The audacity of youth

Kottke (a must-follow blogger from way back when blogging was exotic) shared this post today about the age of key figures from the American Revolutionary War. Check out how old these stars of our early republic were on July 4, 1776:

Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25

Incredible. I always thought of Jefferson as one of the younger founding fathers, but he was 33 at the time, an “old guy” compared to the youngsters listed above.

Yes, mastery is a product of time and deep practice. But, undoubtedly, the classical education of those in this class was much more intense than what we are accustomed to today. Certainly these people were more well versed in the classics and in philosophy and were more self-sufficient than a typical 20-year-old today. Some of these probably had put in a decade of study and life experience that would humble us now.

Yet, a 20-year-old certainly, even in that era, was not the equal of those a decade or two older in statecraft and leadership, right? Maybe those who were young were disproportionately represented in this revolutionary group because audacity and boldness and a bit of recklessness, hallmarks of youth, were just what was needed at that time in our history. Their youth probably made them more likely to be attracted to a high-risk endeavor, to a grand adventure. Older people are more risk averse. They typically have more to lose. What the younger ones lacked in experience and wisdom, they made up for, maybe, in audacity and useful foolhardiness.

Silicon Valley is filled with twenty-somethings who are drawn to a different kind of revolution. There’s a reason so many start-ups are led by people barely old enough to vote. It’s a great age to take some chances and try hard things without putting family and fortune in jeopardy. Some twenty-somethings can be afflicted with a presumptuous sense of entitlement, an impatience to wait and do the work and earn the dream over the long haul.

But points for boldness for young people. Think new thoughts. Do crazy big things that are likely to fail. Be a revolutionary while you’ve got the right stuff for it.

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