Not long ago, Clareyese Nelson acquired a lute at a garage sale. Now she wants to learn how to play it.

Not everybody would aspire to master an ancient string instrument based on a chance rummaging find. But that’s how Nelson rolls — ready to try whatever the world offers up.

Ten years ago, when she was 65, Nelson drew up a list of 65 things she wanted to do before she died (she hadn’t yet heard the term “bucket list,” but that’s basically what it was). She checked off a few items. Then she lost the list.

“I thought maybe I could recreate it,” said Nelson, of Minneapolis. “But then I thought, huh-uh.”

Now she barely remembers what was on the list. But that hasn’t stopped her from keeping physically and socially active. Nelson, brightly attired and cheerfully extroverted, travels frequently — she celebrated her most recent birthday in Paris and London — takes singing lessons, leads rides for her bicycling club, volunteers, sees friends.

“You know, there’s something new under the sun for you all the time,” said Nelson, who lives in Minneapolis. Goal-setting, she says, narrows your options. She prefers “allowing something different to come in.”

Whether they go about it that way or take a more methodical approach, many people find midlife to be a great time to tackle new challenges: a job, a hobby, a sport, or a cause.

That’s because people in their 50s and 60s are often experiencing life changes — empty nest, ailing or deceased parents, divorce or widowhood, job loss or retirement, even a paid-off mortgage — that can serve as motivations to try something new.

“People think, ‘Either I have to do something for me now, or I have to do something that’s always been on the wish list,’” said Carol Kronholm, an Andover-based freelance career-transition teacher and coach.

Kronholm did something similar herself in 2008. She retired from her job with the Anoka-Hennepin School District and began teaching second-career skills to older people. Among her programs is an eight-month course called “Evolve: Reigniting Self & Community,” through the St. Paul-based Vital Aging Network, in which she helps people identify interests and turn them into community projects.

Mark Skeie learned a lesson in the importance of planning for post-retirement activities when his father was dying. Skeie asked if he had any regrets.

“I would have planned for my retirement,” the elder Skeie told his son. “I feel like I wasted those years. I planned for my vacations more than I planned for my retirement.”

The words left an impression on Skeie, now 67. When he retired after 35 years with 3M, the Lake Elmo resident asked himself where the journey would take him next.

After a strikeout or two — one volunteer opportunity in a park sounded great but turned out to involve sitting in a windowless room stuffing envelopes; he left immediately — he began to find worthy activities. He took the Evolve class. He joined the board of the Vital Aging Network, then served as its chairman. He and his wife published a book called “Mapping Your Retirement,” with advice on managing time, money and health.

“People really want to use their God-given talent, their skills, they want to use their heads,” Skeie said. “They don’t want to be stuck stuffing envelopes and peeling carrots.”

For people looking for new challenges, Skeie recommends looking around at community needs, forming networks, developing a methodology.

Or there’s Nelson’s more happy-go-lucky approach. Keeping an open mind, she could find herself doing anything from joining a cousin on a fishing trip to attending youth volleyball championships.

“If something sounds interesting,” she said, “I’m willing to try it — if I have time.”