Perhaps the human zeal for drama explains why magazines print "30 Under 30" issues celebrating youthful overachievers. We admire the fast movers, game changers, and unexpected successes of all stripes. It’s clear to any sports fan that gymnasts and football players peak early. But we’ve got lots of examples of brainy achievers peaking young, too: Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking developed their most groundbreaking work in physics in their 20s. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at 29. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was composing symphonies in his teens. Jesus kicked off a global movement by 33.
In a world where actresses over 40 get suddenly swapped for 20-year-old models and Silicon Valley programmers get Botox to avoid being pegged as less innovative, we are perpetually obsessed with perpetual youth—and worse still, in often deeply sexist ways. But are we altogether wrong to peg youth to success? Does our appetite for such stories paint an accurate picture of the relationship between youth and achievement, or just feed into a wrongheaded fantasy?