I still remember that moment in junior high school when I realized I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, become an Olympic ice skater. The window for learning to do double and triple axels had closed. Inexorably. And, having graduated from college at 27, it was rather obvious I wouldn’t be gracing a Forbes 30 Under 30 list. When I turned 41, it occurred to me I wouldn’t be making it onto any “40 Under 40” list either, prompting me to wonder, Will I ever make it onto any list?
The price we pay for expertise, even wisdom, is age. Yet our ‘bright shiny object’ culture is pervasive.
Perhaps we persist in idealizing the young because of the very seductive job it does for us. When we write about, sponsor or invest in someone much younger, we can project our own aspirations onto them, a sleeker, nimbler version of ourselves, pouring our accumulated experience into an extreme makeover or trophy version of us.
But we pine for lost youth to our personal and societal detriment. As Meredith Fineman wrote in her satirical Harvard Business Review piece “Just How Old Are You?” we can bring something to the table at 24, 40 and 64. Indeed if you are seeking innovation, which at its essence is the ability to go from stuck to unstuck, to move forward not backward, it is more likely to happen after 40, not before.
According to New York Times article “Innovators Get Better with Age,” research indicates that a 55-year-old and even a 65-year-old have more innovation potential than a 25-year-old. The author also notes that the directors of the top five grossing films in 2012 were in their 40s and 50s. While Nobel Prize winners may make their break-through discoveries earlier in life — the average age is around 38 — typically it takes 20 years to socialize their ideas, meaning they don’t receive recognition for their achievements until around the age of 60.
Despite compelling evidence that we should be seeking out more experienced workers, we continue to put our eggs in the “younger the better” basket. If we want an injection of innovation, it’s time we recognize that life doesn’t end at age 40. On the contrary, at age 40 we’re just getting to the best part. After spending years on the low end of the S-curve of experience, we are now ready to accelerate into a sweet spot of competence and contribution.
Indeed, according to famed developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, this is a period of generativity, where our wealth of knowledge and know-how can move innovation into overdrive. It is a time where we are supremely motivated to do not just for ourselves, but for others, as we ask the question, What can I do to make my life really count?
Meanwhile, Ashton Applewhite reminds us “we have this idea of aging as loss, when it’s really a process of accretion. It’s additives.” We are not just “more old,” we are more, period. “The older a person gets, the less easy it is to define that person by looking at chronological age,” Applewhite says, and then she asks, “Why should I accept the notion that the present-day me is inferior to the younger me?” Forty isn’t over-the-hill. It’s a perch on which to catch our breath, enjoy the vista and survey the mountains yet to climb. This is 30 under 30, but with experience and wisdom added.
For women, this phenomenon is particularly true. Many women (43%, according to The Atlantic) take time off from career paths to parent. To some people in the C-suite, this makes women less committed and less capable. What I see and have personally experienced is that those years “off track” actually increase and diversify a woman’s portfolio of skills and knowledge, increasing her potential to become a powerful player in her 40s and beyond.
To challenge age stereotypes and raise awareness that “over 40” is in fact when many women come into their most productive era, Christina Vuleta and I started a 40 Women To Watch Over 40 List.
Now in its fourth year, the 2016 honorees, ranging in age from 40 to 70 come from a variety of industries including the arts, sports, science, media, business and tech. Some are recognizable names and some less well-known, but all have more in front of them than behind.
Anima Patil-Sabale, age 43, is a scientist at NASA Ames Research Center who has worked on NASA’s Kepler Mission and is on her own mission to be an astronaut. Julie DiCaro, age 67, is a sports writer and Broadcaster at 670 The Score, WSCR in Chicago. Before moving into social media and sports writing in her forties, she was a lawyer for 15 years (Assistant Public Defender, Domestic Violence, Family Law). Kyle Ann Stokes, is the founder of IRIS which established the Writers Lab, a new screenwriter’s lab for women over 40, with New York Women in Film & Television and funded by Meryl Streep, to cultivate more content created by women.
Read in-depth profiles of past honorees here.
We are stuck in so many ways, on so many things around the globe. To get unstuck, to innovate, we need to continue to invest in and sponsor millennials, and to press for changes in immigration laws so as to bring in bright, young and hungry entrepreneurs from abroad. But let’s also start investing in a valuable (and often overlooked) resource: women over 40.
This post originally published at Linkedin