Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Why It’s Not Too Late To Start

Walt Disney sold his first sketches when he was 7. Isaac Newton was 23 when he discovered the law of gravity. And Stevie Wonder was signed to Motown at the age of 11 and released two albums before his 12th birthday.

These lucky dogs found their calling at a young age and grew up to become world famous icons.

It pays to be early.

But what if you’re late? Is it game over if you haven’t found your passion by your thirties? What if you haven’t found the right gig in your forties? Or fifties?

When is the deadline for success?

With some luck, it could be in the final years of your life. When script reader and magazine editor Harry Bernstein published the book that earned him critical-acclaim, he was 93 years old.

That said, Bernstein is clearly an anomaly. Not many have the fortune to be that driven and sharp of mind in our old age.

So when are we most likely to have our first creative breakthrough?

If we look at the greatest scientific discoveries done by Nobel Prize winners, the sweet spot for brilliance seems to our late 30s. Several studies run by Dean Keith Simonton, who examined over 2,000 scientists and inventors from classical times until now, found that most of them made history at age 39.

No real surprises there.

After all, science is largely a young man’s game. Not only do our brains learn slower with age, but we get attached to certain ways of thinking which makes it difficult to look at a problem with fresh eyes.

Except that’s wrong.

Sure, our grey matter slows down with age, but that’s no reason we can’t make any worthwhile contributions to science after our hairs turn grey. 

Just because most scientists make their biggest achievements early on in their careers, does not mean age is the deciding factor for success. 

A closer inspection by Roberta Sinatra and his team shows that most scientists produce far fewer work by the third decade of their career. And by producing less work, the odds of creating their magnum opus greatly diminish.

So what’s really happening is that scientists begin their careers with dreams to make a big discovery. And when that discovery doesn’t come, they lose steam and continue at a snail’s pace or give up entirely.

Much like competing in a raffle, once you’re only writing a handful of papers per decade, it’s unlikely that you’ll get lucky and win a prize.

A scientist’s success has little to do with age, brainpower, or fresh ideas. Academic success almost entirely depends on perseverance. Something young people have in spades.

This all means success can come as early as your first attempt. Like it did for Frank G. Wilczek, who got his Nobel prize in physics as a graduate student. Or success can come as late as your umpteenth attempt, like it did for John B. Fenn who became a Nobel laureate at 70.

The most important thing is that you keep trying.

So don’t worry if you started late. If you stick with it, the breakthrough will come. And if the big break takes too long, you can always regain some of your youth by buying a 200 horsepower Ducati.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach