Whenever anyone tells you that you’re going to get worse at something as you get older, it’s bullshit.
I know that sounds simplistic, but for the most part it’s true. Let me explain why:
We are used to seeing famous superstar athletes get worse as they age. Eventually their skills erode to the point where they retire. This happens to everyone, whether it’s Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant or Roger Federer. For some athletes it happens a little earlier, and for some it’s a bit later, but it’s usually sometime around the age of 35-40.
The same thing happens in chess. Sometime around the age of 40-45, players seem to lose a step. There are exceptions of course, Vishy Anand has been killing it lately, but for the most part this is true. Even in his case it would be true, as while he’s still insanely good, he’s gone from the World Champion and a fixture in the World Top 3, to having to fight to stay in the top 10.
The above seems to disprove everything I’ve said about aging. I’ve just given you some clear cut examples of athletes and sportsmen who aged, and whose skills degraded as a result of their age.
Why is all of it bullshit? The reason that you can get better at ANYTHING is because you are probably not a world class athlete.
I can improve at literally anything. I’m currently 39, and by the time I’m 45, I could be better at any single thing I want to, if I put the energy towards it.
I could be better at chess, all I have to do is work harder. The reason Anand’s skills degrade a little bit is because he has already worked as hard and intelligently as any human can possibly work at chess. Therefore the only thing left is that age will slow him down very slightly. He has nothing left of himself to give. Almost none of us have tapped that much of our potential in any field, and therefore we can still improve.
I’ve spent the last few years studying very little chess. If I wanted to gain 50-100 points of strength in chess, I’d just have to intelligently devote hours every day to that goal. Maybe if I was younger it would be easier, but I could still do it if I really wanted to.
The same thing is true in athletics. I am in the best shape of my life at 39 years old, and I am sure that if I wanted, I could be in even better shape at 45. While I owe CrossFit for my current athletic ability, I have not taken it so seriously that I have reached my peak potential.
If I wanted to get stronger and more fit, I would just have to work harder. My age might mean that I have to work a little bit harder than if I was 25, but there is absolutely no doubt that I could be better in five years than I am now.
I write this because I see age used as an excuse a lot of the time. I don’t want to speak for people who are significantly older than me, because I don’t have that life experience yet. But I know that at this point, nothing stands in the way of improvement. I could learn languages, I could get better at chess and I could literally learn anything in the world and get much better at it.
For some people it may be that they just don’t have the time to devote to improvement due to work and other commitments, or they could have suffered a major injury that holds them back. But it’s almost certainly not their age stopping them, and it’s not what’s stopping me. When I don’t improve at something it’s always that I don’t want it bad enough.
Unless you are an elite athlete or performer, and have given nearly everything you could have to your art for many years, you can get better at anything if you want it badly enough.