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How old is too old to learn?

Take Anna Mary Robertson Moses an an example. She was born in 1860, right before the American Civil War. She lived to be 101 years old, so her life spanned from James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, through 21 presidents of the United States, to John F. Kennedy. Toward the later part of her long and fruitful life—in her 70s, when others have passed away or retired or given up learning—she taught herself to paint.

I don’t know why she chose painting rather than some other activity. Something inspired her. Something caught her interest. And in her long life she had learned to discipline herself and work hard. Even though she was hampered by arthritis, she painted practically every day until the last year of her life. Known as Grandma Moses, she created thousands of paintings over three decades and became internationally known for her artwork. One of her paintings has recently sold for over a million dollars.

The obituary published in the New York Times on December 14, 1961, quoted her as saying, “I'll get an inspiration and start painting; then I'll forget everything, everything except how things used to be and how to paint it so people will know how we used to live.”

She didn’t have an easy life. One of ten children, she had little formal education and left home to began working at age 12. After her marriage at age 27, she lived a difficult life as a farmer’s wife, bearing ten children of her own. When her husband died in 1927, she ran the farm for several years with the help of a son. Slowly she had to give up farm chores and embroidery because of her arthritis. Then she taught herself to paint. She received two honorary doctoral degrees for her work.

“I look back on my life like a good day’s work,” she wrote in her autobiography. “It was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

That belief—the belief that life is what we make it—sustained Grandma Moses through hard times. It enabled her to learn and to accomplish what she chose in her life. And it enriched her life as well.

We all have moments when we feel fear or discouragement. We have thoughts like these: "What if I try and fail? I can't seem to do this successfully. I don't think I've had any real success in life. This process is too hard. It was a silly idea anyway." These kinds of thoughts come to everyone. If a person lets discouragement or fear of failure—thoughts like these—take hold and keep him from acting to accomplish his dream, then he is too old. But other than that, there is no age limit to learning.

So what discourages you from trying something new, something you've always wanted to do or something you've seen others do and thought, "I'd like to try that too"?

What do you do to succeed in spite of those moments of discouragement?