Whether it’s your career, athletic capabilities, sexual proficiency or anything else with a start, middle and an end, reaching your peak sucks. Most don’t realize they’ve peaked because they’re too busy enjoying their view at the summit. But when the slide down the backside begins, they know it, and there’s little to be done.
Being a baby boomer, I know it’s vogue to hype the advantages of aging. I’m sure you’ve heard the “60 is the new 40” mantra coming from an ever-greying population. I even wrote a novel, “Better Late Than Ever,” where residents of a futuristic retirement community become fixated on regaining their youth. But the older I get, the more I accept that I will never be 25 again, or even 45. Medical advances have enabled us to live longer and have made it easier to age, but these advances have yet to reverse the process. Today, I hit a golf ball as far as I ever will. I ran my last six-minute mile 30 years ago. High school was the last time I’ll ever take to the basketball court in front of cheering crowds. And I knew long before Bruce Springsteen that “Glory Days” will pass you by in the wink of a young girl’s eye.
Peaking is more noticeable in some careers than others. Most professional athletes plateau before reaching 40. Even in golf, a game many play ‘til they die, no professional player has won a major championship past age 46. In business, corporate executives reach full stride in their 50s and early 60s, but the race to the top narrows dramatically for advancement-minded managers in their mid-40s. By that age, if you’ve yet to be identified as executive material, you have likely begun a slow glide pattern back to earth.
Still, not everyone peaks by their mid-40s. There’s good news for authors and others using their mind to make a living. Studies (1, 2) have shown the more you exercise your brain, the longer your cognitive skills remain. It turns out that learning and brain development can be a life-long process. For writers, the message is to keep writing. Staying healthy and physically fit also play a major role in these studies, so a long walk every day is advisable. I find this news encouraging given I started my writing avocation in my mid-50s.
There are many successful authors who didn’t publish their first book until later in life (3). Laura Ingalls Wilder published “Little House in the Big Woods” at age 64, and then went on to write others in the series. Earnest Hemingway was most prolific in his 20s and 30s, the period when he wrote “A Farewell to Arms.” It was generally accepted by critics that Hemingway was washed up by the time he reached 50. Not so. He wrote and published “Old Man and the Sea” at age 53. Had he not suffered long-term injuries from plane crashes later in his life, who knows how many more Hemingway novels we would be enjoying?
I, and other aspiring writers like me, may never become bestselling authors, but as long we keep testing ourselves, we can enjoy the long uphill climb. Who knows? Our glory days may still lie ahead.