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It was more than revolutionary political ideals that kept them so united; they shared a trust and abiding tenderness. Abigail wrote: "There is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship The Conclusion of your Letter makes my Heart throb, more than a Cannonade would. You bid me burn your Letters. But I must forget you first.
When the young Romantic poet Percy Shelley met Mary Godwin, she was the teenage daughter of a famous trailblazing feminist, the long-dead Mary Wollstonecraft. The two of them shared a love of the mind—"Soul meets soul on lovers' lips," he wrote—but physical desire swept them away too, consummated near the grave of Mary's mother. When they ran away to Europe, it caused a major scandal, but the couple proclaimed themselves indifferent to judgment. They traveled together to visit the debauched Lord Byron, and Mary wrote Frankenstein during two weeks in Switzerland.
After Percy died in a boating accident in , Mary never remarried. She said having been married to a genius, she could not marry a man who wasn't one. Elizabeth Barrett was an accomplished and respected poet in poor health and nearly 40 years old when Robert Browning wrote to her: "I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett," and praising their "fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and true new brave thought. When cold water is thrown upon a hot iron, the iron hisses.
When she died, it was in Robert Browning's arms. The celebrated young poet's romance with his neighbor, Fanny Brawne, sparked what is probably his most famous poem "Bright Star", though the relationship was fraught with jealousy. Brawne was a precocious and flirtatious young woman, Keats a fiercely overzealous bard. The two clashed as often as they coalesced, but the full requisition of their love was hindered by Keats' lack of money and his illness. Bedridden by tuberculosis, which he contracted from his late brother and mother, Keats yearned in envy over his coquettish Brawne, whose frivolous nature marred her love for the young poet and subsequently aggravated his wellbeing.
Though engaged to Brawne, Keats had to end the engagement in an effort to get well in Rome.
Out of the Box
He died there not long after his arrival, his romance to remain unrequited. For nearly 40 years, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas were inseparable, famous for their literary salon in Paris, which was frequented by Picasso, T. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and many more. When Toklas far left first met Stein, she wrote, "It was Gertrude Stein who held my complete attention, as she did for all the many years I knew her until her death, and all these empty ones since them. She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair.
Wrote Stein, "One must dare to be happy. The talented young Mexican painter Kahlo paid a visit to the studio of famous muralist Rivera in search of career advice. Theirs was a volatile relationship, yet Rivera knew from early on that Kahlo "was the most important fact in my life and she would continue to be until she died 27 years later. You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.
Due to strong opposition from the church and government over their marriage, Edward chose to abdicate the throne. He famously proclaimed his love for Simpson as he addressed the nation in Choosing love over kingship, the Duke of Windsor spent most of his life outside the royal family as the couple married and settled in France. Note: Years later it was revealed in previously hidden German Documents that not only did Simpson and the Duke of Windsor have Nazi associations, but there were also plans for the Germans to re-install him as King after they invaded the U.
Unlike most on-set Hollywood romances, Newman and Woodward were happily devoted to one another for fifty years. When asked about his marriage to Woodward and infidelity, Newman was famously responded, "I have a steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger? In the wedding of the century, American film star Grace Kelly left Hollywood behind at the height of her career to wed Prince Rainier and become Princess of Monaco.
He courted her through letters for some time before the couple announced their engagement in the Kelly family's Philadelphia home and married in Prince Rainier never remarried after Grace's tragic death in Carolyn Bessette and John F. Kennedy Jr. The couple tried as much as they could to live a normal life out of their Tribeca apartment and with any normal marriage they had ups and downs.
Sadly, their love was cut short when the couple tragically died on July 16, in a plane crash over the Atlantic ocean. George Clooney was Hollywood's self-proclaimed bachelor of many decades, making his whirlwind love story with British human rights lawyer even more sweet. The two were introduced by a friend and soon after began exchanging emails that George comically penned as his dog Einstein. After six months of dating George proposed to the song, 'Why Shouldn't I? The couple balances Amal's career as a human rights lawyer, George's acting, and their two twins, Ella and Alexander.
