Never let anyone tell you that it is too late to live your dream. Just take a look at Colonel Harland Sanders.
At 65, he left Kentucky and started his travels to different parts of the United States to give his chicken recipe free for a small percentage of the dishes sold. After hearing “no” for more than 1,000 times, he finally got his first “yes” and with that one success, he changed the eating habit of the world with Kentucky Fried Chicken, popularly known as KFC today.
Closer to home, there are many seniors who are doing things they have set their minds to. There are even those living their childhood dreams of becoming a star. One such person is retiree Danny Yeo.
Lights, camera, action in his golden years
It was a casting call by SG50 and Pioneer Generation (PG) for an “uncle role” and younger son Sam Jo spotted it on social media site Facebook. Having retired from his marketing job with the Singapore Press Holdings in 2015, Mr Yeo jumped at the chance. He got the role and the rest was history.
Mr Yeo, 72, was bitten by the acting bug when he was nine and throughout his secondary school days, he played several roles in different plays but he never followed that path towards stardom because he was working himself “up the corporate ladder” from a “lowly general clerk”, the position he started out in 1972. Then, he was not allowed to “moonlight”.
“Acting came in very nicely for my retirement. It’s something that I’m passionate about. I get to make new friends, young and old, and learn new things. So far, my experience on set has been nothing but positive. As the saying goes, ‘better late than never’,” he says.
Loving his attitude, the same production house called him back to audition for a Health Promotion Board’s (HPB) Healthy-Ageing campaign. There, Mr Yeo became one of HPB’s Healthy-Ageing ambassadors for a few years, appearing in their posters and videos. It was on set that a younger crew member and talent taught him to search and answer casting call websites on Facebook to look for jobs, and that was when Mr Yeo never looked back.
Mr Yeo was even cast in two UK/USA TV serials, Strike Back and The Singapore Grip, which were filmed on location in Malaysia. His proudest debut was an educational video on dementia that he did for the National Neuroscience Institute. It won the silver award in the medical category at the Cannes Festival 2020, and it thrills him each time a film he was in wins an award.
Mr Yeo says acting has definitely helped him with his ageing process. It allows him to stay active and useful. Interacting with fellow actors and memorising lines from the different scripts have helped keep dementia at bay. He says that the challenges of ageing is to keep active both physically and mentally, to keep busy and to continue to socialise.
For someone as busy as Mr Yeo after he retired, it is surprising that he did not make plans for retirement and rather, had adopted the que sera sera (Italian for whatever will be, will be) attitude.
“I believe that as long as I am no longer in debt, have no more commitment that requires a huge sum of money, have enough savings to get by and possess adequate health insurance coverage, I can survive, come what may. The kind of plans that financial planners advocate never crossed my mind at all,” he says. “So, you can say that I was quite excited when I knew that I was going to retire. I was even looking forward to smelling the roses,” he adds.
Now that he has rekindled his childhood passion for the bright lights, Mr Yeo plans to continue as an actor for as long as he can and to keep himself active and useful. When he is not busy on the set, he plays tennis, cycles, and does a lot of gardening, which he finds therapeutic. He also volunteers to help transport the elderly to and from their physiotherapy and rehabilitation sessions twice a week.
“Start doing the things you want to do [but could not when you were young], don’t wait,” he says.
Redefining age with modelling
Never did 65-year-old grandmother Ong Bee Yan think she would be given the title of Singapore’s oldest model. For Ms Ong, the idea of retirement was initially exciting after having worked in the fast-paced media industry for over 10 years – two as a freelance graphic designer and eight at a public relations consultancy firm.
“I thought I could spend my time lazing around, doing nothing, watching TV or sleeping all day,” the fashion model says. But in reality, she could not bring herself to “just do nothing”. ”It was meaningless because I am still alive and able to move around. Idling was just too boring for me,” she adds.
In fact, Ms Ong herself has struggled with aging, particularly prior to coming out of retirement to run her small artisan coffee business. She once told Harper’s Bazaar Singapore that she was starting to forget simple things and was afraid of having dementia creeping into her life, seeing how her mother and sister suffered from it.
