Age is only a number, and a pretty arbitrary number at that. Recently I was humbled to be a judge of the European Forbes 30 Under 30 for the science section. It was the first time that I had paid such close attention to this list and especially to the nominees who were all very impressive.
I think part of the reason that I hadn’t paid attention to the list before is because it’s pretty intimidating. When I was eligible, looking at the huge successes of my peers felt unattainable and put a lot of pressure on me to emulate them. Now that I’m too old, it’s even worse. Whatever I do, a door has closed and there is a sense that I’ve missed out and underachieved.
However, when you really dig into the stories behind the names, it’s impossible not to be inspired. Not only by the actions but also by the age of the nominees. After all, what they really show us is that age doesn’t matter at all. Ironically, that’s why they all make the 30 Under 30 list in the first place. They do things that conventional wisdom says they shouldn’t on account of their age. They’re curing diseases, saving the planet and flying into space and they seem not to care that they haven’t reached 30 yet, and why should they care?
They shouldn’t care because in many respects, age doesn’t matter. This is important because we are bombarded with societal cues about how we should act at different ages. These cues are so insidious that often we just go along with them. We can’t be CEO’s in our twenties, we can only be students when we are young, but why is this?
Now, there may be very legitimate reasons to not be a CEO, or to not go back to university but I think it’s important to check, is age a factor? Is this arbitrary number limiting us in some way? If it is, we should acknowledge it and discard it immediately.
The great thing is that if age doesn’t matter for the 30 Under 30, it doesn’t matter for any of us, whether we are in our teens or our 90’s. The question is, if they can do it, why can’t we?
In the future, I will eagerly anticipate the 30 Under 30 list. I will read it (especially the science section) and be inspired. I will realise what these amazing people have done in such a short time and realise, if they can do it, why can’t I?
I think Forbes could go even further in the future. To further prove how little age matters maybe we should look to the other end of the age spectrum and celebrate the older achievers that are doing extraordinary things.
Forbes – how about a 60 over 60? 70 over 70? Or a 90 over 90?