It was a love story that captured hearts around the world when Meghan Markle and Prince Harry wed in May — a gleaming and modern royal couple to join the next generation of the British monarchy. The two became engaged in November when Harry popped the question while the two were roasting a chicken at their apartment in Kensington Palace. With thier first royal tour of the Oceanic region completed, Harry and Meghan prepare for their future with their first child due this spring.
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Type keyword s to search. Today's Top Stories. Getty Images. Advertisement - Continue Reading Below. Paris and Helen. Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Hadrian and Antinous. In , Carole Holahan and Charles Holahan, psychologists at the University of Texas, published an influential paper in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development that looked at hundreds of older adults who early in life had been identified as highly gifted.
Consider professional athletes, many of whom struggle profoundly after their sports career ends. Tragic examples abound, involving depression, addiction, or suicide; unhappiness in retired athletes may even be the norm, at least temporarily. A study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology in , which charted the life satisfaction of former Olympic athletes, found that they generally struggled with a low sense of personal control when they first stopped competing. Recently, I asked Dominique Dawes, a former Olympic gold-medal gymnast, how normal life felt after competing and winning at the highest levels.
Why might former elite performers have such a hard time? His destiny is to die of bitterness or to search for more success in other careers and to go on living from success to success until he falls dead. In this case, there will not be life after success. Problems related to achieving professional success might appear to be a pretty good species of problem to have; even raising this issue risks seeming precious.
But if you reach professional heights and are deeply invested in being high up, you can suffer mightily when you inevitably fall. Maybe that will be you, too. And, without significant intervention, I suspect it will be me. The Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation can help explain the many cases of people who have done work of world-historical significance yet wind up feeling like failures. Take Charles Darwin, who was just 22 when he set out on his five-year voyage aboard the Beagle in Returning at 27, he was celebrated throughout Europe for his discoveries in botany and zoology, and for his early theories of evolution.
Over the next 30 years, Darwin took enormous pride in sitting atop the celebrity-scientist pecking order, developing his theories and publishing them as books and essays—the most famous being On the Origin of Species , in But as Darwin progressed into his 50s, he stagnated; he hit a wall in his research. At the same time an Austrian monk by the name of Gregor Mendel discovered what Darwin needed to continue his work: the theory of genetic inheritance.
From then on he made little progress. Presumably, Darwin would be pleasantly surprised to learn how his fame grew after his death, in From what he could see when he was old, however, the world had passed him by, and he had become irrelevant. That could have been Darwin on the plane behind me that night. I t also could have been a younger version of me, because I have had precocious experience with professional decline.
I worked at it slavishly, practicing hours a day, seeking out the best teachers, and playing in any ensemble I could find. I had pictures of famous horn players on my bedroom wall for inspiration. And for a while, I thought my dream might come true. At 19, I left college to take a job playing professionally in a touring chamber-music ensemble. My plan was to keep rising through the classical-music ranks, joining a top symphony orchestra in a few years or maybe even becoming a soloist—the most exalted job a classical musician can hold. But then, in my early 20s, a strange thing happened: I started getting worse.
To this day, I have no idea why. My technique began to suffer, and I had no explanation for it. Nothing helped. Pieces that had been easy to play became hard; pieces that had been hard became impossible.
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Perhaps the worst moment in my young but flailing career came at age 22, when I was performing at Carnegie Hall. While delivering a short speech about the music I was about to play, I stepped forward, lost my footing, and fell off the stage into the audience. On the way home from the concert, I mused darkly that the experience was surely a message from God.
But I sputtered along for nine more years. I took a position in the City Orchestra of Barcelona, where I increased my practicing but my playing gradually deteriorated. Eventually I found a job teaching at a small music conservatory in Florida, hoping for a magical turnaround that never materialized.
Finally I had to admit defeat: I was never going to turn around my faltering musical career. So at 31 I gave up, abandoning my musical aspirations entirely, to pursue a doctorate in public policy. Life goes on, right? Sort of. After finishing my studies, I became a university professor, a job I enjoyed.
But I still thought every day about my beloved first vocation. Even now, I regularly dream that I am onstage, and wake to remember that my childhood aspirations are now only phantasms. I am lucky to have accepted my decline at a young enough age that I could redirect my life into a new line of work. Still, to this day, the sting of that early decline makes these words difficult to write.
