Terry Tillman, 80: Life Without Fear

Not feeling at all his age, “recovered businessman” and worrier Terry Tillman built a new life full of joy and curiosity and devoid of fear. He discusses what really holds us back from achieving our goals, how happiness increases effectiveness at work, and healing his paralysis when doctors said he would never walk again.

“I turned 80 this month, and still wondering what I’ll do when I grow up. I definitely don’t relate to the number. It sounds old and I’m not.”

Success is not always what we think it is. It may be living life without fear, rather than putting big numbers up on whatever scoreboard one is keeping their tally on; discovering that joy and happiness are not only their own reward, but that they may lead to other treasures as yet unimagined.

But how does one get to understand that the limits in their lives may not be their circumstances, but rather their beliefs? This is where self-described recovered businessman Terry works. As we often say here, we can only work towards what we imagine is possible; our greatest limitation is in our own minds and our ability to imagine and push our beliefs to new heights. It is not where you are, it is where you think you can go that is the key. 

How old are you?

So tell us, who are you?
Haha. Someone last night asked me this. That’s a really hard question. I’ve noticed most people answer in terms of credentials and titles and such. I’ve got plenty of those. But who I am, I’m a scout. I like to think that I’m heartfelt and spirit-directed inside out. I discovered that I have a sensitivity way beyond what was acceptable when I was little. I have a deep level of caring; and heartfelt, that’s my intention. 

I’m a recovered businessman. I was a type A entrepreneur right out of college for 15 years. Go, go. More, more. Bigger, faster. And I looked successful but I didn’t feel it inside. I was killing myself.

Inside Out Leadership

What are you scouting for?
I’m really curious and it’s taken many forms throughout my life. I have a leadership seminar that I call Inside Out Leadership so I’ve done a lot of looking and experiencing what’s effective in leadership. Not just in business but in your own life. For my business clients, I tell them: happy people are productive people. And most of them aren’t happy but after 2 and ½ days with me they’ll touch back into joy and happiness and maximum effectiveness. 

People say they want to get from A to B. They want a higher market share or a bigger salary or more time with their kids and they aren’t there yet. So I find a way for them to get there. A scout goes out and finds a way and comes back and shares what they found. What I like about my work is that scouts do their work alone but then have the group time and I love that balance. 

What do you find is most self-limiting for people trying to get from A to B? Why aren’t they at B?
Belief systems. Limiting beliefs and the fears and assumptions that come from that and dictate their choices and limit their behaviors. Everybody’s got a fear of failure but that’s usually a small part of it. 

Recently, people have been asking me a lot about health. People who have health issues. That’s not my main work but I’ve healed myself so I know a way. I was paralyzed and told I would never walk again. My only thought was “those doctors just can’t help me. I’ve got to find somebody who can.” So I went to find people who had healed and asked how they did it. Then I did. Now I have a way and work with a number of people on their health issues. 

I ask my clients two questions: Do you really want to get to B? and Do you think it’s possible? If we don’t have a clear yes to both of those, don’t even start. Don’t bother. A lot of the work is clearing up the unconscious blocks. 

“My work is to take people outside that comfort zone in hundreds of ways”

The approach that you’re taking with the health issues sounds similar to the approach you take in your seminars. That it’s around belief systems.
We work a lot with belief systems. The main model that I use is the comfort zone. We all have this zone that we live in that feels familiar and comfortable and all the learning and the growth happen beyond that. So my work is to take people outside of that comfort zone in hundreds of ways. My forte is experiential learning. I was an A student, I have a good brain, I got into Stanford, I graduated; mentally I do fine. But that didn’t produce what I wanted. I learned a lot playing sports. I didn’t just learn how to throw a pass but I learned how to work with a group of other people, how to be a team. I look back and the things that have stuck with me were all from experiences. 

You’re now 80 years old. How are you different now from 20 years ago?
There’s a part of me that feels no different at all. I’d say that’s my soul or essence or something inside that feels just the same. The part that is different is what I think. In college, my nickname was Tight Ass. I was a world-class worrier. I had ulcers; I was an insomniac; I worried! What’s really different is I just don’t worry now. It’s a miracle. It’s been that way for 20 years maybe and it was a conscious effort to change. 

The stopping worrying… that was you changing your belief system about worry?
The belief system started changing like dominos. What it came from was realizing that where you look is where you go. What I focus on determines what I call “reality” and then consequently experience. My physiology is affected by what I focus on. That worry was directing my focus towards a negative outcome and it wasn’t there. It was what I was imagining would happen. It wasn’t real. And then I realized that I didn’t have to do that. I could imagine a positive result. It was hard for me to consciously shift like that because it was an old habit that would just unconsciously go back to the worst that could happen and the worry. What if I don’t pass this test? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if my daughter’s born crippled? What if I get in a car accident? It went on and on. 

