I read an interesting piece the other day that basically talked about, “can you make it when you’re older.” I’m fascinated by this idea for 1) because I am no spring chicken and for 2) because I think the wunderkind / prodigy idea is mostly a myth. I believe that extreme talent takes mainly practice. Sure, is there a little something in there that’s inborn and can’t be duplicated? Probably. But, I think it’s a very small percentage and mostly it’s practice.
We’ve all seen those lists:
Top Business Owners Under 30
25 year old Self Made Millionaires
Child Prodigies in Science and the Arts
“Look, this kid is better than Mozart.”
“Holy Toledo, this kid made a nuclear reactor in his basement at the age of 12.”
The only way that I think kids become talents at this early of an age, is if they show an interest in something and then their parents stoke that fire. In other words, the interest has to be really supported. But, I digress…
The question I’m asking is can you make it as an oldie?
The way our society positions it, you would think we should all be dead after the age of 40. Over the hill. No one’s career is going to blossom after that age. That’s what society suggests. In a sense, I think that notion has got to be wrong because it’s not accounting for experience. I’ve read time and again of writers coming into their own at an older age because they can process more material through the wealth of their personal experience and that gives their work more depth.
But, then the other side of me says – the kid who makes it early, say as a writer, has a better infrastructure in place. He’s got an infrastructure of connections and resources that can help him – at the very least – stay on top. I mean isn’t that what nepotism is to some degree? A very rich, leg up? Or a very connected leg up? And a leg that will help you stay there?
Of course, there are many examples of people who have “made it” later in life. I always bring up Colonel Sanders – the guy STARTED selling chicken in his 60s. And there are others. While, at the same time, there are a bevy of young upstarts who seem to do nothing, but succeed from the very beginning.
I was talking to a German friend of mine not too long ago and during the discussion she mentioned that, “America was the country of second chances.” I asked her what that meant and she said, “you can have a second career here.” As she explained it, people don’t do what – for example – Wifesy did in Germany. She went back to school in her 30s and started a whole other career. It’s unheard of there. You pick your career early and then you make it stick until you succeed. That’s why there’s A LOT of successful Europeans in their late 20s. But, if you pick the wrong thing or get inspired by something else, later in life, well, she says the battle is much harder.
Even in America, though, we value the 20 something brainiac who seems to conquer the world. Witness, Mark Zuckerberg.
My only question is – why can’t we value the AARP card holder who opens their own business or writes their novel, just as much. I suppose we do, but it’s not celebrated like it’s a possibility. There is not this attitude of “hang in there, it’s just around the corner.” I’ve always felt that as you age and try your hand at outside of the box ideas and alternative careers, the response is more like, “Oh, you’re STILL doing that.” If these ideas were more accepted, we wouldn’t be asking these questions at all. You know the one I asked, Is there an expiration date on success? Or the one I read…Is your age a hindrance or a help?
Regardless, it’s an interesting question. What do you think?
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