Yesterday was one of those days, one of the annoying fucking days that remind you of all that you haven’t accomplished yet.
This can directly be attributed to the announcement of the annual Forbes 30 Under 30, a yearly marker of all that you haven’t done and all that you’ve already aged out of to be seen as “good” in the world. It’s the worst parts of America realized (Ahem, capitalist, that our worth is to be set against dollars by a business magazine.) and is tethered to peers who are doing better-than because of preexisting legs up, overwhelming luck, or some fluke of precocity. Either way, hearing about young success is never not grating unless you are someone who is benefitting from said success.
This wore on me for a very long time. I was constantly angry and jealous and couldn’t really do my own creative anything because I was constantly getting caught up in what others were doing, in their successes and how they should be mine. That’s a trap. It’s like suspiciously large woman Bob The Drag Queen once Tweeted: “If you can’t be happy for someone else’s success you’ll never truly have your own.” That, friends, is what you have to realize.
Moreover, at some point you have to let go of the idea that youthful success is actually meaningful. It truly isn’t, save for those who plan on profiting from the youngly rich or those who plan to pay the youngly rich. Sure, something like 30 Under 30 is cool but it’s a fluke. It’s quite dumb, really, as it’s an Americanized product to represent our constant pushing to be successful and to contribute to the economy and to keep up with the Whoevers. It’s disgusting and always brings me back to a Malcolm Gladwell story about the overhyped nature of youthful success. It’s been my chorus for a few years, a sparkly gasoline to blast me through personal and professional pursuits.
The story – titled “Late Bloomers” – was published in October 2008 and was featured in Gladwell’s book What The Dog Saw. In it, Gladwell explores the tension between the young and successful and their slow building elders who hone their craft, growing into accomplishments as they age.
A lot of this has to do with a cultural obsession with the young and gifted. Gladwell explains.
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”
Interesting. Very interesting.
Why we (Well, American society.) tend to feel this tingly way about the young is tied to all sort of bullshit baggage related to aging. It’s a means to negate and throw away anything created by an older person because they are inherently “fresher.” The real reality is that the creators who create later are technically better because they honed their craft for years instead of accidentally landing on success. Gladwell explains this.
On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith. (Let’s just be thankful that Cézanne didn’t have a guidance counsellor in high school who looked at his primitive sketches and told him to try accounting.) Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents. But we also have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about it. How can we ever know which of the failures will end up blooming?
I love everything about this. Not only because I like to hoist this theory onto myself in the hopes that I succeed in my post-thirties but because it’s a relief to undo the pressure of the bullshit of something like 30 Under 30, to realize that it’s just a production by and for no one but those involved. Like gender, it’s a construct. A capitalist construct.
Gladwell’s “Late Bloomers” is the sort of story that unpacks and explodes the notion of success and is a reminder that we all do things in our own way, that society needn’t pin us down with what it thinks success is. Make up your own success. Define life yourself.
This situation is also a reminder to hug those who are frustrated with their work and art on the way to making it work – and to kindly get real with them. You should also hug those who support these people because they, too, are well aware of the uphill climb trudged toward recognition.