“I’m not consciously afraid of anything. I’m really not”

What are you afraid of today?
I’m not consciously afraid of anything. I’m really not. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m approaching it. A very good friend of mine died yesterday. So I’m at that age where it’s happening for the last 10 or 15 years where people I know are dying. I’ve never been afraid of dying. In fact, my spiritual study is a priority for me and the result of that has been soul transcendence which in a way is dying here while I’m alive, if that makes any sense. 

I don’t want a painful, long, suffering death. Am I afraid of it? It’s not a fear thing. But I just don’t want it. So I look at the alternative. It would be nice to just go to sleep and not wake up. That’d be a nice way to die. 

What’s your ambition for the next ten years?
That’s a real challenge for me, honestly. I used to be quite ambitious and the biggest challenge I have right now is been there, done that. I don’t mean that arrogantly at all. The things that I thought I wanted I’ve done or I’ve got. Right now, what’s got my interest is figuring out how to be a good father to my young son. I have two grown daughters and I did the best I knew how but I wasn’t the father that I would’ve wanted as a child. That’s my main thing. I’ve accumulated some wisdom. I’m an elder now. I wish I would’ve met the me now 40 years ago, and listened! I probably wouldn’t have listened. I’m very interested in offering my wisdom. I’m working on an online course to help people use me. I have no intention of retiring by a golf course and playing every day. That’s not my nature. 

“That’s part of scouting; I’ll only find things out if I explore them”

You mentioned your spiritual practices. What sort of spiritual practices do you have?
Well, I’ve been meditating for about 45 years. I study with a man named John Rogers, a spiritual teacher. I started teaching meditation in my business seminars; however, if I would’ve called it meditation they wouldn’t have let me in the door. I called it a stress reduction technique. Now, the term mindfulness has crept into the jargon. I think meditation is maybe the most valuable thing I’ve ever learned and I would’ve never expected that when I started. I thought it was weird when I started. But that’s part of scouting; I’ll only find things out if I explore them. So I did meditation and it was really hard at the beginning. I felt like I was wasting my time. If I were rewriting the world’s rules, I would teach kids about karma and meditation. I believe the world would be a very different place. People would make very different choices and more positive, friendly, productive choices. 

Terry and his son, Ty.

How old is your son and what’s it like having a young son?
He is 6. He’ll be 7 in November. I’m completely in love with him. Often when I’m interviewed they ask, “If there’s one message you can leave for the listeners, what would it be?” The first thing that pops in my mind is: “If I can be more loving, everything else would work.” That’s always been an intention of mine but I always fell short. But when my son was born it was a level of loving that I’ve never had; I had heard about it. It’s constant. I look at his picture on my desk and just come alive. That’s the main thing. I’m the age that most people are with their grandchildren but now I have a son. It’s hard to describe. I’ve got to be one of the oldest fathers. I don’t have a lot of company. I’m out here where nobody else is but I’m learning some things. 

In order to have a younger son my wife has to be younger. We met soon after I had left a 30-year relationship and I had no intention of getting into another relationship. I thought, “I’m done.” All I can say is that the heart has a mind of its own. In my marriage right now and having my son, I’m following my heart and there’s often no logic with it. We now know that the heart and the gut have more intelligence than the brain might. With a young son, I’m living in that heartfelt, intuitive gut level. I think that’s my ambition, to get more of that following my gut and to get better at that. 

“I don’t want to come to people with lack”

What are the 3 non-negotiables in your life?
Take care of myself first. Then I can take care of others. I don’t want to come to people with lack. It might seem selfish but it’s a non-negotiable. I’m going to take care of myself first. That means I’m going to make sure I get enough sleep, I’m going to eat good food, I’m going to exercise. This morning I canceled a meeting so I could go run. Why? I’m going to run 3 days a week at least 30 minutes no matter what. 

I’m not going to go to war. That’s a non-negotiable. I grew up in the Vietnam era and most of my friends and I were trying to figure out how we were going to avoid that. I’ve just always known that I’m not going to go kill someone else. I don’t care what you say. 

The third is my family. My family’s in Idaho right now. We moved up there for my younger son. It wasn’t okay with me for him to be at school with a mask on, distancing and not playing. I know a lot about psychology. I know how formative those first 7 years are. So I moved us to Idaho so he could be a kid. 

I understand that’s controversial. But it’s a non-negotiable for me. 

Main image by: Doug Ellis.


