As anyone in their 50s or 60s can tell you, there’s still a lot of learning, exploring, growing—and, yes, mistake-making—to come.

Midlife is just another milepost, not a stop sign.

We asked Alan Alda, 83, Emmy- and Golden Globe-award-winning actor, director, screenwriter, and author, what wisdom he’d impart to his 50- or 60-year-old self.

Given how his life turned out, what does he wish he’d known two or three decades earlier?

Adapt, adjust, and revise

“Last spring, I was in Dundee, Scotland, where they were giving me an honorary degree at the university. They told me that I would have three minutes to speak. Three minutes isn’t very long!

“The longer we live, the more we have to adjust to the fact that things may start to rust and fall off.”
Alan Alda

“When I got up to speak, I said, ‘I only have three minutes, so I thought I’d give the secret to life. It’s three words: Adapt, adjust, and revise.’

“That’s the advice I’d give my 50-year-old self, and it’s the advice that I followed myself. It’s the way I adjusted to getting older than 50.

“It’s especially useful when you’re in the second half of your life. The longer we live, the more we have to adjust to the fact that things may start to rust and fall off. Every time we lose a capacity like hearing, smelling, or the sense of touch, we have to adapt to a new way of handling those functions.

“We have to respond to changes that make life difficult. And we have to keep revising the way we think about these things. If you can’t be agile physically, you hope you can be agile from your thinking.

“The challenges that come our way as we get older are just reality, and reality isn’t fixed by wishing it away or hoping it won’t continue. Reality is just what it is. And I find it more fun to cope with reality than to wish it wasn’t.”

This is part of a series of interviews conducted by Max Alexander, Austin Kilham, Lynn Shattuck, and Emily E. Smith.

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