“My biggest fear is that I’m too old, if you want to know the truth,” she said.
I was on the phone with a new client, it was our second session together, and we had begun digging into the deep ugly roots of her crippling self doubt and writer’s block. I wasn’t surprised that one of the first monsters to jump out of her closet was the fear of being too old. The very first screenwriter I ever consulted revealed the same fear to me—and he had only just turned 30.
“I’m scared that everyone successful in the field is younger than me, I’m scared I missed my chance. Most of all, I’m scared that I’m just going to make a fool out of myself. I’m coming up on 48 and I know I’m no spring chicken anymore.” My current client said.
I’ve heard variations of these statements from a few different clients. Sometimes the age is 52, or 34, or the writer is even in his or her 20s. But the actual number doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the writer believes wholeheartedly that there is a magic age by which to realize a dream, and he or she has now passed it. I’ve found this is especially true for screenwriters, whose trade usually puts them in greater contact with a Hollywood culture that believes youth and beauty are the only things that matter.
“Those who succeed in an outstanding way seldom do so before the age of 40. More often, they do not strike their real pace until they are well beyond the age of 50.”
― Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
The quote is sometimes a tough one for my clients to swallow, and it might be tough for you to accept as well. But you can change your thinking. First, you have to shed the negativity you have about your age. After that, you have to drench yourself in generous amount of positive thinking. If not, you risk letting a life dream of becoming a writer and bringing your stories to the world die because you are caught up in the numbers game.
If you’re 45-years-old and you really believe that you’re over the hill, then, guess what, you’re over the hill. If you feel you’re slowing down in life and you have no chance of making it as a screenwriter then guess what, you don’t. But see how silly that sounds when you read it? You’re missing opportunities right in front of your face because you’re telling yourself there are none.
When someone expresses interest in your screenplay, you will doubt he or she could be serious and you’ll “forget” to send it to them. You won’t mention that you’re a screenwriter when you’re chatting with someone at a party because you’ll be too embarrassed, and you won’t find out that they have amazing connections to people who are looking for something exactly like the big idea in your script. You’ll block yourself at every turn, and you won’t even be conscious that you’re the one sabotaging your dream. That is, if you continue to think this way.
“Do you really want to look back on your life and see how wonderful it could have been had you not been afraid to live it?”
― Caroline Myss, Sacred Contracts
Focusing on your age and using it as a reason to block yourself creatively is just another form of garden-variety fear. The real issue is always something else. Maybe you’re afraid of failure, or terrified of success and the increase of responsibility that it might bring into your life. Or maybe you know deep down that your family expects you to play a certain role—the quiet, submissive one who doesn’t threaten anyone else—and the achievement of your dreams will definitely upset that apple cart.
Whenever we feel fear around something that can be changed, our ever-resourceful brains will usually redirect that fear at something that cannot be changed. Because if the choice is taken away from you because of something unalterable, then it’s really not up to you, right? Wrong. I see what you’re doing. It’s a clever strategy that works extremely well. Until you catch onto the way your brain uses this trick of illusion and realize that you always have a choice, and the choice you’ve made by deciding that you’re too old to be a successful screenwriter was really a choice to give your power away.
“Men take only their needs into consideration—never their abilities.”
― Napoleon Bonaparte (from Business Wit & Wisdom by Richard Zera)
When you let other people decide whether you’re too old to produce an award-winning screenplay, you’re letting your life be dictated by a need for approval. When you sabotage your creative dreams to avoid an adverse reaction from your friends or family, you’re deciding in favor of your need for emotional control over others. But these needs will never actually be met, because no one ever receives universal approval, and no one can control the emotions of the people around them forever.
The only way to satisfy these relentless human needs is to hold your own power and use it to approve of yourself and manage your own emotions. Writing your screenplay and bringing your big idea to life can do this. Finishing your screenplay and celebrating that milestone will help even more.
Telling other people about it and giving them a chance to love it is the true test. When you’ve reached that level of confidence you’ll know you’re powerful enough to meet your own needs, and you can give all the energy you want to your abilities.
As long as you let fear run the show, you will always feel the panic about age nipping at your heels. But once you decide that you’re the one in charge of your dreams you’ll find this classic saying completely true:
Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.