Don't Obsess Over Being Successful By A Certain Age 

Screenshot: The CW

Every time the Forbes 30 under 30 list comes out, it sends a chill through the ancient souls who have lived past that terrifying birthday. Never made the list? Too late, friend. Now, please never think about it again.

Everyone on that list is accomplished, talented, smart, capable, and young. I personally know a couple of people on it, and think they’re great! They will also be great after 30 and after 40 for that matter and so on until we all crumble to dust. Ostensibly, the purpose of these lists is to help folks keep their fingers on the pulse of youth culture while also giving ambitious people working on cool stuff a signal boost. It makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense to keep the myth alive that being successful before 30 is something we should all strive for. Here’s why.

Most People Aren’t

The vast majority of people who are successful in their careers and lives generally don’t get there before they turn 30. It just seems that way because of this list and others like it. It’s fair to say people who have reached heights of success in their twenties are extraordinary — meaning they are out of the ordinary. You wouldn’t judge your marathon run time against the first person to cross the finish line. Go at your own pace, and get there when you get there.

Being In Your Twenties Sucks

Part of the reason most people aren’t successful in their twenties is because it’s a decade that pretty much sucks. You’re figuring out what you want to do, falling in and out of love, going the wrong direction with your career, learning to support yourself, dealing with roommates. You don’t have something that every older person has: Experience. Maybe you’re smart as hell, but some things just have to be lived through to be understood.

A few rare humans overcome enormous obstacles all on their own at a very young age. However, a lot of people who are able to find success really early have help with some of the sucky twenties things; for instance, money, quality healthcare, a supportive family, a devoted romantic partner. Without a steady base in your life, it can be very hard to make big leaps. If you spend this decade getting your crap in order and figuring out what you want to do, that’s ten years well spent.

Your Thirties Rule

OK, not for everybody. But a few surveys have indicated that early to mid-thirties is when things really start cooking. That was true for me, for sure. And maybe it’s because I didn’t manage to be particularly successful in my twenties; all the anxiety about making it happen has dissipated, so I can really pursue things that interest me, and that has lead to better stuff. By your thirties, you’ve set aside some misconceptions about life you had in your youth, you’re better educated, you have a stronger sense of who you are. Also, sex is better.

You’ll Be Ready

When success comes, you’ll be more prepared for it when you’re older. Celebrities are an extreme example of what can happen to people who hit it too young. Fame can warp people, as can having everything you think you want before you’re mentally mature enough to handle it. Of course, your idea of success may have nothing to do with a red carpet, but consider how you might have reacted to suddenly being handed your dream at 22.

If you’re older, was the dream you had then even the same one you have now? What would you have missed out on or not discovered if you’d gotten it? I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but it is true that our interests, desires, and ambitions are all changed by what happens to us. Appreciate the value of experimentation and even failure, because they’ve probably made it much less likely that you’ll have a total freak out under pressure. Success can feel like the most intense pressure in the world, but you can handle it, old-timer.

Life Is Long, If You’re Lucky

Humans are living longer and longer. Hitting that centennial birthday isn’t too uncommon, and super centennials (110+) are still hacking it. In fact, some scientists believe there is no barrier to how long a human being could live. That’s a long time to regret not making it big right out of college. The longer we live, the more arbitrary the age of 30 seems, and it was pretty random to begin with.

As you get older, you realise how many lives you will lead within the one you have. You’ll have many passions and hobbies and homes. Maybe you want success to come early. That’s fine. Just don’t think the next 70 or more years of your life somehow have less value if that success doesn’t happen before your 29th year comes to its conclusion.


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