Everywhere you look these days, one publication or another has a ’30 under 30′ or a ‘ 20 under 20’ list of top regional entrepreneurs, artists, chefs, doctors, etc. In our ever-quickening race to maximize marketing potential and fast growth, I wouldn’t be surprised to soon see a ‘5 under 5’ in preschool block building and coloring.
I know it’s all just a catchy headline meant to highlight the accomplishments of some genuinely talented and astounding individuals. I also know that as a society we’ve always been amazed by wunderkinds, crazy talent, and get-rich-quickly, or get-a-ton-of-attention-quickly schemes (looking at you Leopold, father of Wolfgang A. Mozart). No one seems to have the time to wait around for an entrepreneur to build a better company, or an artist to paint a better picture.
Here’s the thing though: great creativity, by its very nature, is fueled alone by time, patience, and experience. Sure, there are insanely amazing 15-year old musicians and actors. But is that how we define creativity, or is that simply prodigious anomaly combined with the buds of creativity?
While practicing the other day, I solved a phrasing issue in the Bartok Solo Sonata that for the life of me I had not understood for years. In fact, this year alone, I’ve been discovering new approaches and ideas all over the place (See Begin Again and Repeat).
It struck me: true creativity can’t be rushed, it is equal parts time, curiosity, and dedication. It will take however long it takes, and your efforts to speed things along will likely be as productive as banging your head against a cement wall. What do Samuel L. Jackson, Julia Child, and Charles Darwin all have in common? (I’ll save you the google search effort. Their careers only really got going around the age of 50.)
And yet today, just like we have for centuries, we jump at the latest, newest, fastest, shiniest career in the latest edition of 30 under 30. Put another way, we have all these delicious cakes in front of us, and yet we usually discard the whole thing before we ever get to the filling. We just pay for the icing. This is all good and understandable, but maybe we might gain inspiration from the 50 and 60 year olds finally getting their Ph.D.? Maybe Time should be publishing an ’80 under 80′ list? Maybe we need to invest in and encourage slow growth, not just what satisfies the needs of the marketplace?
As tough a year as this has been, on this front, the pandemic may have been an opportunity in disguise. We went into collective hibernation. In some industries the walls of the ‘marketplace’ no longer exist and need to be rebuilt. So, let’s go slow, be open, and pay attention. And, I have one additional suggestion: the next time you see a 30 under 30 list, appreciate the incredible and deserved accomplishments on that list, and then, find someone in the same industry who’s in the August of their careers. You might find that they’re actually just getting started.