Age is just a number. Or is it?
For many people, the sum of their advancing years is cause for total concealment, shrouded in secrecy only to be divulged by vaguely alluding to a certain decade — thirties, forties etc.
But why are we so hung up on those two digits?
Recently, one of the co-founders of Silicon Valley health start-up ‘uBiome’, Jessica Richman shaved a considerable number of years from her actual age in an effort to be included in such lists as ‘30 under 30’.
On one such occasion, Richman answered in response to enquiries surrounding her age by a Business Insider reporter, that she was ‘under 30’.
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I have never had my mental health compromised. I respect those who chose to advocate and educate for same. But recently, I have been the recipient of malicious words and insults. While it comes in waves, this deluge has been somewhat persistent these last few weeks and has been tricky for me to navigate. I will forever reiterate that a contrary opinion to mine does not invalidate either party. I welcome professional critique. But, when the object is purely to belittle and slur, it is counterproductive and damaging. However, today in the most cosmic, karmic twist courtesy of the universe, I came face to face with one of the individuals who has expressed their displeasure of me. What did I do? I walked directly towards him as I called his name and extended my hand. As he shook mine, I introduced myself. I then watched his face slide into his shoes as I pleasantly explained the situation. His defence? He is currently at home and has some time on his hands and wasn’t sure what he had written in the first place. I offered to refresh his memory. After speaking for several minutes, I closed with wishing him well, as he continued to stutter and stare at his feet, with suggestions as to how to frame any future online interactions he may have. Bottom line? They may take your power momentarily, but you can always take it back. So, bottoms up 👍🏻
As a direct result, she was then included in a list entitled, ‘The 30 most important women under 30 in tech’. At that time, Richman was in fact 40 years old.
This notion that youth is a preferable companion to success has to cease.
These ‘30 under 30’ lists serve to only reinforce that very notion, the implication being that success is indeed for the young and telling a few fibs about your date of birth will give you more time to climb that gilded ladder. It won’t. Because when we begin to use this as a benchmark, everyone loses.
I have never panicked in regards to my age. But I have felt niggles as people around me celebrated significant accomplishments within their careers in their mid to late twenties.
Where my feelings were of genuine happiness for their individual success as opposed to a ‘Why not me?’ attitude, it did give me pause to think that I needed to crack on a bit or make some decisions.
Everywhere I turned, those lists extolled the incredible work of authors, philanthropists, activists, entrepreneurs, athletes… all with an average age of 25.
Where were the lists for ‘50 under 50’ or 60s and 70s? I couldn’t help but feel it provided a disservice on all fronts, for those who were edging towards 30 and thinking, ‘What have I actually done with my life?’ and also negating the accomplishments of those not within that bracket.
Asking myself honestly why I did not become a professional athlete, write that book, create a start-up has nothing to do with age.
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I’ve taken to tea lately. But because I’m partial to a notion, I have been quaffing Whittards ‘Piccadilly Blend’ which is a black tea with flavours of rose, strawberry and lotus. If you doubted my commitment to Notions in general, know that my phone attempted to autocorrect ‘rose’ to ‘rosé’. As you were.
Moreover, it has to do with discipline and drive. Which I lacked in abundance when I was resident in the ‘under 30’ bracket.
I also cannot help but feel for those individuals featured on said lists; did they have those niggling thoughts as to how it would all pan out when the clock stuck midnight on the eve of their 29th year?
In a time where we can do anything, be anything, enact change and challenge authority, why are we so hung up on age?
The BBC Woman’s Hour recently featured a quote from the broadcaster Penny Smith which points toward a reason that there is a fear that we will lose opportunities and be overlooked:
The key point here is that she acknowledges that women, whilst represented in some part, are in the minority when it comes to the above. Because, like it or not, this representation, or lack thereof, predominantly does affect women.
Whilst I love social media, I am very much aware that it can be an unhealthy sphere for comparison for some, re-enforcing the ‘30 under 30’ mentality.
Everything appears shinier, easily attainable and fun. Once you start using it as a comparison too, you need to step back.
So how do we combat this utilisation of age as a barometer for success?
We stop talking about it. Instead of lists extolling the achievements of a particular age demographic, remove the numbers entirely.
It does not matter what age you were when you secured your first Olympic gold. Nor when you assumed the role of care-giver to your brothers and sisters.
Nor when you spent days, weeks, months protesting against world leader’s failure to address the climate crisis.
Nor when you spent every minute of your spare time searching historical records to uncover one of the greatest injustices suffered by women and children at the hands of religious institutions in this country.
What mattered was that you did it.
Those are the lists I want to see.
Of people who accomplished what it was they set out to do.
That the result took weeks or years should be a moot point.