Which do you think gets you further in life...?

There’s a hypothetical question I want to ask you. It has to be hypothetical because there’s no way it could be an actual choice. This question exists only in the realms of fantasy and your answer will depend on your life experience and the wisdom you have gathered over the decades.

The hypothetical answer to this fantasy question may alter the way you talk to and see your children and grandchildren.

Looking back over your life, if you had been able to choose, would you have chosen brains or beauty?

It’s a tough one, and I ask after reading a column by Polly Phillips in The Age. In it she explains that as she reads her daughter a bedtime story one evening she is distracted “by her porcelain skin, thick lashes and golden curls. For while I hope her love of reading continues, and her language skills develop ahead of the curve, I can’t help feeling that even in the 21st century, after decades of supposed progress, growing from a sweet-looking baby to a stunning-looking adult will serve her far better than being top of her class. A taboo it might be, but the tragic reality is her looks could still get her much further than her brain.”

With age we are often blessed with wisdom and I wonder what would you have wished for yourself, stunning good looks or the mind of a university professor?

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There is no doubt that very attractive people get an easier ride in life. We naturally warm to the beautiful and the handsome, sometimes against our better judgement.

We have all met or worked with people, who have been promoted beyond their ability and we have all suspected that their progression up the ladder had little to do with their encyclopaedic knowledge of the company and their unerring ability to do the job.

We suspect, and sometimes whisper to each other, that they got their corner office with the big windows, their great salary and company car, because they were better looking than the rest of us.

If we put this set of circumstances under the microscope of age and wisdom a different picture emerges. Imagine being that great looking person, sitting in that office trying to do a job you know you’re under-qualified for, knowing that your colleagues mock you behind your back. Knowing that you do not have their respect and that, sooner or later, you will be found out and humiliated. Not such a rosy picture.

Conversely imagine the very ordinary looking person – dare I say plain looking? They’ve got the brains, but were at the back of the queue for physical attributes. They’ve got their job and they’re passionate about it. They have the respect of their work mates, and they don’t fear they will be found out as frauds, who can only deliver a killer smile rather than a killer idea.

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Because they have never been beautiful, they develop other qualities that get them attention. They’re funny and kind. They’re good listeners who have a great sense of humour. They’re bright so they are never bored and they can hold a conversation. Aren’t these people the most attractive of all? They are the people you choose to spend your life with, the people you choose to have children with and experience all of life’s great events alongside.

There are few people so utterly repellent as the self obsessed, and sadly for the very attractive, often the beauty and self obsession go hand in hand.

The wisdom of age and experience, I would argue, teach us that exceptionally good looking people do not have charmed lives, especially as we grow old. Nothing ages worse than a beautiful person’s ego. Few of us are afforded the luxury of growing younger and better looking. Beauty is, I suspect, less of a blessing than the young imagine it to be.

So here’s that question again: Looking back over your life, if you had been able to choose, would you have chosen brains or beauty?