  1. At 87 (going-on-60) I share many of Terry’s insights and attitudes. No, I don’t have a small son–I have funny, bright, loving daughters, 60 and 62, and four millennial grandsons scattered around the world. Besides meditation, I have serious discussions with my most important psychiatrist–that person in my bathroom mirror. I’m still producing, and not planning on waking up on the wrong side of the grass–but if it happens–no regrets. My newest book seems right up Terry’s alley: EMBRACE YOUR AGE — YOU CAN BE BETTER THAN EVER

    • Thanks James. The perspective from this side of about 756 certainly is a different one. “80” didn’t phase me. I must say though that “octogenarian” gave me some pause. Often when I read a news article that lists the person’s age in parenthesis after their name I do think, “They’re too old for that job (like in a recent article about Biden), but then I wonder why we don’t consult those with more experience and wisdom more often…

      Where can we find your book?

  2. I enjoyed riding your post. I am 72 years old but don’t feel it at all. I am in a very good shape physically and mentally. Love my life. I am an artist which occupied a lot of my time. I enjoy very much being a solo traveller. Right now I am in Nepal. I also have to growing daughters and 4 grandchildren: 21, 19 and the twins 16. I build a life I like because since a young age I always say to me: dying with memories and no sorrows.

  3. I met Terry years ago at a Transformational Leadership Council Retreat. I was thrilled to see him on the cover and read a wonderful and wise interview with him.

    Doug Ellis captured him in the cover shot perfectly.

    Thanks Ageist for continuing to inspire us all.

    • Hi Stacy,

      Thanks for your kind comments,.

      Time sure does zoom past. It’s been too long since I’ve seen you and Tom. I send you light and loving and hope all is well in your world and orbit…

  4. Enjoyed your interview very much. I’m 2 years away from your age and have never had so much peace. But not from external sources – just from knowing who I really am and having so many goals in my career and personal life that my life is filled with creation and art of many mediums and wonderful compatriot artists – young , old and in-between. It is extremely humorous to be older I think. Just observing friends and family leaving this “Plane” —as the years move on . I am not looking forward to it ,,,as I am having much to much passion , joy and fun. But then again – I believe in re incarnation and that there are many more adventures to come . But I am still enjoying this life —IMMENSELY – so nice to read how your are too . thanks for sharing that.

  5. P.S> And finally – a story about someone who actually IS older – not the Trendy 50 year olds that are often covered in other publications! ( No offense to you or them —but their stories are seen quite ubiquitously —while us real elders are not). 🙂

    Thanks , Ageist!!!

  6. Terry and I share a spiritual teacher: John-Roger. http://www.msia.org. In the article it is written as “John Rogers”

    Terry has been inspirational in my life. He has uplifted and inspired hundreds of thousands with his work.

    Long may you run, Terry!

    • Thank you Peter. And thanks for correcting the reference to J-R. His good, loving work will reach more and expanded audiences and seekers as the years go by. Some of the very best teachers of Truth and love who have passed through this earthly journey have not been recognized until long after they are gone.

      P.S. I’m still running (literally and figuratively)…

  7. My wife, Keidi, says Ty is Terry with out the err. I hope in his own trial and error journey through life his errs produce valuable learning and strengthening as well as some fun, pleasure and joy. He already has a good sense of humor…

  8. What a wonderful story Terry. You may not know how much you inspired me when you co-facilitated a Pachamama Awakening the Dreamer Symposium around 2008 that launched me into my own dream of using my skills to help heal the rainforest where I was born. Still devoted to that, I’m also ready to lighten up and enjoy myself, with people, not just during conferences for a change! I’m less than a decade behind you in age, and my plan is to start that non-negotiable self loving now. Thank you for these words today, as I was feeling a bit burned out before reading this and renewing self care as a priority. Now. Much love…

    • Thanks Alana, You’ve earned and certainly deserve an extended pause and reward. and some time for self care . Your contribution has been significant, and needed. I hope what you’re started is passed along and continues.. Many talk about the crises in our environment. You took action Thank you!

  9. Terry, thanks for sharing your story. You’ve always carried a Light that was inspirational to me and many others. May we all take JR’s essence into all that we still do here, and into other places we may go.

    • Thank you David–means a lot coming from you. You too have been an inspiration to hundreds of thousands, and me. You’ve brought light, entertainment, humor, wisdom and spiritual truth into what could be considered a mundane subject. Brilliant! No one does it better. Bravo!

      Are you still in Amsterdam?

  10. Terry, I am deeply touched by your accounting of your life’s path. We are the same age and share many similar experiences, though perhaps you have handled yours more gracefully.
    I admire your dedication and steadfastness to you your deepest beliefs. Thank you for being you.
    Light and love,
    Joel Rifkin

  11. Dear Terry,
    What a pleasure reading you. I met you when I was 24 and my 60th birthday was three weeks ago. You have been a real inspiration for me and I treasure the time we spent together, your teachings, your infinite stories and your example. Wish you enjoy life for many years and to have the opportunity to share again. Much love and light for you and your family my dear friend.


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David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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