W ill it happen again? In some professions, early decline is inescapable. No one expects an Olympic athlete to remain competitive until age But in many physically nondemanding occupations, we implicitly reject the inevitability of decline before very old age. Sure, our quads and hamstrings may weaken a little as we age. But as long as we retain our marbles, our quality of work as a writer, lawyer, executive, or entrepreneur should remain high up to the very end, right? Many people think so. The data are shockingly clear that for most people, in most fields, decline starts earlier than almost anyone thinks.
So if you start a career in earnest at 30, expect to do your best work around 50 and go into decline soon after that. The specific timing of peak and decline vary somewhat depending on the field. His findings can be summarized by this little ditty:. The author of those gloomy lines? Paul Dirac, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. Dirac overstates the point, but only a little. Looking at major inventors and Nobel winners going back more than a century, Jones has found that the most common age for producing a magnum opus is the late 30s.
Are there outliers? Of course. But the likelihood of producing a major innovation at age 70 is approximately what it was at age 20—almost nonexistent. Much of literary achievement follows a similar pattern. Simonton has shown that poets peak in their early 40s. Novelists generally take a little longer. When Martin Hill Ortiz, a poet and novelist, collected data on New York Times fiction best sellers from to , he found that authors were likeliest to reach the No.
Despite the famous productivity of a few novelists well into old age, Ortiz shows a steep drop-off in the chance of writing a best seller after the age of Some nonfiction writers—especially historians—peak later, as we shall see in a minute. Entrepreneurs peak and decline earlier, on average. After earning fame and fortune in their 20s, many tech entrepreneurs are in creative decline by age Subsequent research has found that the clustering might be slightly later, but all studies in this area have found that the majority of successful start-ups have founders under age This research concerns people at the very top of professions that are atypical.
But the basic finding appears to apply more broadly. Other research has found that the best-performing home-plate umpires in Major League Baseball have 18 years less experience and are 23 years younger than the worst-performing umpires who are Among air traffic controllers, the age-related decline is so sharp—and the potential consequences of decline-related errors so dire—that the mandatory retirement age is In sum, if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.
I f decline not only is inevitable but also happens earlier than most of us expect, what should we do when it comes for us? Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to becoming successful. But some people have managed their declines well. Consider the case of Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in to a long line of prominent musicians in central Germany, Bach quickly distinguished himself as a musical genius. In his 65 years, he published more than 1, compositions for all the available instrumentations of his day.
Early in his career, Bach was considered an astoundingly gifted organist and improviser. Commissions rolled in; royalty sought him out; young composers emulated his style. He enjoyed real prestige. As classical music displaced baroque, C. Bach easily could have become embittered, like Darwin.
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Instead, he chose to redesign his life, moving from innovator to instructor. He spent a good deal of his last 10 years writing The Art of Fugue , not a famous or popular work in his time, but one intended to teach the techniques of the baroque to his children and students—and, as unlikely as it seemed at the time, to any future generations that might be interested. In his later years, he lived a quieter life as a teacher and a family man.
Both were preternaturally gifted and widely known early in life. Both attained permanent fame posthumously. Where they differed was in their approach to the midlife fade. When Darwin fell behind as an innovator, he became despondent and depressed; his life ended in sad inactivity. When Bach fell behind, he reinvented himself as a master instructor. He died beloved, fulfilled, and—though less famous than he once had been—respected. A potential answer lies in the work of the British psychologist Raymond Cattell, who in the early s introduced the concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence.
Cattell defined fluid intelligence as the ability to reason, analyze, and solve novel problems—what we commonly think of as raw intellectual horsepower. Innovators typically have an abundance of fluid intelligence. This is why tech entrepreneurs, for instance, do so well so early, and why older people have a much harder time innovating. Crystallized intelligence, in contrast, is the ability to use knowledge gained in the past.
Think of it as possessing a vast library and understanding how to use it. It is the essence of wisdom. Careers that rely primarily on fluid intelligence tend to peak early, while those that use more crystallized intelligence peak later. For example, Dean Keith Simonton has found that poets—highly fluid in their creativity—tend to have produced half their lifetime creative output by age 40 or so. Like what? As Bach demonstrated, teaching is an ability that decays very late in life, a principal exception to the general pattern of professional decline over time.
