Although there are many things I miss about being young (all of them too obvious to detail here), one thing I don’t is the hyperawareness of age. When you are young and ambitious, your 20s can feel like a constant and unrelenting race, one in which you are vividly aware of not only your own position, but that of your peers as well. How many times did I moan about someone who seemed to be so much more accomplished than I? How much of my consciousness was dedicated to cataloging how many years (or months, even) younger or older a perceived rival was than I? I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to be an editor in chief, and yet everyone always seemed so much further ahead of me; everyone else’s pace looked so much brisker, their triumph so much more assured.
Anyone who is reading this and in a similar position should take heart, however: At some point, those feelings will fade. You will realize that early professional success ensures nothing. You will also realize that the most important thing is not that you were first to accomplish something, but that you did so on your own terms, with as few compromises as possible. By this time, you’ll probably be nearing or in middle age, but the consolation prize for being in your 40s is the relief you’ll feel that, despite everything, you are free from that particular tyranny.
The ticking clock is, I’d venture, louder still for those of us living (or attempting to live) a creative life. We celebrate savants, prodigies, early promise. Your first gallery show, your first stage role, your first published book, your first runway collection — these are laudable moments; they happen for so few, and they should be celebrated. But it’s after the show closes or the curtain falls that the second test begins — the one in which you have to prove to yourself not just that you can produce art, but that you can be an artist. This test will consume the rest of your life, and although there will be moments of joy, the pursuit will often be lonely and mapless. Your age will not matter in this test; what will instead is your resilience, your durability and the singularity of your vision.
There are probably few fashion designers who understand this as vividly as Marc Jacobs. Jacobs was 29 and the creative director of Perry Ellis when he presented his infamous grunge collection, which made him an instant sensation. Now 56, he has been famous — and an artistic director — for almost half of his life. Over the course of his long career, he has been responsible for giving shape and relevance to American luxury; for transforming the business of fashion; for changing our perception of what an artistic director looks like and what a runway show can be. Of course, there have been disappointments as well: both professional and personal. And yet what I admire most about him is his constant vulnerability, the generosity of his imagination, his lack of cynicism, the wonder he’s able to make his audience feel. To see one of Jacobs’s shows is to witness the work of someone who has never become weary of creating, who knows — as all artists do — that every beginning is another chance to make the world anew. He is a reminder to all of us seeking to live a creative life that trying something different is not only not a bad thing, it is an imperative.
So don’t waste your time tracking who got there first, young artists. There is no stopwatch. What there is, finally, is you and a blank canvas, whether that canvas is a literal one, or whether it takes the form of a notebook or computer screen or rehearsal space or dress form. All you have to do is start. All you have to do is never stop.