I re­ally am get­ting bet­ter with age

Irish Daily Mail - YOU - - ELIZABETH DAY -

There are few things more en­joy­able than watch­ing de­serv­ing peo­ple win things. A child at a sports day who has put in the ex­tra ef­fort to run the race. An over­looked ac­tor who fi­nally gets their longed-for Os­car. An artist who re­ally wasn’t ex­pect­ing to nab the Turner Prize. There are en­tire com­pi­la­tions of peo­ple like this win­ning things on YouTube, which I can highly rec­om­mend as an an­ti­dote for a mo­ment of low spir­its.

There was a good ex­am­ple a few weeks ago when a video of the au­thor Michele Kirsch win­ning a lit­er­ary award did the rounds on so­cial me­dia. The award judges had set it up so that Kirsch thought she was tak­ing part in an in­ter­view, and when they an­nounced her name, she burst into tears and was un­able to speak for sev­eral sec­onds.

It was es­pe­cially af­fect­ing be­cause the award was for first-time au­thors over 50, set up in mem­ory of Christo­pher Bland who didn’t pub­lish his first novel un­til he was 76 – well after his other ca­reer, as a busi­ness­man and former chair­man of BT, had ended.

Kirsch was 57 when her mem­oir of ad­dic­tion, Clean, was pub­lished. Watch­ing her re­ceive the news that she had won was balm to the soul: she was gen­uinely moved, sur­prised and grate­ful for the ac­knowl­edge­ment.

It made me think about age and cre­ativ­ity. It of­ten feels as though we labour un­der a col­lec­tive mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that do­ing things young equates to a uniquely no­table sort of suc­cess. That’s why Forbes magazine does its an­nual list of bil­lion­aires un­der 30. It’s why the lit­er­ary pub­li­ca­tion Granta

com­piles the ‘best’ nov­el­ists un­der the age of 40. And it’s also why when I ap­proached my 30th birth­day more than a decade ago, I vividly re­mem­ber feel­ing I would never be cat­e­gorised as ‘young’ again (I had won the Young Jour­nal­ist of the Year Award at 26, and was only too aware that I no longer squeezed into the age limit).

It’s pop­py­cock, of course – an ar­bi­trary way to mea­sure the worth of one’s con­tri­bu­tions. I feel it’s only in my 40s that I’m en­ter­ing my most cre­ative, em­pow­ered phase be­cause I know my­self bet­ter.

I’ve learnt from my mis­takes and I’ve put in the work. It was Mal­colm Glad­well who fa­mously de­ter­mined that it took 10,000 hours of prac­tice to be­come ex­pert in some­thing. I’ve sim­ply got more hours un­der my belt.

But there are other, less tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits, too. When we get older, we ac­crue that mag­i­cal qual­ity known as wis­dom. We’re less wor­ried about break­ing rules or of­fend­ing peo­ple. And true cre­ativ­ity comes from that place of free­dom.

The nov­el­ist Mary Wes­ley pub­lished her first book at the age of 70 and took the lit­er­ary world by storm. Peter Mark Ro­get, who spent his en­tire work­ing life as a physi­cian, only be­gan his sec­ond ca­reer as a lex­i­cog­ra­pher in re­tire­ment as a means of staving off his de­pres­sion. Ro­get’s Th­e­saurus

came out when he was 73. When the chemist

John Good­e­nough scooped the No­bel Prize in 2019 for his work on the recharge­able bat­tery, he de­light­fully com­mented that: ‘Live to 97 and you can do any­thing.’

We ex­ist in an era that re­wards speed, whether it be a fast in­ter­net con­nec­tion or the im­me­di­acy of hail­ing a taxi with a sin­gle tap on our phones. There is a sense that the less time it takes us to do some­thing, the bet­ter it must be. But shouldn’t the op­po­site be true? Shouldn’t we value cre­ativ­ity and ta­lent more when a life­time’s work has gone into per­fect­ing it? While we’re busily fetishis­ing youth, it strikes me that achieve­ment in our older years is just as wor­thy of cel­e­bra­tion. That’s what I’m telling my­self, any­way. And I shall keep telling my­self it un­til I’m (hope­fully) well into my dotage.


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