I evolved in mid-life and observed the results

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That is the saying. I have heard it applied to people as well. However, It’s not true. Growth is possible at any stage of life, as long as you are willing to do the work.

A person is never too old to change. I know this because late in life, I changed. I have become a new version of myself. I also have some data supporting my hypothesis.

My journey started when I was in my mid-fifties. It has not been easy. I burned out at work, and the weight of a lifetime of undiagnosed and untreated depression finally became too much to carry. I got a recommendation and started working with a therapist. Therapy is hard but necessary. It is like difficult physical exercise, exploring the past and hopes for the future. My life has changed in many positive ways since the journey of self-exploration started.

I found the courage to let go of a career that no longer served me. I experience deep emotions now, good and bad. I took time to think about the passing of my parents and allowed myself to grieve. I learned gratitude. I discovered and pursued creative hobbies such as writing, painting, and photography. I am not the same person I was five years ago. I have had experiences that demonstrate this truth. Now, I also have some data that supports this, from an online values survey I have used to track my core values and their relative importance in my life.

I have shown measurable growth in the areas below where I have focussed.


In therapy, we worked to introduce gratitude into my life. At the start, I had no appreciation for it. Despite being gainfully employed, in a happy marriage, and in good health, I was miserable. Depression certainly contributed to this, but I also lacked any sense of gratitude for the good things in my life.

A practice of gratitude journaling might have helped me, but I needed something more. In therapy, we discovered my deep sense of shame over past decisions. Packing up the family and moving, changing jobs, and the financial mistakes I made weighed heavier on me than guilt. It was shame, and it took away my self-worth and confidence.

In the beginning, my therapist asked me what I would say to my past self if we met. I replied that I would hit old me over the head with a shovel, and then use the shovel to bury old me in the woods. This wasn’t healthy.

I had to learn to separate guilt from shame, distinguishing between the mistakes we all make as humans and not letting those mistakes define and devalue me. Then I had to learn something harder. I had to learn to accept the mistakes and actions of those prior versions of myself, and I needed to become grateful for them.

The key to gratitude in the present was acceptance and gratitude for my past.

I found it challenging to develop gratitude for actions and decisions I had previously viewed negatively. We talked about prior versions of myself and their actions and perspectives. Did they mean any harm? No. I thought long and hard about them and their mistakes. I came to realize that they did their best, even if the results weren’t great. I learned that those prior selves did not have the knowledge and perspective I do now. They worked within their limitations, in the containers they were stuck in, and they had the best intentions. I have an old picture on my driver’s license, from 2008. I feel so thoroughly different today that I don’t recognize that person. Eventually, I learned to feel sympathy and forgive him. But I am still getting a new picture when I renew my driver’s license this year.

Moreover, irrespective of how I viewed the performance of my past selves, everything they did has led me to the place where I am today. And I am in a good place right now, therefore I should be grateful for all of it.

Shame created false narratives in my mind. It created stories about better lives than my current one. Lives that I missed out on because of my past actions. But these were just ruminations about a present and future that was not real, and likely would never be. The falsehood that we have missed out on a better life is graphically illustrated by Matt Haig in his excellent novel, “The Midnight Library”. All of my actions, decisions, and the factors beyond my control, good and bad, have made me what I am.

My prior selves are a dysfunctional and out-of-tune marching band teetering and wobbling down the street, running into parked cars, but they have led me to where I am today. So thank you.

My new sense of gratitude showed itself most strongly late in 2021 when I came down with COVID-19. It was later in the year when vaccines were available. I had availed myself of them. It seemed not too irresponsible to go on a trip. I flew out to Colorado for a visit with a friend. We intended to hike one of the easier 14ers (I am a flatlander). The plan unraveled when we all got sick early on and tested positive. After 10 days of quarantining inside, I had to cancel my flight home and rent a car to drive from Colorado to North Carolina. Yet strangely, the morning I left I was overwhelmed by gratitude.

Sure my trip was buggered, I had to stay away from home an extra week, and I was about to get in a car and drive over 1,500 miles in two days while still feeling sick. Somehow none of that weighed on me. I was grateful. I was thankful that I had been vaccinated and avoided serious symptoms. I was grateful to spend the time in quarantine in a comfortable home with friends, rather than alone in a hotel. I was even looking forward to driving across Kansas (Spoiler alert: It was flat). The old me would have been bitter and miserable over what had befallen him.


I worked hard to free myself of my old life, mindlessly going to work every day in misery when my circumstances no longer required it. In therapy, we discussed what I would do with my days once they were freed. I was not a person who had a dream they had to defer while their career monopolized their time. After an adult lifetime in science and I.T., the only vague idea I had about my future was that I wanted to pursue something “Creative”. I had no idea what that meant. I used to joke with my wife that if I ever had a chance to rewire my brain and start over I wanted to be sat down in front of a piano.