To stave off boredom and the looming possibility of dementia, Ms Ong keeps herself physically and mentally active – spending five days a week on exercises, working part-time in a non-profit association, helping her cousin with her mobile carpet cleaning business and pursuing her hobby in upcycling and recycling discarded furniture.
It was in 2019 that she was approached by a local designer for a modelling gig at one of the pop-up events that she participated in for 1degree C, her online cold brew coffee business.
“I immediately said yes. That immediate response was because I felt there was nothing to lose at age 63. Furthermore, why should I doubt myself when a casual acquaintance could trust me to showcase her clothes,” she asks.
“[The problem is] I have always been camera shy and an introvert but one day my son chided me for not taking family photos. His remark lingered with me for a long time, and I felt it was time to conquer my fear and get out of my comfort zone,” the entrepreneur says.
Ms Ong says that she is very blessed to be picked to show that age is just a number. Modelling challenges her to get out of her comfort zone and gives her the opportunity to interact and learn from the younger generation, she adds.
“I have many memorable shoots because at every shoot I learn new things in the field of styling, makeup and photography. I get to interact with the young who are digitally savvy and learn from them. I’m also able to show that even at my age I can do justice to the products that I model,” she says.
“Modelling and running a business part-time keeps me physically and mentally healthy as I am constantly on the move and writing captions for my IG posts, answering media queries, and doing interviews,” she says.
For Ms Ong, as long as the modelling industry promotes inclusivity, she is more than happy to continue doing it. Part of her fees are donated to causes that she is passionate about, such as animal welfare and Christian missions and it gives her a purpose to continue modelling.
Ms Ong believes that seniors should embrace the aging process, and not “put ourselves in a box”. Society thinks that seniors are capable of only doing certain things and incapable of learning new ones which she strongly disagrees.
“I overheard a man who told his friend that he will never hire an older person because we are slow in learning and are set in our ways. I also read a netizen stating that it is the duty of grandparents to look after their grandchildren. Just because we are old, does this mean we have no say in how we want to live our lives?” she asks.
“The ageing population needs to be useful and have a purposeful and meaningful life. Age is just a number. We can embrace our age but not let it define who we are.”
You can still teach an old dog new tricks
Everyone has wishes and aspirations that they want to fulfill yet the Singapore system is such that it dictates the following life path for us: study, become independent, get a career, marry, have a family and then care for that family.
By the time we complete these responsibilities, we are already past our youth and are more or less settled in our lives and careers. We do not want to jeopardise our normal routine or take any risk at this point in life by trying something new.
However, challenging ourselves to learn new things and taking up new experiences in our golden years might actually be beneficial, says Ms Dawn Chia, a clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology.
Growing older increases the likelihood of physical ailments and medical conditions as our bodies and mental faculties gradually decline. These factors, in tandem with retiring from full-time employment, can potentially affect the elderly’s sense of independence in daily routines and financial security, leading them to question their sense of identity and purpose in society and life, says Ms Chia.
Instead of idling and doing nothing, it might be more productive for retirees to continuously look for opportunities for personal fulfilment and growth, she says, adding that studies have shown that being physically, mentally, and emotionally engaged in new fulfilling experiences is part of ageing well and productively. These adjustments usually require senior individuals to be open to learning new life skills or take on new pursuits, along with having the necessary support from loved ones to do so.
“In addition to traditional means of ‘enjoying the fruits of one’s hard work’ such as engaging in hobbies and travel, there can be joy and meaning found in opportunities to pursue unfinished goals or dreams they might have had to put aside previously,” she says.
“I’ve been reminded through journeying with older relatives and patients alike that the learning and personal growth (should) never stop, and the saying that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is inaccurate and unhelpful,” she adds.
Moreover, retirees often bring with them valuable insights from their experiences, which could be transferred to these new pursuits as well as be passed on to the younger generations, Ms Chia says.