August 27, 2018

Success Isn’t Just A 30 Under 30 List


“I really hate those 30 under 30 lists,” a fellow writer said to me recently. “Oh sorry— you were included in one recently, weren’t you?” She laughed. Her tone wasn’t malicious, just that she’d founded her company much later in life, and her definition of success certainly wasn’t about being under a certain age. Justin Myers also brought this up on my most recent podcast episode. It’s true, I have been included on two ‘under 30’ lists this year, and yet of course, deep down, I agreed with her. As I approach 30, I wonder how I’d feel if I’d done something worthy of a prize and couldn’t enter or wasn’t looked at because I was ‘too old’.

I had always felt strange about these accolades, because yes, they Look Really Good On Paper so duh, I could hardly begin to complain about it. I was proud that my work (that went unnoticed for so long, or so I felt) had finally been noticed by a mainstream outlet. But it’s strange to be crowned and applauded for simply “being young”. What if I had done these things (my books and podcasts) a few decades later? I wouldn’t have been able to make ‘The List’, but would they have been lesser achievements? Hell no. If anything, maybe I would have appreciated them even more. As I grow older I’ve realised that my most successful moments don’t need to be on a list to feel successful. Some of my biggest career moments have also been my biggest failures. Those moments where you succeed in picking yourself back up after rejection. Where’s the celebratory trophy for those? But I’m not sat here trying to glorify failure either.

Things take time, and in a world of ‘more more more’ should we really be celebrating whoever got there first? When I shared my “yay, look!’ Tweets and Instagram post to share I’d made the cut on one of these lists earlier this year, I got a sea of positive comments from friends of course. But I also couldn’t help but notice the other side-eye comments that were questioning the point of these lists, too. They weren’t being dismissive or cruel to me or my work, they were just asking “why is it an age thing?” And why do these celebratory badges seem to cut off anyone over the age of 30? People often say they feel they become more invisible to others once they age past 35 or 40, so aren’t these lists just continuing to tap into that fear?

Don’t get me wrong, I think highlighting the work of young people is extremely important, especially when it comes to activism, amplifying voices and making change. Teenagers like like Amika George the founder of Free Periods, Emma Gonzalez an American advocate for gun control or Malala Yousafzai. In a world that still loves hierarchy and rolls their eyes at the word “Millennial”, we really need to highlight and give a platform to young people’s voices. But with the 30 Under 30 lists, or at least the ones I see in the media, a lot of them have been held up to account for not including a diverse range of people who different backgrounds. It is usually a very privileged list of young people on such lists. Magazines have recently been called out for labelling Kylie Jenner a ‘self-made’ young entrepreneur. Hmm. It is a difficult feat starting a business. It is a brave and wonderful thing to create your own start-up and team and to see it blossom. But I also think that starting your own project should be celebrated at all ages. For example, Iris Apfel is 96 years old and just released a new book. That is hugely inspiring too. Young people making change are incredible. But people who aren’t young anymore are not off the hook. We are all responsible for creating positive change in the world.

Should the lists be scrapped? Or are the fact they exist mainly positive, not negative? The Management Today list celebrating 35 women under 35 (for example) is a way of highlighting career moves by women during an age-range that for decades has been tricky to manoeuvre when it came to home and career. Perhaps we should have other lists too. What about 50 under 50? Or 60 over 60? I just think we should stop ring fencing ‘Under 30’ as being a worthier achievement, and look more closely at celebrating other ages too. I write in my book The Multi-Hyphen Method that there are so many different ways to define success. It’s something totally personal and unique to all of us — we all have a slightly different version of what it means. My friends and I all have totally different goals and career tick boxes. I don’t want my best years to have happened already. I don’t want to have peaked ‘Under 30’. I want to thrive and grow more in my 30s. I want to be bossing my career in my 40s and 50s. I still want to be writing interesting things in my 60s and 70s. Who knows, we might still be doing what we love into our 90s, like Iris. I just think this constant celebration of being under 30 needs to stop. And I’m not just saying this because I won’t be, much longer. Or maybe, subconsciously, I am.

(Also, check out fortyover40.com – thanks Rachel Hills.)

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