Take the sum of human achievement in action, in science, in art, in literature—subtract the work of the men above forty, and while we should miss great treasures, even priceless treasures, we would practically be where we are today . . . The effective, moving, vitalizing work of the world is done between the ages of twenty-five and forty.
Sir William Osler, "The Fixed Period", farewell address at Johns Hopkins Medical School, 1905
I came across this quote by renowned Canadian physician William Osler a few months ago and found it disconcerting. Not because I disagree with it, but because I wonder if there might be truth in it. And because I am a thirty-five year-old mother of three who has been treading water career-wise, working two days a week, with plans to truly launch myself professionally in another five years or so.
Then I watched In the Shadow of the Moon last week, Ron Howard's documentary on the moon landings, and was struck by the fact that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins were all 38 when they flew to the moon in 1969. Arguably at the pinnacle of their careers, they were three years older than I am.
So I find myself wondering - have I already peaked? Have the opportunities for my best professional work slipped by while I've been laundering onesies and making homemade chicken stock? Or have they simply been postponed, with the next decade being my professional hurrah, as hoped?
My twenties were characterized by energy and optimism. My thirties have seen an indisputable downturn in both, but gains in insight and creativity. I thought perhaps each decade would burnish some new qualities, culminating at age . . . fifty-five? sixty? I don't really think that far ahead. But I was certainly counting on having more than the next five years to make my mark.
So - if you are at the end of your career, at what age did you make your greatest contributions? If you have passed forty, do you feel that your most productive years are behind you? And if you aren't yet forty, what years do you expect will be your best?