Do you still have potential?

Beatles Twist and Shout 1963 by Ayd Instone

The Beatles 1963: A representation of youthful energy and creative power

Can one person really be of more worth than another?

And if that person is a teenager, do they have more worth than someone who is 29? Is a seven year old more deserving of our support and love than a teenager, or an unborn something, or a 50 year old man?

The moral reaction is that all have the same worth and value, that is what the law states, that is what all religions state, but it’s not quite how society behaves.

When a baby is born, the universal emotion is one of joy. When one dies, it is with great sadness, but not always quite as great as when a child, who has lived for a short number of years, dies. Perhaps it’s because their personality is more tangible than a baby. Usually only the immediate family mourn a baby who dies in childbirth. A teenagers death is tragic, but once we move into being adults, the tragedy of our untimely deaths grows less and less important to other with our age. Why?

Is it to do with potential? Perhaps there’s perceived greater unfulfilled potential in a child, which by the time that child has become an adult has either become manifest, or not, revealing an adult who has achieved, or has not. Is it therefore to do with what value an individual human contributes, or could potentially contribute?

People certainly mourn famous celebrities as much as members of their own immediate family. Is it connection that deserves our attention? We feel connected to actors, musicians and royalty so we mourn their passing? If a child dies of an illness or incident at home, no-one apart from the immediate family and friends cares. If one dies on the road, strangers may leave flowers. If one dies as a result of murder, thousands may take to the streets in mourning. If the victim of the murder was a 40 year old man, no-one would bother taking to the streets. The end result is the same in each case: we’ve lost a human life too early. But why the difference in reaction?

A celebrity expert, let’s say a famous author, is often quite willing to lend their expertise to support and help a young writer under 16. They would not be so willing to help a 50 year old. Is it that the 50 year old should have figured it all out themselves by that age. They clearly should simply have tried harder in their life and having blown all the chances and opportunities that must have come their way, don’t deserve any help… No-one would argue that children deserve help more than an adult. But why? The 50 year old clearly has more experience, of something, as they have had a longer life than the teenager, but do they have less potential, less to contribute? Or more? Potential to do what exactly?

In most societies, throughout history, age meant wisdom. Today though it seems less so. There have been many examples in the media where a greater age has been perceived to be a disadvantage and some have observed that television presenters appear to be biased towards more youthful ones. Do we value youth (and beauty) more than age and experience?

In some disciplines, the optimum level of youth does have a clear advantage. There is an average peak age where a sportsperson can perform at the highest level. It is said that mathematicians perform at their optimum between the age of 19 and 26 when our brains are said to be at their peak before cells start to die off.

But recent research has shown that brain cells may well die off, but new ones do grow. And it is the connections between the cells in the brain that are more relevant than the actual number of cells.

Because of a number of high profile successes in various creative endeavors by quite young people, the focus of the media is that creativity peaks when we are in our mid to late 20s.

The Beatles are the perfect manifestation of this rule. By the time they’d competed their final recordings together (on Abbey Road in 1969), George Harrison was still just 26. Ringo was the oldest at 29 (John Lennon was 28 and Paul McCartney had just turned 27).

Just a few years earlier, the four Beatles who wrote, played and sang on their first number one record were aged just 20, 21, 23 and 23. Their manager, Brian Epstein was only 27 and George Martin, their recording producer, 37.

In almost every creative avenue in the 1960s it seemed that youth had the creative power and it’s something we seem to have stuck with ever since. But is that actually true, or are the results somewhat skewed? Can people still be creative in their 30s, their 40s, their 50s and beyond?

Anyone of you who knows my age may well be thinking, “oh you’re just bitter and twisted because no-one spotted your ‘genius’ when you were 26.”

That may well be true, but it’s not the point. Or rather it is part of the point because I may well write off part of my creativity in the same way that you have, by thinking that we must have been no good at a certain thing or it would certainly have led somewhere by now, or we’ve missed the opportunity, and that we’re just past it.

If we ignore the negative impact of the media we’ll notice that many successful painters and authors only began their craft close to ‘retirement’ age.

We ALL have potential and we always will have that potential right up until our very last productive day on this Earth, irrespective of our age.

Drawing by Ayd Instone.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

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9 comments on “Do you still have potential?

  1. I’m a young person, but I agree with this post. I’ve read personal essays from authors like Stephen King and Clive Cussler who said that they hadn’t figured out what they wanted to write until they weren’t that young anymore. It’s a little disconcerting for an aspring author like me, but at the same time it teaches me the lesson of perserverance.


  2. I think we established that I’m a year older than you are, Ayd, so with my added time and experience let me just tell you that you are DEAD RIGHT! I don’t know if you have ever heard of Bonnie Raitt, but she hit her creative stride when she had a cool white streak in her auburn hair. She and others like her are my inspiration that one can still contribute to the creative world after the acne has been replaced by wrinkles. This should be especially so in the case of writers whose physical appearance has no bearing whatsoever on their marketability. In the written world, it takes time and experience to develop the craft. I fully expect my skills and ideas to get better as I get older. I’ve got a good 40-50 years left in me, so your grandkids may be reading my brand new best sellers some day. 🙂


  3. Ayd, we do all have potential – but nobody can achieve it. This has to do with deciding on a definition of ‘potential’. If potential is a range of quantifiable results attained at a succession of points in time throughout our future lives, then it continues to move ahead of us into the future. By this definition, we cannot finally achieve or completely realise it.

    We could conceive it as a collective abstract noun. We understand that, as societies change, develop or progress, we stand on the shoulders of giants and make our own individual contributions. If we are significantly creative, we in turn may become giants with broad shoulders.

    The concept can become fascinating and complex if we attach it to terms such as ‘age’ or ‘legacy’.

    In schools, children are constantly assessed to determine the degree of knowledge and skills they have acquired. But they are not just being prepared for the future. Like all of us, they are people now, continuously journeying in the present. If a child dies, it is a terrible deprivation – and much more than a waste of potential. But that journey stops. Relatives and friends are left with all the specific ‘What If?’ questions provoked by their affinity with the journey that has been cut short.

    However, similar questions are also posed by people of all ages, to themselves. Ayd, your work on ‘What If?; ideas clearly shows how people can come to visualise, and focus on, their potential.

    The idea of the achievements of some people influencing the potential lives (if not the career choices) of others is, of course, pervasive in human life. Elvis has left the building but he was the coolest guy. Clive Dunne may now be dead but, at every opportunity, we’ll probably still watch his Corporal Jones on ‘Dad’s Army’.
    Perhaps our concept of ‘worth’ is connected to an idea of an individual’s ability to influence us.


  4. I appreciate your POV and agree with all you wrote, but this one hit home for me. “If we ignore the negative impact of the media we’ll notice that many successful painters and authors only began their craft close to ‘retirement’ age.” Life can keep the young adult very busy and side tracked with a myriad of distractions.


  5. The potensial of a person is his/her ability to inspire others. It is only through hardship that we gain experience, and therefore one value certain people more than others, based on how they make us feel. If we live for ourselves, society will value us not as much, as if we give ourselves in service of society. In this way, we become valueble. A valueble person, would be a role module to society, someone with contentment who are not judgemental. The value of a child is the potensial to be great, but only if time allow greatness.


  6. I have learned that success is only what I make it. I don’t hold myself to a standard that society provides. In fact, I find it insulting that everyone else will try and have a standard for me or others. My goals reach to the stars and I don’t care who thinks I can or can’t do something. Maybe if we stopped thinking in lines of what we are “supposed” to act like and started thinking about what is, we could change everything.


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