OF YOUR LIFE
By Chris Gardner
YOU CAN DO I T!
SCRATCH AT 51
If you’ve dreamed of flying without wings, try this
Last year I was laid off from my
job in oil-burner repair. After a
year of retraining I found a job
in an air-conditioning plant. I’m
glad to have work, but I feel as if
I’ve lost my identity. Can a
person really start over at my
age and feel good about it?
—Albert Ferrell, 51, PHILADELPHIA
Chuck Kause is upside down. The former Marine officer turned defense
contractor is experiencing weightlessness on a flight run by Zero-G, a
“space entertainment” company. Kause knew at an early age he’d never
be an astronaut: “I had bad eyes, and I was bad at math,” he jokes. An
astigmatism in his right eye disqualified him from military flight school.
Today about 20 of us are with Kause on the Zero-G flight over Virginia.
The pilot performs a series of arcs: We climb at a 45-degree angle—a 1. 8
g-force presses us to the floor—peak at 34,000 feet, then plunge. After that…
Laughter. We’re floating! For each 30-second descent—we do 15 in
all—the jet is a no-gravity playpen. The staff releases M&Ms, which hang
in the air for us to catch. Water bottles are opened: A puddle glides toward
me, and I flick it into marble-size blobs. Chuck does a barrel roll in midair.
When it’s over, I see why astronauts call this the “vomit comet.” I’m
queasy—but ecstatic. So is Chuck: His 50th birthday is five days away. This
flight is his Big 5-Oh, once-in-a-lifetime treat—and the realization of a
dream. “I’ve never felt so free,” he says. —Ken Budd
Age is a fact, but it’s not the whole
story. At 51 you are younger than
Ray Kroc was when he started the
McDonald’s chain. So, yes, it’s possible to start something new after
50 and make it your life’s work.
Stop worrying about starting
over, and just start. To find the self
you feel you’ve lost, figure out what
turns you on—that one passion
that makes you say, “The sun can’t
rise soon enough, because I’ve got
to do my thing.” See where you are
with it, and where you want to go.
Next, take a step toward your
goal. Maybe it’s pursuing a hobby.
Maybe it’s bringing old strengths to
your new job. Where do you start?
Start where you are! Martin Luther
King Jr. said it best: “You don’t have
to see the whole staircase. Just
take the first step.” ;
Zero-G offers 25 to
30 flights a year in
10 cities. The cost is
$4,950, so it’s often a
bucket-list treat (888-
.com). Some cheaper
options? The National
Air and Space Museum
in Washington, D.C.,
has flight simulators
. si.edu), and the John-
son Space Center in
Houston simulates life
on the space station
The film The Pursuit of Happyness
chronicled Chris Gardner’s rise from
struggling single fatherhood to success
on Wall Street. Now he advises others
on reaching their goals. Got a question?
Ask Chris at aarp.org/chrisgardner.
Planning to fulfill a longtime dream? Let us
photograph you doing it. Go to aarp.org/yourstory.