Karen Putz was sleepwalking through life.
As a teenager, she'd been an athletic young woman with a talent for barefoot waterskiing. She had her struggles — she was hard of hearing, for example, the result of a deafness gene in her family — but skimming barefoot along the lake's surface made her feel alive and unstoppable.
At 19, while Putz was barefooting, her foot caught in the wake and she cartwheeled into the water at 40 mph. The fall was hard enough to extinguish any hearing Putz had left. Over the next few years, she stopped waterskiing, devoting her time to adjusting to life as a deaf person, then meeting her husband and having three kids. In the process, she created a wonderful family, but also gained a significant amount of weight, got caught up in a sales career she liked but didn't love and found herself with no true passions.
Fast-forward to Putz's 44th birthday. Her husband emailed her a link to a Today show segment featuring a 66-year-old barefoot competitive water-skier named Judy Myers who first stepped into the sport at age 53.
"My whole outlook on life changed in that moment,” she remembers. “I kept replaying the video, crying, thinking, I'm only 44. If this woman can do it, I bet I could get back on the water again. It reignited my passion."
Putz contacted Myers and the next thing she new, she was flying from her hometown of Naperville, Florida, to Winter Haven, Florida, to get back up on the water with Myers. Her first try in two decades took place in an alligator-ridden lake. She weighed nearly 200 pounds and fell on her first attempt, but “the minute I put my feet in the water, I was a teenager again,” she says.
That was March 2010. Now 53 herself, Putz is a competitive barefoot water-skier and author of multiple books, including Unwrapping Your Passion: Creating the Life You Truly Want. She even has her own Passion Coaching business. Putz spoke with Disrupt Aging about why she's dedicated her life to helping others find their passion, no matter what their age.
How do you define passion?
Passion is energy with a purpose. So many of us are sleepwalking through life, living without intention, going through our routines, reacting to life instead of making life happen. We do the things we “have to do” and we say, “Yeah, right, there's no way I can …” to the things we truly desire. I want people to ask themselves, “If life were truly ideal, what would I be experiencing?
How does one do that?
Thinking back to happy childhood memories can give lots of great clues. Where were you, who were you with and what brought you joy? For example, when I close my eyes, I can remember swinging at a park near my home. I can still feel the wind in my hair and the warm sun on my skin. I felt so free. Now, does this mean I need to build a playground to rediscover my passion? No … although we all need to take more time to play! But it's no coincidence that my actual rediscovered passion — waterskiing — shares some key characteristics with swinging on the playground: Carefree joy. Being outside in nature. Freedom.
Here's my take: If you feel a desire inside to do something bigger than what you're doing now, chances are you have a passion waiting to be unwrapped.
Tell us more about women you've helped to find their passion.
One woman was in her 60s, recently divorced, and felt like she was drifting along. Yes, life was okay. She enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren. But she wasn't living with intention; she was moseying along. She read my book and realized her passion was dancing — she wanted to dance more! She signed up for lessons and now she dances every week: ballroom, salsa and more. She even connected with a former dance partner from 30 years ago and they meet every weekend to dance. She took her life to a new level.
You talk about the five-year test. What's that?
Companies have been using this in job interviews for years. It's a simple, but telling, test. My version goes like this: Mentally fast-forward to five years from now. What do you want to be doing? What kind of life do you envision yourself having? Write down your answer — physically put the words on paper.
Now, imagine it's five years from now, and you're living the exact same life you have today. Same job. Same hobbies. Same vacations or lack thereof. Would that be okay with you? If the answer is no, then you're not living with passion.
A recent Instagram post of yours reads, “You're not too old and it's not too late.” We love that.
Yes! One of the most common fears people have is that they're too old to pursue their passion. Not true. Passion is energy, and you can tap into that energy at any age. If you wait until you have a ton of time/chunk of money/whatever else you think is limiting you, you're going to be waiting a long time.