About a year ago, I read Alison Weir's Princes in the Tower. Now I'm reading Shakespeare's Richard III. Last night my daughter was standing in front of the bookshelves, with her head blocking the SE section, which reminded me that I should add Desmond Seward's biography of Richard to my "to read soon stack." (It's a real stack, which teeters at 17 books. I feel like one of those ladies on "Hoarders" whose stack of newspapers shifts and crushes a beloved cat.)
I had Crazy Jane find the book behind her head and hand it to me. (Now the stack is 18 books.) I turned it over and noticed the dates of Richard's life: 1452 to 1485. I said to my wife, "Here's another guy who accomplished great things by the time he was 33. One more person who makes me look like a failure."
"I'm fine with what you've accomplished," she said.
"By the time he was my age, Richard was king of England."
"But that was something he was born into," my wife said. "He didn't have to do anything to get that."
"Are you kidding?" I asked. "He had to murder a lot of people. He had to kill Henry VI and his son, his brother Clarence, his nephews Edward V and the Duke of York, and a bunch of their uncles on their mother's side. That's, like, ten murders. Then he had to marry a couple times. All that's a lot of work."
Anyway, not only did Richard accomplish more by 33 than I did, but I'm almost 34 now, and Wikipedia says Richard died before his 33rd birthday, even. So I've spent a lot of this morning feeling like a terrible failure.
George Mason University economist Robin Hanson (whose Industrial Organization class I had) has a blog post today about this very thing:
In 1993, at the age of 34, I began a Ph.D. at Caltech, which I finished four years later. I probably didn’t make much more money afterward, but I’m a lot more satisfied with my life.
Human lives are long. If you are willing to work, you can radically change direction, even at the age of 34.
So I guess I'm not so bad off. I started my Ph.D. at 31; I might even be done before my 35th birthday. If Richard III is a better man than I, at least I have some company.