We live in a society where kids and parents are obsessed with early achievement, from getting perfect scores on SATs to getting into Ivy League colleges to landing an amazing job at Google or Facebook—or even better, creating a start-up with the potential to be the next Google, Facebook or Uber. We see coders and entrepreneurs become millionaires or billionaires before age thirty, and feel we are failing if we are not one of them.
Late bloomers, on the other hand, are under-valued—in popular culture, by educators and employers, and even unwittingly by parents. Yet the fact is, a lot of us—most of us—do not explode out of the gates in life. We have to discover our passions and talents and gifts. That was true for author Rich Karlgaard, who had a mediocre academic career at Stanford (which he got into by a fluke) and, after graduating, worked as a dishwasher and nightwatchman before finding the inner motivation and drive that ultimately led him to start up a high-tech magazine in Silicon Valley, and eventually to become the publisher of Forbes magazine.
- A society that excessively focuses on early achievement colors perceptions about individuals’ potential for later success in a way that disregards far more people than it rewards. Rich assumed that potential late bloomers—that is, the majority of us sorted by society’s efficient early bloomer conveyor belt into “less than” bins—just needed to jump back onto the same conveyor belt with new skills, new habits, and new techniques.
Here are my favourite take aways from reading Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard:
- Today’s celebration of early bloomers is a staple of magazine lists. Every year Forbes celebrates young superachievers in a “30 Under 30” issue, featuring today’s disruptors and tomorrow’s brightest stars. Nor is Forbes the only publication to celebrate the precocious among us. The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” Fortune’s “40 Under 40,” Inc.’s “35 Under 35,” and Time’s “30 Under 30” issues likewise tip to those who succeed spectacularly at an early age.
- Excessively promoting the primacy of early measurable achievement—grades, test scores, glamour job, money, celebrity—conceals a dark flipside: If we or our kids don’t knock our SATs out of the park, gain admittance to a top-ten university, reinvent an industry, or land our first job at a cool company that’s changing the world, we’ve somehow failed and are destined to be also-rans for the rest of our lives.
Precocity describes a smartness or skill that’s achieved much earlier than usual. Never before, it seems, has precocity been such an advantage as it is now.
- In 2014 seventeen-year-old Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Prize, which goes along nicely with her Sakharov Prize and her Simone de Beauvoir Prize.
- In technology, whiz kid Palmer Luckey, the twenty-year-old founder of Oculus VR (acquired by Facebook for $2 billion), became a face of virtual reality, while fourteen-year-old
- Robert Nay cleared over $2 million in just two weeks with his mobile game Bubble Ball.
- At twenty-six, Evan Spiegel was worth $5.4 billion when Snapchat issued public stock in 2017. But Spiegel has miles to go to catch up with
- Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, now an elder statesman at thirty-four, who with $60 billion is one of the five richest people in the world.
- A late bloomer is a person who fulfils their potential later than expected; they often have talents that aren’t visible to others initially. The key word here is expected. And they fulfill their potential frequently in novel and unexpected ways, surprising even those closest to them. They are not attempting to satisfy, with gritted teeth, the expectations of their parents or society, a false path that leads to burnout and brittleness, or even to depression and illness.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall median age of American workers is 42.3 years. Some of the companies with the youngest workers in the PayScale survey included Facebook, with a median age of twenty-eight (and median salary package of $240,000), and Google, with a median age of twenty-nine (and median salary package of $195,000).
- Creativity is not the sole province of the young. Some of us simply need more time, experience, and experimentation to develop a path and realize our talents. Life is often defined by snags and setbacks, by detours and disappointments. Purpose and wisdom, strengths of the late bloomer, come from a portfolio of these experiences, making late bloomers more reflective, more considerate, and more patient. Late bloomers often have a higher level of empathy. They are usually better at regulating their emotions. They have higher levels of emotional intelligence, and they have better coping skills.
- Society is in a crisis. Our obsession with test scores, perfect grades, and measurable early achievement developed from a good idea that has been way overshot. Instead of a meritocracy that rewards a variety of human talents, we have created a narrowing IQ/SAT oligarchy. A cohort of early bloomers win big in this new order, but most young men and women find themselves left behind before they even reach adulthood, their natural abilities lying fallow and undiscovered by the algorithm-biased conveyor belt of success. Such outsize emphasis on early achievement is misplaced.
