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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

This 56-Year-Old Firefighter’s Story Proves You’re Never Too Old to Pick Up a Career-Changing Skill

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As children, we often feel limitless. But, as we grow and mature into this whole “adulthood” thing, it becomes easier and easier to box ourselves in.

“I can’t do that,” we tell ourselves, “I’m too inexperienced. I’m too busy. I’m too old.”

But, it’s those sorts of limiting beliefs that make Robin Nesdale’s story that much more inspiring. At the age of 56, she became a certified volunteer firefighter for her local fire department in Mamaroneck, New York.

The journey, shared in a New York Times piece, that led Nesdale to that point is one that’s relatable for so many—she wasn’t feeling fulfilled and inspired in her daily life, and she was desperate for a change.

When she randomly struck up a conversation with a firefighter sitting outside of that Mamaroneck station, things seemed to fall into place. “And it was like a lightbulb went off,” she says in the article, “I wanted something to help me and the community.”

Then and there, she put in her application and began the arduous training process to become a volunteer firefighter.

There are several things I find so awesome about Nesdale’s story (aside from the fact that she was able to carry a 50-pound hose up and down three flights of stairs—when I get tired on the walk from my desk to the fridge).

First, I admire the fact that she recognized the potential roadblocks that were standing in the way of her goal—like being older than all of the other applicants, as well as being a female in a male-dominated field—and then went for it anyway.

Self-doubt is real, and Nesdale is more than willing to admit that she was convinced she was going to faint during her physical skills test. But, she proves that with gusto and determination, you can let go of those beliefs that are undermining your confidence and overcome those obstacles that stand in your way.

Secondly, Nesdale emphasizes that making a change or trying something new is worth it—but that doesn’t mean it’s without hard work. To pursue her goal of becoming a volunteer firefighter, she had to complete 130 hours of class time. She needed to pass two 100-question exams and a written hazardous material test. She put herself through a required and rigorous physical test. She’s even searching for additional ways to further her skills.

Yes, she achieved her goal. But, she’s by no means an overnight success story. On the contrary, she’s living proof that when you’re serious about wanting to make a change, you also need to invest the elbow grease.

Finally, I’m inspired by Nesdale’s willingness to let the criticism roll off her back. Naysayers told her that her desire to become a firefighter was all a ploy just to land herself a man. Even her own daughter expressed concerns over this new adventure being “too manly.”

But, she didn’t let those sorts of remarks phase her or slow her down. Instead, she kept her eyes glued to the finish line and reminded herself that, as long as she knew her purpose, that was really all that mattered. That’s an inspiring attitude that we can all take to heart.

Maybe you don’t want to be a firefighter yourself. But, I’m willing to bet there’s something that you’re holding yourself back from—whether it’s a career change, a challenging opportunity, or a new skill you’ve been meaning to pick up for ages.

Take a page from Nesdale’s book, gather your courage, and go for it anyway.