The benefits of believing in who you are
Holly's take on it
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO FLY
I’ve never really understood the obsession we have for youth. Have you noticed it? We have entire magazine spreads dedicated to those who have ‘hit the moon’ by the time they’re thirty. If someone makes a million at 25, scales a successful business, or has been nominated for a BAFTA, it’s the age we fixate on, rather than the accomplishment itself. That’s not to take anything away from those incredible souls who achieved impressive things seconds after they left nappies, but it risks making anyone who is decades into their double digits feel like they’ve missed their chance.
Life isn’t a race. In my book, there are no extra points for getting somewhere early, especially if ultimately, it’s potentially not even the place you really wanted to go. So, I started to seek out stories of those who decided to follow their dreams later in life and it has sparked a kind of joy in me that Forbes 30 under 30 never could — because there’s something hugely inspirational about watching someone who has spent 30 years doing something that didn’t fill them up, decide to take a chance to try something new and go for it.
It takes grit, zest and courage because often when you’ve got a few more grey hairs on your head, you’ve probably got more to risk than an 18-year-old who’s staring at a blank canvas. When most of the painting has been filled in, to start to add daring, bold and different strokes of colour that totally transform what’s already there can be more terrifying than the first few dabs you made all those years ago.
I wonder whether the trepidation comes because there’s an expectation that as we’re older we must have everything figured out. We have our box, we’re ‘mum’, ‘dad’, ‘grandma’, ‘firefighter’, ‘businesswoman’ and so on, but many of us are also, ‘unfulfilled’, ‘disenchanted’ and ‘fucking fed up’. By now, we’ve gathered some valuable experience and so to try something new and go back to being the intern again can feel like a regression, rather than an opportunity. Especially if we’re used to a certain salary bracket or status even. But is that really all it’s about? I’m here to tell you that it’s never too late to follow your heart. You deserve to be happy — especially if you’re not happy with things as they are — because it is absolutely possible to change.
Believe it or not, there is not a lack of senior role models who smashed it out of the park long after they qualified for a bus pass. All of Judi Dench’s seven Academy Award nominations came after the age of 60 and she only just recently lost her tattoo virginity at 81. It’s brilliant to see her putdowns to interviewers asking when it’s time for her to say farewell to acting, “It’s like somebody saying, ‘I don’t think you should have that drink. I think you should go home now’. How dare they when I’m just enjoying the party?” I think we become so used to seeing someone in the fabric of our lives, on our screens, on billboards we think they must have just been there forever. It’s surprising when we realise Judi was 61 when she found international fame playing M in GoldenEye.
One of my all-time favourite designers Vera Wang who is the creative genius behind superstar wedding dresses for the likes of Gwen Stefani, Mariah Carey and Alicia Keys didn’t design her first dress until she was 40 — you can not only discover a new passion in middle age but also become a world leader at it, too.
When watching the brilliant Iris Apfel, the bespectacled, self-titled ‘geriatric starlet’, celebrate her 100th birthday with a new collection and thousands of messages from adoring fans, it was clear to see that age does not dilute your power, your desirability or your drive. In fact, we don’t worship her ‘in spite’ of her age, but because she is who she is. Despite what the news might show, according to research from Sandler Training, the average age of an entrepreneur in the UK is 47 (46 for men and 48 for women)¹. What do Gap, KFC and Huffington Post have in common? You’ve guessed it. They were all founded by entrepreneurs over 40². Harland Sanders, who we all know as Colonel Sanders, was 62 when he franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken.
If you’re considering hanging up your hat, and concluding your working life is drawing into its final station — perhaps think again? There’s an Eastern philosophy that you get more talented with age. The great calligraphers are said to hit their peak in their 90s. The Japanese artist, Hokusai, painted his ‘Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji’, from which ‘The Great Wave’ comes, when he was around seventy and said, “At the age of 61 a person’s life cycle begins again.” Isn’t that a wonderful thought?
I’ve often said I won’t retire until I’m 90. I knew that I had finally found where I was happiest because I never wanted to step out of that sunshine. Sure, things can be frigging hard sometimes, but I know I’m where I’m meant to be at exactly the moment I’m meant to be here, which for me just happened to be 45. The reason it doesn’t matter what age you are is that discovering what you love fills you with such energy, purpose and passion that you don’t need to dwell on what came before. You’re now ready to make it happen.
I heard a story the other day about a guy who applied for drama school after a successful career in finance. He did his training and became an actor — he even starred with Vanessa Redgrave. But would that have happened to him at 20? Probably not. It just wasn’t his time then, but eventually, it was and look how things turned out.
Ask yourself, have you really squeezed every last drop out of life’s juicy orange? Is there a recurring dream you cannot shake about a desire you never fulfilled? A trip not yet travelled, a business idea not yet said out loud? Promise me something. Give it a go. If you’ve always wanted to sing, try a lesson and see if you can. Book that pottery class. Get yourself on that flight. Or, like me, just keep your ears open for the stories of those who are putting two older fingers up to society’s expectations and keep them in your mind so you never feel bound by the date on your birth certificate. We’ve got all the ambition, tenacity and spirit to move mountains at any age.