- Human life spans are lengthening. Most people recently born will live into the twenty-second century. The vast majority of us will be better served not by high SAT scores or STEM degrees but by discovering and embracing our true talents, so we may bloom at any stage of our lives.
- Expensive four-year universities and soaring college debt are just one symptom of our current dilemma. There is $1.3 trillion in college debt in the United States today with an 11.5 percent default rate. That’s greater than the 2008 housing bubble. Fear that our children will miss the first and only on ramp to adult success is driving this fiscal insanity. And in the absence of a system of hereditary titles, with no officially mandated status ladder in place, we’ve created a new system of snobbery based on IQ scores and elite university degrees.
- To mitigate this crisis, we must stop excessively glorifying precocious achievement and seeing human development as a “fast track” on ramp for early success. Not only is it unjust to the majority of us, it’s profoundly inhumane. It ignores the natural-born gifts that we all possess. It cuts off paths of discovery for our more latent or later-blooming gifts and passions. It trivializes the value of character, experience, empathy, wisdom, reliability, tenacity, and a host of other admirable qualities that make us successful and fulfilled. And it undercuts the majority of us who are potential late bloomers.
The list of late-blooming writers is as diverse as it is illustrious.
- Chuck Palahniuk published his first novel, Fight Club, at thirty-four;
- David Sedaris, the humorist, published his first collection of essays at thirty-eight;
- Toni Morrison published her first novel, The Bluest Eye, at thirty-nine and won the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved at fifty-six;
- Janet Evanovich launched her bestselling Stephanie Plum series of crime novels at forty-four;
- Frank McCourt published his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes, at sixty-three.
- Tom Siebel founded his first successful tech company, Siebel Systems, at forty-one, and his second, C3, at fifty-seven;
- Dave Duffield launched tech firm PeopleSoft at sixty-six.
- Gary Burrell, after decades of working for engineering firms like Allied Signal, cofounded Garmin, the GPS device maker, at fifty-two.
- John Torode started an airplane company, Vashon Aircraft, at seventy.
- Billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, who spent ten years in college and worked as a ski instructor, founded energy drink maker Redbull at forty.
- And let’s not forget the greatest innovator of recent times: Steve Jobs. While not technically a late bloomer, his unparalleled second act, in which he launched the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad at Apple, came after he was forty-five.
The Six Strengths of Late Bloomers: Curiosity, Compassion, Resilience, Equanimity, Insight, and Wisdom.
- All healthy children have curiosity in buckets, but America’s early-blooming conveyor belt isn’t impressed. It wants us to grow up fast and trade in our youthful curiosity for a determined focus. It does not want us to get off the conveyor belt and take wasteful side trips into, say, a library’s magazine stacks, when the cost of doing so is a B instead of an A. It wants us to winnow our extracurricular pursuits from enjoyable recreation into activities that will demonstrate leadership on a college or job application.
“We are coached to walk away from the magazine stacks and return to the study carrel. We are urged to tamp our curiosity down to the practical essentials and get serious.”
- Compassion is a second late bloomer strength, the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes and in doing so understand their challenges and how best to help them. Compassion includes tolerating difficult feelings. Empathy is the ability to feel the emotions that another person experiences, but compassion goes beyond empathy to generate action to help the other person.
- The third strength that late bloomers tend to have in spades is resilience. As defined in Psychology Today, “resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever.” Morton Shaevitz, a clinical psychologist at the University of California at San Diego, adds that resilience is not a passive quality but “an ongoing process of responding to adversity with concerted action.
Create Your Own Healthy Culture
- “To fully bloom, we must declare our independence from our family. That doesn’t mean we must reject their love, turn 180 degrees from their influence, or rebel against their expectations. It means only that we must reach our own conclusions about what does and does not support our blooming. Loyalty to family is one thing. Blindly conforming to family expectations is another and will likely hold us back from fulfilling our potential. That said, declaring a true independence from our family is not easy.”
“How can the curious and creative, the searchers and explorers, jump off the dominant culture’s conveyor belt and begin shaping our own fates?”
” We do it by quitting. Quit the path we’re on. Quit the lousy job. Quit the class we hate. Quit the friends and associates who hurt us more than help. Quit the life we regret.”
All the Best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.