Each Decade After Your 20s Comes With a Superpower
For many of us, the 20s are the most exciting decade of our lives. We launch our careers, meet our life partners, and achieve milestones that shape the rest of our life — we’re in our mental and physical prime. 20s-something want to live life to its fullest. Because after this golden age, there is only decline.
Yet, the more we study the human mind and body, the more we realise this picture is plainly wrong. “The whole idea that the brain is fully mature at 25 is a joke,” exclaim Daniel Romer, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist.
We gain advantages and disadvantages in all decades of life. In fact, we perform many skills far better in our 50s, 60s and even 70s than in our 20s.
The concept of one prime age is wrong because there are many. Each decade is an opportunity to be the best at something. If you want to live a life full of achievements, you must recognise the strengths and opportunities each decade brings.
Consider athletes for a moment. While 20-somethings may win a sprint, you won’t reach peak performance in many sports until later in life. The ideal age for marathon runners is around the mid-30s, and the peak age for a 100-mile ultramarathon is 37 for men and 38 for women.
In your 30s, your body starts losing fast-twitch muscle fibres. These fibres are the one that helps sprinters and swimmers reach their peak performance. But for sports that rely on stamina, they are of little use. Add to that the extra years of experience in regulating emotions and planning minute details, and you’ll see why athletes in their 30s and 40s are superior in many sports categories.
In a series of large scale experiments, researchers probed the cognitive abilities of tens of thousands of people aged 16 to 89. Their results shatter the belief that our prime age is in our 20s or even 30s. While 20-somethings seem to have an edge in solving problems quickly, that was the end of it. Older people perform better in tasks that require focus, face recognition, emotional attention, and more.
40-somethings “get into the zone” much easier than younger people, helping them perform tasks that require extended periods of focus better. People in their late 40s score highest in identifying emotions from facial expressions. This ability makes them better leaders, partners, parents, and judges of character.
Hunter-gatherers won’t reach their peak performance until their 40s or 50s. Middle-aged hunter-gatherers are the ones who bring in the most supplies to their groups. That’s because hunting, building traps, avoiding predators, identifying plants, smells, animals, poison, and the slightest change in weather, require decades of learning and experience — qualities that don’t peak until the 40s onwards.
In your 50s and 60s, your emotional intelligence becomes your superpower. As someone with decades of life experience, you understand the world better than most. You can relate to the needs and aspirations of many. You can make sound decisions, settle conflicts, and communicate clearly. These skills make you the perfect adviser when it comes to ideas, products and services, business strategies, and new policies.
Wisdom in old age might sound like a cliché. Still, Igor Grossman from Waterloo University says people won’t peak in certain skills until their 7th decade and beyond. To prove that, he probed specific skills in people such as:
- The ability to analyse conflicts: personal, professional, and political.
- Intellectual humility — the ability to admit that we don’t know.
- The extent of vocabulary.
- The capacity to embrace different viewpoints and find compromises.
Lo and behold, people in their 70s and 80s aced these tests. According to Grossman, these traits capture the concept of wisdom that many cultures promoted throughout the ages. And 70-somethings tend to score way better than participants in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s.
The results are clear: the quality of your decision-making increases steadily throughout your life. “Older people are critical to roles that involve legal decisions, counseling, and group negotiations,” concludes Grossman and colleagues in their study.
People in their 70s are wisest, most humble, and most understanding. Those in their 60s and 50s are leaders and visionaries. And those in their 40s, 30s and 20s are dynamic, ambitious, and energetic.
We hold impressive abilities at all ages of our life. There simply is no single prime time. Every decade brings new strengths to perform elite work one way or another.
If you’ve been holding back on dreams because you thought — or someone told you — that your prime years are behind you, think again. Because from your coming into this world until your exit, you have great potential to achieve incredible things.