Life Lessons from the Library: Wily Age Can Trump Energetic Youth

There is a scene in the movie Fried Green Tomatoes that has rightfully become iconic. Two young women pull into a parking space that Kathy Bates has been waiting for. When she protests, they snidely remark on how they are younger and faster. She then proceeds to ram their car with hers, responding, “I’m older and have more insurance.”

While our culture worships youth, the truth is that age teaches strategies that also help make people winners. I was reminded of this last week when talking with a student. It was the night before Thanksgiving, and she was one of the few people left in the library. As she was gathering up her stuff, I teasingly said, “Don’t spend the whole holiday studying. Enjoy some turkey and a little rest time.”

She smiled at me and said she was not going to have to work the whole weekend. “See, I’m older than many of the people in my classes. And I know as the semester winds down, I’m not going to have the energy they have. So I make the most of the semester’s beginning. I get a lot done then, so I have a little more time and am not so overwhelmed at the end.” For example, having worked hard on early papers in one class, she now had the luxury of practically failing the current assignment without any effect on her grade. “Not that I plan to fail it,” she added. “But it certainly takes the pressure off.”

Older students are often worried about coming to college and ‘competing’ with young people just out of high school. This worry is usually needless. Life experience has taught such students strategies for success, perseverance, and determination that will serve them well in the classroom. This is true for other endeavors in life as well. While age may disqualify us for starting certain careers, such as pro basketball players and astronauts, in almost all other areas, the skills we’ve learned along the way will help compensate for our lack of youth when starting a new endeavor.

So next time, you’re thinking that your age might be a barrier in going after a dream, you’re probably thinking the wrong way about it. Instead, look for ways that your age might provide you some alternate strategies for making that dream come true.

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