A study in The Journal of Higher Education showed that the oldest college professors in disciplines requiring a large store of fixed knowledge, specifically the humanities, tended to get evaluated most positively by students. This probably explains the professional longevity of college professors, three-quarters of whom plan to retire after age 65—more than half of them after 70, and some 15 percent of them after The average American retires at He laughed, and told me he was more likely to leave his office horizontally than vertically. Our dean might have chuckled ruefully at this—college administrators complain that research productivity among tenured faculty drops off significantly in the last decades of their career.
Older professors take up budget slots that could otherwise be used to hire young scholars hungry to do cutting-edge research. But perhaps therein lies an opportunity: If older faculty members can shift the balance of their work from research to teaching without loss of professional prestige, younger faculty members can take on more research. There are many exceptions, but the most profound insights tend to come from those in their 30s and early 40s.
The best synthesizers and explainers of complicated ideas—that is, the best teachers—tend to be in their mids or older, some of them well into their 80s. That older people, with their stores of wisdom, should be the most successful teachers seems almost cosmically right. No matter what our profession, as we age we can dedicate ourselves to sharing knowledge in some meaningful way.
One day I asked a wealthy friend why this is so. Many people who have gotten rich know how to measure their self-worth only in pecuniary terms, he explained, so they stay on the hamster wheel, year after year. They believe that at some point, they will finally accumulate enough to feel truly successful, happy, and therefore ready to die. This is a mistake, and not a benign one. At some point, writing one more book will not add to my life satisfaction; it will merely stave off the end of my book-writing career.
The canvas of my life will have another brushstroke that, if I am being forthright, others will barely notice, and will certainly not appreciate very much. The same will be true for most other markers of my success. What I need to do, in effect, is stop seeing my life as a canvas to fill, and start seeing it more as a block of marble to chip away at and shape something out of. I need a reverse bucket list. My goal for each year of the rest of my life should be to throw out things, obligations, and relationships until I can clearly see my refined self in its best form.
Last year, the search for an answer to this question took me deep into the South Indian countryside, to a town called Palakkad, near the border between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Acharya is a quiet, humble man dedicated to helping people attain enlightenment; he has no interest in Western techies looking for fresh start-up ideas or burnouts trying to escape the religious traditions they were raised in. Satisfied that I was neither of those things, he agreed to talk with me.
I told him my conundrum: Many people of achievement suffer as they age, because they lose their abilities, gained over many years of hard work. Is this suffering inescapable, like a cosmic joke on the proud? Or is there a loophole somewhere—a way around the suffering? Acharya answered elliptically, explaining an ancient Hindu teaching about the stages of life, or ashramas. The first is Brahmacharya , the period of youth and young adulthood dedicated to learning. The second is Grihastha , when a person builds a career, accumulates wealth, and creates a family.
Vanaprastha is a time for study and training for the last stage of life, Sannyasa , which should be totally dedicated to the fruits of enlightenment. In times past, some Hindu men would leave their family in old age, take holy vows, and spend the rest of their life at the feet of masters, praying and studying.
I told Acharya the story about the man on the plane. He listened carefully, and thought for a minute. Any glory today was a mere shadow of past glories. There is a message in this for those of us suffering from the Principle of Psychoprofessional Gravitation. Say you are a hard-charging, type-A lawyer, executive, entrepreneur, or—hypothetically, of course—president of a think tank. From early adulthood to middle age, your foot is on the gas, professionally. Living by your wits—by your fluid intelligence—you seek the material rewards of success, you attain a lot of them, and you are deeply attached to them.
But the wisdom of Hindu philosophy—and indeed the wisdom of many philosophical traditions—suggests that you should be prepared to walk away from these rewards before you feel ready. They require comparison with others. Eulogy virtues are ethical and spiritual, and require no comparison. Your eulogy virtues are what you would want people to talk about at your funeral. As in He was kind and deeply spiritual , not He made senior vice president at an astonishingly young age and had a lot of frequent-flier miles.
From November David Brooks on the spread of elitism. This denial is destructive, because it leads me to ignore the eulogy virtues that bring me the greatest joy.