James Murphy, the former frontman of the band LCD Soundsystem, made what he called the biggest mistake of his life at 21, when he turned down a writing job on a sitcom that was about to launch.
The sitcom's name was Seinfeld.
Instead, he lurched around, working as a bouncer and later a DJ before finally releasing the first LCD Soundsystem album at the not-so-tender age of 35.
Murphy might have been older than some of his dance-rock peers, but his experience is fairly common among people who experience major creative breakthroughs, according to a new paper from NBER.
The authors examined the high points of the careers of both great inventors and Nobel-Prize winning scientists, and they found that the late 30s were the sweet spot for strokes of genius:
Innovators have been peaking slightly later in life as the 20th century has progressed, in part because today's scientists have more to learn than their predecessors did:
What's more, people who excel in abstract fields, like art or physics, tend to be younger than those who win prizes in fields that require more context, like history or medicine. Another 1977 study found that physics Nobel winners were 36 on average when they did their prize-winning work, while chemists were 39 and medical doctors were 41.