Lessons to be Learned from Diana Nyad

Millions of us–and I am certainly no exception–have been struck by the recent achievement of Diana Nyad, the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Key West without the benefit of a shark cage. Her accomplishment is the result of a dream that she had 35 years ago and this was her fifth attempt. In other words, she tried four other times and didn’t make it. That would be enough to stop most people. Who are we kidding…most people wouldn’t even attempt such a feat because of the dangers inherent in the attempt alone. But FOUR times? Most of us don’t try once, but certainly the rest of us would have given it up after the first four failed attempts. The excuses would certainly be easy enough to find…but Diana said in this 2011 TED talk that she “knew” she could do it, and it was that knowledge that apparently drove her to continue to make the effort until she was finally successful.

As she came out of the water, her first words are not to be ignored:  “I got three messages:  One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.” The other key element that she shared with different news reporters was that she used the mantra, “Find a way” as things got more and more difficult for her during her 53-hour journey from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida. “Find a way…” Many of us would benefit from remembering those words the next time we hit upon an unexpected obstacle that threatens our efforts to achieve a goal. “Find a way…” just “Find a way….”

All of these messages can be extrapolated to fit any endeavor that any one of us might undertake in our lives–ever. No matter what we wish to accomplish, if we give up, it is a cinch we will never accomplish it. The key to success is sticking with the dream even when it is hard and even when you have failed multiple times.

Diana Nyad is a role model for anyone at any age and I hope that young people are paying attention to her message right now, but she is also a role model for those of us who have hit that important milestone of having turned 60 recently. I don’t know about you, but my recollection as a child was that anyone who was 60 or older was really o-l-d. And unfortunately, I suspect that many of us who have reached that milestone or who are looking at it from the not too distant future may be guilty of thinking that our best years are, in fact, behind us and our years ahead are ticking off way too fast. But Diana Nyad achieved her 35-year old “dream” at the age of 64. She speaks to that fact in her  2011 TED talk, and her message is that whatever one’s age, it is self-defeating to ever fall into the trap of thinking that we are “too old” or that our opportunities are behind us or that it’s ever “too late.”  If you take Diana’s advice, you will know that “you are never too old to chase your dreams.

Dreams are important and they shouldn’t be forgotten or discarded just because we got a little older or life has gotten in the way. We have dreams for a reason. But you have to do what Diana did and have faith in yourself that you can actually achieve your dream. You can’t entertain your own internal negative thoughts about age or other circumstances that might deter you, and you sure can’t listen to the negativity of others. I wonder how many people tried to discourage her as she prepared for this fifth attempt? Who told her that it was “impossible?” Who tried to tell her that it was “too late” for her? The fact that she trusted her own instincts and her inner knowing that she was meant to make this dream a reality is what has set her  apart from the rest of us, I believe. It is her unwavering belief that she could do it. And because she “knew” she could…she did!

I hope she is savoring these first days of her achievement. Those of us who are watching vicariously from afar are certainly enjoying it with and for her and I hope that it inspires others to have the faith in their own dreams that they can still accomplish them, that  it isn’t too late, and we are, in fact, “never too old.”