The beauty of midlife achievements (and why we’re tired of “under-40” lists)

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From Morgan Freeman to Laura Ingalls Wilder and Julia Child, life is packed with people who’ve found success aged 40 or over. And yet, we – as a society – struggle to break our fixation with youth. Over on YouTube, school-aged influencers are making their millions; while on LinkedIn, we’re forever lauding leaders or innovators aged under 30. 

Most people, of course, deserve praise and celebration no matter their age. But the assumption that achievements shine brightest when people are young overlooks another, opposite truth. Namely, that it’s the knocks in life – and our ability to overcome them – that shape us into richer, more fulfilled individuals. 

As the years roll by, the scars we accrue heal and reform into something different. Something that might well be called comeback potential, or a newfound ability to thrive. 

As the years roll by, the scars we accrue heal and reform into something different

It’s a philosophy that was summed up beautifully by writer Doug Murano recently, in an Instagram post shared via Flash Pack. “I get tired of “under 40” lists,” Doug wrote. “Show me someone who got their PhD at 70 after losing everything. Give me the 70-year-old debut novelist who writes from a lifetime of love and grief. Give me calloused hands and tender hearts.”

The sentiment quickly went viral, with more than 130,000 people liking the quote; including Disney Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose, filmmaker Raphael Sbarge and comedian Farah Cocoa Brown.  Many also used the opportunity to share their own stories of later-in-life success. “I got two masters degrees at 46 and 48. I got accepted to medical school at 49. I’m 50 now and halfway through my second year of medical school,” wrote midlife student Antonio Patterson. 

“BFA [Bachelor of Fine Arts] at 58 and Masters at 62. Published first novel at 54. That novel will be a movie next year,” added Cassie Selleck, best-selling author of The Pecan Man.


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Some of those commenting on the post described how, as a result of being older, they’ve finally been able to pursue their dreams – and experiment with the freedom of living life in new or unexpected ways. 

“Just completed seven years of schooling – BA, MA and Harvard Law at 52,” wrote conservationist Melissa Kinzler. “Went after the life I didn’t have the opportunity to complete as a young person with no support network. Now I am running down a dream. Doing it at midlife takes courage.”

Sixty-something adventure Steve Rahms, meanwhile, shared how he “left the normal world two years ago to live full time on a motorcycle with my dog and write. $35 a day budget and I could not be richer”.

Others related how their achievements came in the wake of major life obstacles; such as recovering from a painful divorce, dealing with sudden bereavement, or battling alcoholism. Sometimes, it’s only in facing these challenges that we realize who we truly are – and what it is that we’re capable of. And, in that way, even the toughest experiences might be the starting point for new growth. 

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Most of all, however, the stories shared pointed to the truth that “success” in life doesn’t come with an age or a profile. You might burn out by 30, and find a new lease at 45. You might spend your 20s submerged in a dream career, only to pack it all in ten years later. 

Morover, it’s never too late to pursue a new or wildly divergent path in life. Do stand-up comedy aged 64; learn to play concert piano at 70; write your first novel as an octogenarian. All of these are achievements worth celebrating; more so because of the “calloused hands” (as Doug so poignantly puts it) that you’ve developed along the way. You might be tired and life-weary – but that weariness also gives you depth, and a fresh sense of perspective. 

You might be tired and life-weary – but that weariness also gives you depth

As commenter Ufuoma Denedo noted, “Big shout out to everyone pursuing their dreams and building the life they desire regardless of their age. In my tribe in Nigeria, there is an adage which translates ‘whenever a person wakes up is their morning’”.

Every day you wake up might be your morning to do something different. So the question as you get older is not, “why didn’t I do this earlier?” but rather “where can I go next?” As the stories on this thread show, the answer is… anywhere you like.

Flash Pack is a group travel company that specializes in small group adventures for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s. Find out more about how we work, and our mission to build a global community of friendships

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