We explored what was blocking me, and what was stopping me from simply trying a new creative hobby. I bought a digital piano and tried to learn how to play it. It turns out it wasn’t for me. I tried origami, folding paper into little Christmas ornaments. And cranes, so many cranes. But that too didn’t stick. It was more like assembling IKEA furniture than creating art.

My therapist introduced me to zentangles. At first, staring at a blank piece of paper, with no idea how to fill it, caused tremendous anxiety. With practice, this fear lessened. Today, watercolor painting is part of my routine. I have experienced joy at the sight of some of my completed pieces, and sadness and frustration when others haven’t gone well. These are feelings that were missing from my life.

The transformation into a hobby artist, writer, and photographer, was not something I could have foreseen five years ago. My former, pre-therapy self would have laughed at the idea and thought it impossible. I was in my fifties, I had displayed no discernible creativity in my life up until that point. Yet, here I am today, doing what seemed impossible not long ago. I may not be doing any of it particularly well, but I am ok with that. I have accepted that the journey is what is most important to me right now.


I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity and support to go on a journey of self-actualization at this point in my life. One of the greatest opportunities it has afforded is the time to explore and learn. I have spent countless hours online consuming tutorials, classes, and Instagram reels to learn the basics of my many creative hobbies. I enjoy discovering something new and attempting to put it into practice.

I follow many talented artists on Instagram, and I admire their work. I have accepted that I will never be as good as them. One of the many reasons why is due to my tremendous curiosity. I cannot work at one particular thing, in a certain style, long enough to master it. I am constantly being pulled in many directions as ideas pop up. My Instagram accounts and personal website are a bit like TJ Maxx. There are a lot of different things going on, all jumbled together. I use Asana to capture and prioritize my ideas for implementation, which are so numerous they require ten different “projects” to keep them organized. I suspect there is enough creative work in the parking lot to keep me busy for many years.

I have even gone back and pursued personal projects in programming. A field I swore I despised and never wanted to return to. I have found inspiration in small projects at the intersection of coding and art, such as animating a snow globe, and coding implementations of Sol Lewitt artworks.

Perhaps I will find the one thing, a particular style of painting and a consistent theme of subjects, that I love doing so much that I will do it exclusively. For now, I am happier to buzz around like a bee from flower to flower.

The Data

Early in the process, I was encouraged (I enjoy the opportunity for take-home work to complete and bring to the next therapy session) to complete an online values assessment.

I used the free survey provided by the VIA Institute on Character. The survey “provides your rank order list of character strengths with the strengths that are most core to your identity at the top.”

The first survey was taken near the start of my journey.

Of course, having worked with data my whole adult life, I understand better than most the danger in trying to identify a real trend in only three data points. Nonetheless, the changes over the last four years in the importance of some of my values, combined with the real growth in my life make the data worth reviewing.

A selection of the rankings of each of the 24 values from the three surveys is presented below. For clarity, I have separated the values and charted ones that have grown in significance over time, as well as those that have fallen. I have left out several that have remained largely unchanged.

Rising Values – Growth

The chart below shows the core values of my identity that have increased the most in relative importance.

Chart showing growth of values
Values which grew. Credit: Bill Boese

The values I spent significant time and effort on, Gratitude, Curiosity, Creativity, and Love of Learning, grew the most in terms of their ranking in the time period.

These values were always important to me, they just were not being practiced. When cultivated, they grew. This was real growth.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” — Pablo Picasso

Falling Values

Along with many values that remained largely unchanged, some declined in significance.

Growth data, values that shrank in significance
Values which fell. Credit: Bill Boese

Explaining the cause behind most of the falling values is difficult. I do not have a good explanation yet for what would make things like Love, Forgiveness, Humor, and Fairness less important to me now than before.

One falling value, however, is a positive. And that is Prudence. VIA describes it as:

“Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted.”

It makes perfect sense to me. In the beginning, I was unwilling to leave the safety of my career and take the risk to lead a new different life. I may lack prudence now, in staying home with dogs and painting and writing stories few will ever read, but I am grateful for it.


I am fortunate to be able and well-supported in taking on a journey of self-actualization and transformation. This journey started in therapy in my mid-fifties and has resulted in profound personal change and growth, as well as understanding and management of my latent depression. These changes are so significant they would have been impossible to predict. The data taken from my values surveys supports my self-assessment of the new version of me. I hope my story will inspire you to look inward and consider the values you want to express more in your life.