You Know You're Over 40 When…

You Realise It’s Increasingly Unlikely You’ll Be The First Person To Do Something

thatcherMargaret Thatcher, Dream Snatcher

Maybe it’s because I’m a relentless optimist. Maybe it’s because people – not you, other people – say life begins at 40. Maybe it’s because John Lennon called me a dreamer (he did. He said “People say I’m a dreamer/But I’m not the only one”, which was clearly a reference to me. Well, people like me. And him).

Whatever the reason, a part of me still clings on to the belief that I will Achieve Something Momentous In Life. And it’s a fact that once you’re over *whispers* a certain age, the feeling that you’re going to do this begins to diminish somewhat. And the feeling that you’re going to be the first person to do this thing doesn’t so much diminish as laugh in your increasingly lived-in face.

When Margaret Thatcher got into power in 1979, I was fuming. Not because I was a leftie – I am, but I was eight at the time and didn’t have strong political views – but because Thatcher, the Iron Lady, had instantly scuppered any dreams I, the Iron Baby, had of becoming Britain’s first female Prime Minister. I was incensed! The only way I could console myself was to listen to Roger Whittaker’s children’s album really loud.

As life went on, I tried to put that early defeat behind me (and to be honest, the Roger Whittaker albums helped). I dreamed of being the first person – not just the first woman – to do all sorts of things, or at least to feature in one of those ‘Ones To Watch’ pieces in newspaper weekend magazines. Amazingly, though, these features weren’t paying close attention to The Ones To Watch In Independent Cinema Management, or The Ones To Watch In Digital Television Companies That Are Clearly Heading For Failure, and focused instead on things like British theatre and entrepreneurial business. BORING!

I soldiered on. I switched from career to career – each time getting older as I started a new job, but each time feeling just as young and full of hope, because I was starting afresh. But I had, I now realise, a personal glass ceiling. I would reach a certain level of success in each field… and then move on. This wasn’t down to a dreadfully short attention span, I hasten to add, but rather a form of self-sabotage. I understand now that – even if I had the wits and talent to do so – I was afraid to succeed at A Grand Level, afraid to be ambitious. I’d constructed this glass ceiling myself, and it was following me around like Charlie Brown’s rain cloud.

Now, I may not have completely smashed that ceiling, but I’ve at least punched a great socking hole in it, and continue to try and do so with every new challenge or opportunity that I face (although as we all know, the former is actually the latter in disguise – right, kids?!). But to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter how less afraid or how more ambitious I am now – because the fact remains that one’s chances of being The First Person To Do Something aren’t just diminished by age but by the fact that in order to be The First Person To Do Something, you usually need to be Jolly Good At Something by the point at which you hope to be the first person to do it. Or at least you need to have discovered and then channelled your focus, passion and ambition before the age of fortysomething.

The London Olympics, for example, might have inspired us Brits to get off our fat arses and… watch the opening and closing ceremonies. And maybe go and see some sport. But the fact is: no matter how many Jessica Ennises and Chris Hoys there are (there might be a few – I’ve not checked the modern phone book, LinkedIn), we, the average Joe/Jess/Chris, are unlikely to achieve their records because they’ve worked bloody hard at being brilliant at running/jumping/cycling/stuff for years. Similarly, Daniel Day-Lewis, who’s just become the first man to win three Best Actor Oscars, started acting at school and got his first lead film role at the age of 14. What’s more, according to Wikipedia, at school “he was introduced to his three most prominent interests: woodworking, acting and fishing” – so who knows what Day-Lewis could have gone to achieve in carpentry, too. Probably make amazing fishing rods.

In short, you have to Get Your Shit Together And Work Really Hard At Something For A Long Time if you want to achieve great success. Which is how it should be, of course. I don’t expect any shortcuts in life – except perhaps from Charing Cross station to the Embankment, along that little walkway thing. But I’m increasingly fearful that I’m running out of time. Increasingly fearful that not only has that ship sailed, but I wasn’t the first woman to captain it.

For example, here are a few things I’ve realised that I can never be the first person to do. (Or you. Sorry about that.)

