OK, I know it’s rude to ask, but how old are you? Too old, possibly to quit your job and start your own business? Too old, to follow a youthful dream of becoming an actor, painter, musician, or entrepreneur?
This is what a lot of clients think about themselves when they first come to work with me,.
Do you feel that at 40 50 or 60 you lack (or will lack) the thrusting dynamism or disruptive ideas to be successful at something risky and new? You may be right. But this in all likelihood has nothing to do with your age.
As someone who coaches entrepreneurs of different ages (my youngest is 20, my oldest 66) I can attest that nearly all of us, at some stage use our age as an excuse for not taking a risk on ourselves.
Youth is not an elixir of success
However, that youth itself is not the elixir of successful entrepreneurship has been confirmed by a study, conducted by professors from MIT and Northwestern, together with the principal economist from the Census Bureau. The study found that even in consumer-facing high-tech industries, the average age of founders falls in the early forties. In other industries such as oil and gas or biotechnology, the average age is closer to 47.
When you look at the most successful startups, the average age of the founder (at launch) goes up, not down. Empirical evidence shows that successful entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged, not young.
The study’s findings point to entrepreneurial performance rising sharply with age before peaking in the late fifties.
According to the study’s authors: “If you were faced with two entrepreneurs and knew nothing about them besides their age, you would do better, on average, betting on the older one.”
Greater access to financial resources and deeper social networks may contribute. Work experience certainly plays a critical role. “Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85% more likely to launch a highly successful start-up.”
So, why do we use our age as a perceived obstacle to attainment?
As a coach, I have found that we nearly always assume the perspective of 20 years ago when it comes to how we see ourselves and others. So, at 45 we judge ourselves as our 25-year-old self would have done. We tell ourselves we’re tired and past it. At 65 years we see ourselves as ready to retire because that’s the perspective we had about being 65 when we were 45.
This problem is made worse by the fact that so many of our ideas were shaped when we were in our teens and early twenties, when our grandparents were in their 50s or 60s and anyone past the age of 40 seemed ancient.
Check-in with yourself 20 years from now
That’s why it can be so helpful to check in with yourself 20 years in the future – or if your age makes that unrealistic, with yourself from beyond the grave https://www.vitality.guru/future-self-visualization/
If you are 45, your 65-year-old self will doubtless urge you not to squander the energy and vitality you currently have. If you’re 65, your 85-year-old self will be even more encouraging. If you’re 85, you probably already know that life is short, and you should just “go for it.” And if you’re only 25 and think you’re too old to launch a new business, your 45-year-old self will hopefully give you the kind of slap you deserve.
Find Older Role Models
I often ask clients to find role models who were their age or older when they launched hugely successful companies. The founders of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, for instance, were all over 50 when they launched their empires.
Journalist Vera Wang did not even begin designing clothes professionally until the age of 39 and Reed Hastings started Netflix DVD rental when he was 37 and didn’t begin streaming till he was 47.
Jim Butenschoen was 65 when he retired from the IT industry to start the now hugely successful Career Academy of Hair Design.
At 52, Carol Gardner, recently divorced, got a dog at the suggestion of her therapist. A picture she took of her dog, Zelda, won a local Christmas card contest, inspiring her to start a greeting card company which she named after her dog. Today, at 72, Carol and her $50 million company, Zelda Wisdom, are still going strong and she’s starting up another venture.
You could even find an inspiring role model closer to home. When I met Ryan Jackson (not his real name) he was a leading solicitor in London. Already at an age when most of us feel our lives are fixed, at 61 Ryan decided to make a complete switch and follow his dream of entering the youth-obsessed world of acting. Since then he studied and trained and has been working back-to-back on dozens of award-winning productions. He’s played an extraordinary range of characters, from scary thugs to cuddly dads, on screen, and on stage. He’s living a life he loves. I am loving watching his creativity, self-expression, and boundless energy.
Whether you believe you are too old to do it, or whether you believe you’re the perfect age to do anything, you’re right.