GeneralHr Library

These Are The Ages When We Do Our Best Work

Source | FastCompany : By Shane Snow

On a trip to Spain when he was about 31, Julius Caesar came across a statue of Alexander the Great—and started to cry.

This was shortly after the death of Caesar’s wife, many years before he would transform the Roman Empire. A low-level public auditor at the time, Caesar purportedly told his companions, “Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable?”

I’m 31 myself, and sympathize with Caesar every time I hear a goddamn Justin Bieber song on the radio. It hasn’t been long since I realized that many of the writers and musicians and scientists I admire (not to mention Olympic snowboarders) are younger than me. And while I feel more in my element than ever, from time to time I can’t help but hear the voice of the drummer in my college band announce in my head that the good times are over.

YOUTH, ACHIEVEMENT, AND HOW WE PERCEIVE THEM

Perhaps the human zeal for drama explains why magazines print “30 Under 30” issues celebrating youthful overachievers. We admire the fast movers, game changers, and unexpected successes of all stripes. It’s clear to any sports fan that gymnasts and football players peak early. But we’ve got lots of examples of brainy achievers peaking young, too: Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking developed their most groundbreaking work in physics in their 20s. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at 29. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composing symphonies in his teens. Jesus kicked off a global movement by 33.

In a world where actresses over 40 get suddenly swapped for 20-year-old models and Silicon Valley programmers get Botox to avoid being pegged as less innovative, we are perpetually obsessed with perpetual youth—and worse still, in often deeply sexist ways. But are we altogether wrong to peg youth to success? Does our appetite for such stories paint an accurate picture of the relationship between youth and achievement, or just feed into a wrongheaded fantasy?

If you’re looking for anecdotes of “past-prime” successes, you’ll find them in almost every category. Peyton Manning just won the Super Bowl at age 40, and Olympians have won medals well into their 50s (and 60s, if you count archery and curling). Quantum physicist Freeman Dyson discovered a groundbreaking solution to the oldest problem in game theory, The Prisoner’s Dilemma, at age 88.

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