Which do you think gets you further in life…? 35



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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?

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.

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?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. I was just thinking this yesterday as I watched another gorgeous young lady presenting the TV News. Those of us less blessed in the beauty stakes could never aspire to such a role. Doors always open easily for beautiful people, let’s not kid ourselves, and I’m not so sure they waste a lot of time feeling out of their depth when they step through them. That said I would much rather be clever if I got to choose. As it is I came up average on both counts.

  2. I’d much sooner be brainy as there is always a way to use brains and is beauty is present with them it’s a bonus

  3. I would like to say brains win out but experience has shown that this isn’t the case. If you are beautiful but totally lacking intelligence and social skills you may not go as far as your brainy classmate. However if you are brainy, but plain, short, overweight you probably won’t get the promotions your less intelligent but taller, better looking colleagues do. Not perhaps quite as tough for men but certainly it is for women. Female politicians, sports stars, actors and TV personalities are judged on appearance often completely overlooking their achievements. I still opt for brains.

    1 REPLY
    • Agree with you Barbara, I’ve worked in the Mining/Oil/Gas industries over the past 30 odd years and found that if your a woman, ‘what you look like is more important than what you do’. Even though the ‘industry’ goes to great lengths to say and do otherwise. I’ve seen some stunning women in this profession over my time, most lacking the intelligence to do the job. They were given the job because it ‘gives the boys something nice to look at’ (Yes this was actually said to me by a male manager on a construction project I was working on in the early 1990’s). I am highly tertiary qualified and highly experienced, however unfortunately I wasn’t blessed with the stunning looks so have had to rely on my intelligence to get me through, but it’s the beautiful ones with the right ‘assets’ that definately have the advantage.

      1 REPLY
      • Yes I had the same experience working in the mining industry. Even though I was well qualified and experienced it was always the dolly birds who got the job. It’s not because I’m ugly but because I was older. While middle Aged men make the decisions about who to employ it will always be the good looking young girls who get the job.

  4. I would rather have intelligence, beauty fades with time, intelligence doesn’t. I never won in either stakes, I am very average

  5. I would say charm based on a balanced personality, honesty, a good sense of humour, kindness & emotional intelligence. So I guess I would vote for brains if it has to be either / or.

  6. Outstanding beauty does have leverage . Look at key actresses . I’ve a younger friend who is stunning , however self absorbed , uses her beauty to manipulate .,her mother is beautiful too as is her sister . Brother lost out on the looks. The girls have brains as well , use them to their advantage definitely

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