.

My daydream was half fulfilled, but my bucket list is still long and it does make me rather sad to know I will never see the rest of the world.

I'd have loved to be a "great talent"--writer, singer, speaker, etc. Not even remotely possible! I'd have enjoyed having sufficient personal wealth to back up what I believe in. I wanted to make a difference, perhaps as a recognized philanthropist (with public recognition comes more money for the cause). I'd have helped unsung heroes like those Lynne Spreen mentions, also set up a shelter for abused or homeless cats.

On a very limited scale I was able to give back through my near-40-year career in the nonprofit sector. I currently volunteer for a cat rescue/adoption organization. Still, I once dreamed of doing SO much more, and sometimes it's hard to accept that it will never happen now! When I read the class notes in my alumni mag, there are many "names in bold" among my classmates: federal judges, diplomats, famous authors, artists and entrepreneurs; noted scientists, doctors and academicians.

On the material side, I don't daydream much any more. I'd like to have sufficient means to feel totally financially secure. (I'm sure lots of older people share THAT dream!) We'd like to be able to afford a newer home with the latest aging-in-place features and less upkeep. It would be great to replace my 15 Y/O SUV. Modest dreams. . .

I wanted to retire to the Oregon beach. My kids and grandkids are all in the far SE dry corner of WA and so am I, ha, ha. Like them better than the beach. I also wanted to hike part of the Pacific Crest Trail by the time I was 60 but I waited too long and have COPD now. BUT, my son found a spot where you can drive right up and park and go for a short walk.

I've had a good and interesting life, some low spots but I wouldn't change much.

Doctafill, your dream can still come true. Today, there's podcasting where anybody can have a radio show. Howard Stern started out paying for air time on a vanity radio station. Just tell me when you are on the air. I'll be your first caller.

What fun to read these!

(Diane, I can tell you that Rockport MA is a very snobby little town, so don't have regrets about that.)

I did a lot of traveling in my corporate life, so now I have two major things left on my bucket list: one I'm making come true one myself and one that's a fun fantasy.

The one I'm making come true myself is writing a novel. I was a successful professional writer all my life but only dabbled in fiction. Now I'm in a wonderful writers' group and learning how to do it for real. It's become my major reason to get up in the morning and my goal is not to make it a best seller but to make it good.

The fantasy, after having the love of my life die of Alzheimer's a few years ago, is to meet some moneybags who will take me on all of Viking's river cruises through Europe. First Class.

From an early age I knew I wanted to write a book and have it published and that has happened (eight times over) so that was one dream that really did become reality.

I also wanted to travel and see a lot of places in the world, and I have, so that was another dream come true.

I also yearned to have a completely straight spine instead of the scoliosis and kyphosis I was born with. Maybe it could have been fixed when I was little, but there was a war on and, well, maybe nobody even realized it was fixable. Maybe it wasn't. So that dream, alas, was destined never to come true, despite the best efforts of various chiropractors, but I have learned to accept and love my body the way it is, round shoulders and all.

I love this. I'm not yet old enough to engage(I'm the ripe old age of 30), but I was looking for blogs by older folks(lovingly, I see, called Elderblogs). This is wonderful! Thank you!

I had a dream and an unrealized ambition. My dream was to be a professional, classical musician. Never had the talent for it, so I sing in a variety of local choruses instead. My unrealized ambition is to be involved in disaster relief as it's needed around the world. Don't have the skills required for that, but, as an English language teacher, I've managed to live in many of the places I might have seen as a disaster worker. Close enough; life is good.

My life has turned out much differently than I had imagined it would after high school graduation 50 years ago. I don't recall having any special goals or dreams at that time. I was expected to work for a while until I got married and had kids. No one told me what would happen after that or what would happen if I had no children and then got divorced in my mid-30's. I've worked hard my whole life but not in jobs that made life comfortable, and it wasn't until my 50's I realized I would have made a wonderful occupational therapist. By then I was in survival mode making it through a couple job layoffs and taking care of an elderly mother. In my later 60's now, my relationships with friends and family are strong and rewarding. I am able to enjoy more creative activities since retiring (after another layoff)a few years ago, which is very fulfilling. My bumps in life have taught me empathy and compassion toward others. I enjoy the simple things in life such as a warm cat snuggled next to me, laughter with a friend, and the beauty of nature. My life might not seem like much to some, but it's my life and has meaning to me. And, in the words of Elaine Stritch, "I'm still here!"

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)