I was recently humbled to learn that Mozart had already composed 41 symphonies, 27 concertos, 20 piano solos, and died by the time he reached my age. Unfortunately, the list didn’t end there.
I am in my mid-thirties, here’s a list of things other people accomplished by the time they were my age:
- Mary Shelly had already published Frankenstein (age 21)
- Albert Einstein had already published his theory of Relativity (age 26)
- Michelangelo had already completed the David (age 28)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald had already published The Great Gatsby (age 29)
- William Shakespeare had already written Henri VI (age 26–28ish)
- Emily Brontë had already published Wuthering Heights (age 29)
- Victor Hugo had already completed The Hunchback of Notre Dame (age 29)
- Frida Kahlo had already painted her self-portrait (age 33)
- Ludwig Van Beethoven had already written his first through third symphonies (age 30–35)
If that seems depressing. It is. It’s basically a list of what other people were doing while we worked and Netflixed.
But then, this list is deceiving. Because though there are many who accomplished great things in their youth, there are just as many who were much older when their masterpieces were unveiled. Including the aforementioned.
Despite the fact that Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond when he was 28, he didn’t complete his seminal work about it until he was 37. Alexandre Dumas completed The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers in his 40s. Leonardo Da Vinci painted The Last Supper and the Mona Lisa in his 40s and 50s. It took Victor Hugo 17 years to write Les Miserables, which he finally completed when he was 60.
But these artists didn’t get started in their old age, they had decades of practice under their belts by the time their most prominent works were created. They had written books, painted pictures, and sculpted sculptures in their 20s, 30s, and beyond-and that set the stage for some of their best work later on.
Victor Hugo spent more than a decade writing poetry before he began writing books with that same emotional depth. Frida Kahlo painted in a European style for years before embracing the Mexican surrealism for which she became known. The fact remains that great works take time. And time has every probability of passing us by.
Every year it grows more and more likely that we will not accomplish anything before we die. Not that “accomplishing something before we die” is mandatory. Most of us won’t and don’t aspire to accomplish anything. But I do. I want to create a personal masterpiece-contributing to the collective consciousness of the world through art.
And that means I need to write my book now. And that I need to keep going after my first, second, and third works are complete. I need to spend decades refining my craft. Learning how to write something as “pleasantly haunting” as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with the personal feeling of Victor Hugo.
I have no idea when my best work will come. But I know it will take years of practice to get there. My twenties are already gone. So are half of my thirties. All I can do is keep writing. And not waste the precious time I’ve been given.
To receive my articles via email please subscribe to my newsletter. Thank you for reading