I’ve been thinking a bit recently about Jennifer Lawrence. This isn’t just a sexual fantasy though, shockingly, more about her life and career. She’s 23 years old. She is in the Hunger Games, possibly one of the biggest franchises of the moment, along with X-Men, another one. She has had three Oscar nominations (Winter’s Bone, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle) and has won one – may still yet win another. She has 2 Golden Globes, was named Elle’s most influential woman in the media, there is an entire page on Wikipedia which lists her awards and nominations. (I’m not kidding). But the first bit is the most important bit – she’s 23 years old.
My question of the day, the week, life, this year – is how do you know when you’ve peaked? When you have achieved probably the greatest thing you ever will, your best work is behind you, your most successful and happiest years? This sounds almost a morbid question, but I don’t mean it that way. Certainly not about Jennifer Lawrence – I hope (and also believe) that she will continue to have many more successful years. (I can’t wait for the next Hunger Games, for one thing). But for the rest of us mere mortals, we do have to face up to the fact that we have one short Earth-set life, and there will be a highest and possibly (probably) a lowest point in there somewhere. How do you cope once you’ve got the Oscar, you’ve won the Olympic Gold, or your magnum opus is complete?
Well, for a lot of us our careers don’t really work that way – you may climb up in a role over time and earn more perhaps, but it’s not the case of our works being lauded and feted or critically reviled. This is not so for Erich Maria Remarque, who wrote the wonderful First World War book Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front). That was his debut – and then after that everything went downhill. He peaked first. How does that feel? But at least he peaked – what of the countless people who strive for success but never achieve it – in their twilight years what do they feel when they look back?
I’m guessing here, but I think one of the ways humans, with our unique ability to look at and plan for the short term and long term futures, cope with any success or any failure, is to be aware that there is still time left. It’s how we get anything done. We always hold out the optimistic hope that our lives, seemingly, are unending, and that there will be time, and this is just a step on the road, or a chapter in the book. Then when of course, the road ends and the last page is written, we do not have to sum up what our greatest achievement was anyway, because by then we have realised that the trinkets we collected and the successes or failures we experienced were not there to rank our years in order, but to provide our lives with the classic, meandering human story, our unique past that shapes us.
Not all of us will win an Oscar, or a Nobel Prize, or have fifteen grandchildren, yes, but we might still have happy lives – and when we peak it might be at school or in the retirement home, but what does it matter? Really, life is not a line graph of year vs success, but it is who we are, what we’re doing and how much we are enjoying it.
Anyway, those were some thoughts on peaking and success, mainly as an introduction to next week’s little post, which is a short fiction on someone who is worried about peaking too early – I’m enjoying this “creative blog once a week” thing!