How Science Has Proven Age Has Nothing To Do With Success

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Type of story: Inspiring and educational - simple to understand 

Duration: 3-5 mins

Most profound learnings: There is a general message in western society that success happens in your younger years. 

It is not surprising, therefore, that as some people reach middle age and above and get injured they can start to feel that they won’t be able to find meaningful work.

This is a nice article of hope that argues that people can achieve success later in life.

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Summary of article: Our international society puts a lot of weight on child prodigies. Look at the newsworthy stories of young children attending university ahead of their time because of their sheer perceived talent.

But, arguably, this focus is nothing more than the prospective exploitation of someone who can offer value to society. We place so much value on young rising stars, but science has proven that this isn’t necessarily a useful way of doing things.

In 2018, network scientist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi published a paper on success later in life, which he put down to something he named the Q-factor. In short, the Q-factor can be described as a combination of determination, applicability, and luck.

What the researchers found is that people’s Q-factor doesn’t change throughout their career. This means that it’s the same when you’re fresh out of university as it is at the end of your career. But what does this have to do with age?

Essentially, your Q-factor, when combined with the right job, will lead to success. How you determine this success is still a personal thing. It could be fame, contributing to your industry, or simply providing a good service.

But all success starts with a good idea. Even with a high Q-factor, a bad idea is still a bad idea. Sometimes, a good idea and a low Q-factor can lead to failure because the project wasn’t executed properly.

So the key to success, regardless of your age, is to keep trying. You have to identify your Q-factor, which is what makes you tick and consists of your passions. If you don’t think your Q-factor is stimulated then there’s a chance you’re in the wrong career. But remember, it’s never too late to change.

Then there’s the factor of persistence, which, when combined with a high Q-factor, can lead to success later in a career. The researchers highlight a scientist called John Fenn as a good example. Fenn published his first paper at 32 and was employed by Yale University by age 50.

At the age of 67, Fenn was semi-retired and Yale had stripped him of lab space. That same year he published a paper on electrospray ionization, which was a new technique for accurately measuring the mass of molecules. In scientific circles, this was a complete game-changer.

He continued to develop his idea (by now at Virginia Commonwealth University) and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry when he was in his mid-80s.

But what does this mean? In short, if your Q-factor is high and you’re determined, keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks. Fenn proved that it’s never too late to change the game.

We’re never too old to find success; we just need passion. Passion is truly shown in the face of adversity, particularly if people are adverse to your contributions to your particular field. So find your Q-factor and keep going. If you want more information, you can read Barabasi’s write-up here.