It is one of my favorite Carrie Fisher quotes, stated in her frustration around the public debate on whether or not she had aged well.
“Youth and beauty are not accomplishments,” she said. “They’re the temporary happy byproducts of time and/or DNA. Don’t hold your breath for either.”
We do others a disservice when we only celebrate the things they have no control over.
For kids, for friends, for strangers, we often point out the things that will inevitably fade or pass, and things that – because they were applauded for so long – these people will fiercely hold on to, then be terrified of losing.
When youth or beauty were the things that were elevated as the person’s value, what happens when they are gone?
I have a slightly manic obsession with being the first/youngest person to do something. When I go into classes/conferences I automatically look around the room and try to figure out if I’m the youngest and, if not, how many other people are “beating me.”
I’m 31, so the situations in which I am the youngest are becoming less common. It’s been getting to me. It was important to me to have my book published before I was 30. It’s felt deeply important to make sure I’m racking up accolades as quickly as possible before they’re “not as impressive,” which of course puts a massive amount of stress to beat the clock.
Because I was an intelligent and tall little kid, I never went to kindergarten, started first grade at 5, got accepted to college when I was 16, and started at 17. I didn’t turn 18 until weeks before my freshman year was complete. I was intensely proud of it, and immensely disappointed in myself when it took five years for me to finish college, throwing off my intended life timeline.
I hiked the Grand Canyon when I was six years old – one day down, camped at the bottom, one day out, no donkey rides involved. On the chilly March day we hiked, a group was taking a poll of the ages of all those who hiked. They were able to snap a picture with me – age 6 – and a gentleman – age 70 – who seemed to be the youngest and oldest on the trail that day.
After becoming obsessed with rowing during the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta (which I watched, glued to the TV, from our Seattle studio), I refused to wait until I was 13, the required age to join the local rowing club. They let me begin at 12. Everyone else in high school, I was the sole middle schooler on the team (but just as strong as the rest).
It was cool to not go to kindergarten where I probably would have been bored, it was great to have the opportunity to hike one of the world’s most amazing sites at six, I was certainly itching to get on a rowing team, but through all of it, I managed to then develop a super unhealthy attachment to being the youngest of any achievement group, and time dictates that that’s just not something we can hold on to.
A large part of my sense of self worth got tied up in how quickly I could make something happen; how young I could be while still doing something impressive.
It means that now, even if and when I do something impressive, it means nothing to me. I didn’t do it quickly enough. I didn’t achieve it on an impressive timeline. I am no longer going to receive the same pats on the back for being so young to do something, and my self-worth was based on that acknowledgement.
I do not want to be the person who is attached to the things I did in my youth. I do not want to be the person who feels as though the best of what I’ve done has passed, since in my mind, the best of what I’ve done could only have been achieved while exceedingly young.
So here’s a challenge. Instead of pointing out the things in other people they have no control over – their youth, their beauty – let’s instead lift up others’:
- tenacity and resilience
- kindness and compassion
- pursuit of knowledge
- integrity and grace
- wisdom and consideration
- discipline and perseverance
and any other multitude of things that are 1000x more important, more worthy of celebration, and far harder to achieve.