You have heard the expression, of course, that old dogs cannot learn new tricks. This maxim has surpassed dog training and is so embedded in our collective belief system that we easily can allow ourselves to take it to heart, even if it doesn’t truly apply to us. And once we believe it, we start limiting ourselves, restricting our reach for new horizons.
I joined my son this past Thanksgiving weekend to watch the Tyson vs. Jones fight, and thus came the inspiration for my “old dog” musings. Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr. have a combined age of 105, and both came out of retirement to leave us a fight for the history books. What was fascinating to me was the appearance of Mike Tyson 2.0. His physical transformation was incredibly impressive — he has dropped 100 pounds to a svelte 220, with only minimal body fat at age 54. Even more impressive to me, however, was the transformation of his character and personality. This was the fierce combatant who once attempted auricle surgery with his teeth on Evander Holyfield, had a maniacal anger embedded deep within his psyche, was arrested some 38 times before the age of 13 and went to prison for rape by age 30, with addiction ruling most of his younger years.
The Mike Tyson we see today has tamed and conquered his demons, and he did so in mid-life. By all accounts, he has meditated, prayed and educated himself. He has become a voracious reader who now takes on books like Philip Freeman’s absorbing biography of Julius Caesar. He appears compelled by the life story of Alexander the Great. As a result, the once-described “baddest man on the planet” is now a different human being. He has evolved spiritually, culturally and morally. The old Mike Tyson does not exist, except in sports history books.
Seeing how many adults cease their learning journeys by middle age is disheartening. They forget or ignore the fact that learning is an absolute requirement, a life-long obligation, so that we can thrive and adapt in all sorts of new circumstances and environments. Yes, humans all experience some cognitive decline with age, but older learners have the benefit of experience and wisdom, which helps compensate, at least in part, for other losses. Use your physical and mental capabilities or lose them, for both the body and mind atrophy if left idle.
My own journey with learning continues. Having left my main-stay corporate post a year ago for the world of management consulting, I found myself thrust into an environment that created a good deal of anxiety. Frankly, during the course of my corporate career, I relied too much on my team’s assistance when digital technology stymied me. As a result, while I certainly was not useless with computers, my skills were not at the level required to be a savvy consultant. When that reality hit me, I set out to catch up (the pandemic pushed me too, since I had to learn video conference programs quickly and with no forewarning). My latest venture is an eight-week course to enhance my understanding and use of social media.
Far and above the book-learning, however, is the journey we encounter as we age, examining our emotional, cultural and moral plains. Several years ago, I began to meditate and, believing that some of my views were too “fixed,” I delved into books that were different from my traditional choices. I engaged in discussions about politics, religion and race that taught me to view arguments from varied perspectives.
We have a choice in how we age and evolve and, frankly, the choice should be an easy one, precisely because change in our world is so rapid and disorienting. Tyson’s truest conquest is his evolution from the man he was to the man in the ring boxing with Jones — the better version of himself. Such a metamorphosis entails awareness of one’s character, as well as life-long self-schooling. This is how learning occurs. It is how old dogs evolve. This is a message for 2021.