Elizabeth Day: I really am getting better with age

There are few things more enjoyable than watching deserving people win things. A child at a sports day who has put in the extra effort to run the race. An overlooked actor who finally gets their longed-for Oscar. An artist who really wasn’t expecting to nab the Turner Prize. There are entire compilations of people like this winning things on YouTube, which I can highly recommend as an antidote for a moment of low spirits.

Photograph: Jenny Brough. Hair: Fabio Noguiera. Make-up: Ruby Hammer. Trousers: Amanda Wakeley. Jewellery: Alighieri

There was a good example a few weeks ago when a video of the author Michele Kirsch winning a literary award did the rounds on social media. The award judges had set it up so that Kirsch thought she was taking part in an interview, and when they announced her name, she burst into tears and was unable to speak for several seconds.

It was especially affecting because the award was for first-time authors over 50, set up in memory of Sir Christopher Bland who didn’t publish his first novel until he was 76 – well after his other career, as a businessman and former chairman of BT, had ended.

Kirsch was 57 when her memoir of addiction, Clean, was published. Watching her receive the news that she had won £10,000 was balm to the soul: she was genuinely moved, surprised and grateful for the acknowledgement.

It made me think about age and creativity. It often feels as though we labour under a collective misapprehension that doing things young equates to a uniquely notable sort of success. That’s why Forbes magazine does its annual list of billionaires under 30. It’s why the literary publication Grantacompiles the ‘best’ British novelists under the age of 40. And it’s also why when I approached my 30th birthday more than a decade ago, I vividly remember feeling I would never be categorised as ‘young’ again (I had won the Young Journalist of the Year Award at 26, and was only too aware that I no longer squeezed into the age limit).

It’s poppycock, of course – an arbitrary way to measure the worth of one’s contributions. I feel it’s only in my 40s that I’m entering my most creative, empowered phase because I know myself better. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I’ve put in the work. It was Malcolm Gladwell who famously determined that it took 10,000 hours of practice to become expert in something. I’ve simply got more hours under my belt.

But there are other, less tangible benefits, too. When we get older, we accrue that magical quality known as wisdom. We’re less worried about breaking rules or offending people. And true creativity comes from that place of freedom.

The novelist Mary Wesley published her first book at the age of 70 and took the literary world by storm. Peter Mark Roget, who spent his entire working life as a physician, only began his second career as a lexicographer in retirement as a means of staving off his depression. Roget’s Thesaurus came out when he was 73. When the chemist John Goodenough scooped the Nobel Prize in 2019 for his work on the rechargeable battery, he delightfully commented that: ‘Live to 97 and you can do anything.’

We exist in an era that rewards speed, whether it be a fast internet connection or the immediacy of hailing a taxi with a single tap on our phones. There is a sense that the less time it takes us to do something, the better it must be. But shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t we value creativity and talent more when a lifetime’s work has gone into perfecting it? While we’re busily fetishising youth, it strikes me that achievement in our older years is just as worthy of celebration. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway. And I shall keep telling myself it until I’m (hopefully) well into my dotage.

This week I’m…

Soaking

In Soapsmith’s deliciously rose-petal scented Bloomsbury Bath Soak which makes me feel like a queen in the tub every night.

Lusting

After Bella Freud’s Mood For Love dress – inspired by one of my favourite films – in gorgeous red chinoiserie silk. I must have it!

Cleansing

With Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel: a half-gel, half-oil formula that soothes, moisturises and removes all make-up. Perfect.