Earlier this week, Outside published an interesting article on Magda Boulet, a 46-year-old ultra marathoner who is running strong as ever. Boulet moved up in distance to ultras from the marathon six years ago, at age 40. Her story contains important lessons on aging, and they apply well-beyond sports. Whether you are young or old, you'll want to think about and proactively take steps to ensure you keep experiencing peak performance and fulfillment as you age, which, like it or not, happens to everyone.
Raw-Talent Versus Wisdom
In many endeavors, and not just sports, as you get older raw talent/ability tends to decline but experience and wisdom increases. So it makes sense to shift to activities and roles that favor wisdom. In sport, going up from 5k to marathon to ultra makes perfect sense. The greater the distance, the less raw running ability matters and the more problem-solving, creativity, patience, and overcoming dark-spots—i.e,. WISDOM—does. The same thing is true in the traditional workplace.
It can be helpful to envision a career as riding two curves: raw-talent/ability and experience/wisdom. When younger, you'll excel in roles that depend on raw-talent and ability. As you age, the more you want to shift to roles depending on experience and wisdom. The older you get the more it makes sense to shift to things where the slope of the raw ability curve is not as steep as the slope of wisdom curve (i.e., wisdom matters more), so that your "best performance" shifts right, occurring later.
It's also interesting to note that wisdom my matter more than we think in many pursuits. For instance, though people often think founders of start-ups should be young, ambitious, and "move fast and break things," the opposite is actually true. Research from Northwestern University found that among the very fastest-growing new tech companies, the average founder was 45 at the time of founding. Furthermore, a 50-year-old entrepreneur is nearly twice as likely to have a runaway success as a 30-year-old.
Identity and Range
This kind of thinking (and Boulet's story) also parallels some of the big themes in the books The Passion Paradox and Range. It can be helpful to think long-term about how your identity connects to what you do, and if there is a strong connection, to think about how what you do may shift over the years. It is also helpful to pursue a broad range of interests and skills. In the short-run this may hold you back, at least versus becoming an uber narrow and deep specialist. But in the long-run, you are adding to your bank of wisdom—and the payoff—in terms of performance AND happiness—can be huge.
Some quotes from the ultra-runner, Magda Boulet drive this home.
“When you do what you love, you want to keep doing it for the rest of your life."
“I think what has allowed me to keep going and stay in the sport for as long as I have at this level is the variety I apply to training and racing. You have to feed your soul and mind as much as you’re feeding your body.”
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