Ignore ’30 under 30′ lists – true success has no age limit
Everywhere you look these days there seems to be another ’30 under 30′ list, implying that if you haven’t ‘made it’ by your fourth decade, then you’re a failure. But true success has no age limit.
I’m proof that there is no ticking clock on becoming successful. I was 19 years old when I wrote the first draft of what would become a successful novel, The Thunder Girls, but it took me until I was 40 to get it published.
I know for a fact that I am far from the only one who found creative success in my 40s – but in the media, all we usually hear about are people who have achieved something while they’re still in their 20s. I never made it onto any of these ’30 under 30’ lists, which perpetuate the idea that if you haven’t cracked it by the age of 30, you’re not worth listing.
But the first time around, when I was, according to these lists, the right age to ‘make it’, nothing went my way.
After I signed to a literary agent in my early 20s, I was given the feedback that I needed to make my characters younger, as no one was interested in stories focused on ‘middle aged women’. (The Thunder Girls, my main characters, are all around 50.)
I knew this was ridiculous, as in order for my story to work, they had to be in this age bracket as they haven’t seen each other for three decades. But my arguments fell on deaf ears.
It was either alter the ages and receive a nice pay cheque, or leave them as they were and remain unpublished, in debt, and living in a bedsit.
I chose to stick to my principles, and just hoped that in time, attitudes to women would change.
I then spent my 20s and 30s working in the music industry, focussed on achieving success for others, while hoping my own time would come later. If I’d believed that I had an expiration date of 30, I’d have given up – but I didn’t, so I just kept myself busy and knew that eventually my time would come. I certainly didn’t give up after I hit the big 30.
And I was right to hang on. At 40, I finally got my first international publishing deal for The Thunder Girls, which became a number one bestselling novel on Amazon. The play I wrote, based on the book, then opened to a sold out crowd on my 41st birthday.
After the success of The Thunder Girls, I was asked to spearhead lots of new writers’ initiatives – all for under 25s or under 30s. I was flattered, but it didn’t sit right with me. I said to the organisers, ‘Do you have any campaigns for new older voices that I could front?’ The answer was no.
I explained that I felt that many people have so much more life experience post-40 which they can draw on to create wonderful material, and that in my opinion, there was room for such an initiative that welcomed more mature unknown voices. But no one was interested in creating any such scheme – after 30, it seems, you are written off.
Ageism is endemic in the entertainment industry – the focus is always on ‘new faces’ and ‘new voices’. Age is seen as a negative, when in fact, the longer you have lived, the more you can bring to the party.
The longer you have loved, lost and survived in this challenging world, the stronger your voice is.
As a 42-year-old, I want to hear from other voices of my generation. I know I’m not the same woman I was decades ago, when I first wrote my novel – I used the life experience I’d gained since then to make it more authentic than the draft that had been turned down originally.
I’d hate to be in my 20s again, with everyone focusing on if i was going to ‘make it’ or not. I hated those 30 under 30 lists then – they used make me feel pressured – and I hate them even more now when I look at the way younger people are bombarded with them via social media in a way I never was.
I’m so happy I didn’t get this success when I was younger – I could not have appreciated it the way I do now, and I am also convinced that’s what made me successful in the end: life experience adds authenticity.
I’m more sure of myself, and I think that most women come into their strongest years the older they get.
I hope to see more ‘older’ people break through over the next few years and look forward to a day that the industry finally understands that talent has no expiration date.