  • First person in space
  • First woman in space
  • First dog in space (thanks a bunch, Laika!)
  • First woman to swim the Channel
  • First woman to guest-star on The Muppets (that’s still going, right?)
  • First female Chancellor of Germany
  • First black President of the United States

I realise, of course, that I can never be the first person to do any of those things above because I was born just that little bit too late and/or just that little bit too British. And crucially, I’ve never had a strong enough interest or ability in astronomy, swimming or politics (The Muppets, on the other hand…).

But as I said at the start, I’m still holding out hope. That glass ceiling is increasingly full of holes and looking more and more precarious. Plus, as I explained here, I’m definitely one of life’s late starters. Who knows what I’ve still got it in me to do… after someone else has done it?


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24 thoughts on “You Realise It’s Increasingly Unlikely You’ll Be The First Person To Do Something

  1. mark wood on said:

    I’m the first person to say they like this piece. oh yeah :{)

  2. mark wood on said:

    I was

  3. Great sunday morning (for me) reading. Love the style, keep it up. I’m 54 and was never the first person to do anything either. Way too British. Keep it going – we’re loving it this end!

  4. I don’t know if you’ll ever be the first at anything worth shouting about worldwide but I notice that what you do is extremely well done and enjoyable to quite a few of us. That surely counts you know, and don’t lose your British style and tastes 🙂

  5. I’m only now trying to figure out what I want to do! I thought I did…but it seems I don’t. So now, I’m focusing on finding some thing that will bring me joy. It shouldn’t matter what…as long as I am joyful doing it.
    Maybe at 40..that’s where we should head out to? To find what brings us joy?

    BTW….nice piece! Nice proportion of funny and serious in one! 😀

  6. Thanks for making me laugh!
    I had similar thoughts the other day – it is now highly unlikely that I will be discovered walking along the street by a fabulous film producer who will instantly recognize my hidden talents and camera appeal and whisk me off to become an overnight star with strong political and environmental values……… and it is such a relief to realise that this is because of my age rather than my lack of hidden talent and/or camera appeal (not to mention my lack of interest in acting).

  7. Heck, I wasn’t even the first person to reply to you. **sigh**

  8. Side note: Thatcherism was a direct reaction against Roger Whittakerism.

  9. Pingback: You Realise It’s Increasingly Unlikely You’ll Be The First Person To Do Something | Valuing Art

  10. her30s on said:

    I’m in my thirties and I already feel like its too late for certain things… Great post!

    • Thanks. But – it’s not! Honestly. Of course the feeling that time is passing all too quickly is there, but… I realise now I should maybe have included one of my favourite quotes in this post: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been” (George Elliot). I’m sure I’ll write a post specifically about time going quicker, but that can be a good thing (in terms of giving you a sense of urgency) as well as a rather depressing one..!

  11. Simon Hickson (sometimes Stan Tenchard) on said:

    Ha! This took me back to my childhood and one of my favourite B sides of the time, Ide B the first… the ending is you! And me too!

  12. Roger Whittaker! Had completely forgotten about him. Had to look on YouTube and found him there, singing away at Durham Town, just like yesterday.
    You could be the first British, female President of the US?

  13. Hi Andrea, Lovely piece. I write for a Swedish educational publisher; would you be willing to let us use this piece for an upcoming book? The publisher can pay. Please contact me off list if you’re interested.

  14. I love this piece. I think it speaks to anyone over the age of 30, which just goes to show what a horribly age obsessed world we live in. On the other hand, the internet & technology is enabling people to have a voice & to be heard – so theoretically anything is possible. Who would have thought that a less than svelte size 0 would be a global music superstar – especially in the plastic fantastic Western world we live? And for what its worth, from my perspective, you are very talented at reinventing yourself – and in some of the most difficult industries (music, writing). I still think you have not one, but many firsts in your journey 🙂

    • Thank you so much! 🙂 And yes – I agree – in many ways the internet has given amazing freedom to musicians, and made the music business (in fact, all creative industries) more of a meritocracy. It enables pretty much anyone to put their work ‘out there’ and thus, if you’re talented/funny/got something to say, you will probably get spotted. That said – it also means it’s possibly harder to cut through the white noise of everyone doing exactly that!

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