“A good garden may have some weeds.” ~Thomas Fuller
Don’t worry. If you’re a late-blooming adult, you’re not alone. You’ve got some remarkable company.
According to Wikipedia, “a late blooming adult is a person who does not discover their talents and abilities until later than normally expected.”
I’m not talking about people who started early and kept going into their 60s and beyond, like Picasso, Kurosawa or Joyce Carol Oates.
I’m tracking people who don’t realize their creative passion until later, or who discover it early but can’t pursue it until adulthood. I call them Later Bloomers.
[sendtokindle]Why Are Some People Later Bloomers?
I’ve identified four precedents that can contribute to late blooming.
In this section, I examine how lack of opportunity and/or post-traumatic stress disorder might play a part. In Part 2, I explore the idea that “not all who wander are lost.” Many late bloomers have multiple passions and learn by experimenting.
Any one of these patterns might have affected your choices, but now is the perfect time to make new ones.
Lack of Guidance and Opportunity
At age 10, Linda Bach stood by, helpless, while her father die of a heart attack. She vowed to become a doctor so she could save other lives. At age 20, she graduated at the top of her college class with a microbiology degree and applied to medical school.
During her entrance interview, she faced a panel of six men. Their first question — did she plan to marry and have children? “Yes,” she answered. “After I finish school and establish my practice.” One of the examiners said under his breath, “God, I’d hate to be your kids.” She didn’t get in.
Devastated, Linda turned to her college counselor for advice. He didn’t see the problem with the interviewers line of thinking. Why didn’t she just want to get married and have kids?
In 1969, at age 20, Linda’s rejection by two respected sources of authority — the review board and her counselor — felt like a kick in the gut.
In today’s Internet culture, we can discover everything about anything. In the past, however, we depended on parents, teachers and libraries to guide us. The quality of that guidance varied from place to place, individual to individual. For the fortunate, it lead to success. For others, like Linda, its lack slammed the door to their dreams — but not forever.
Linda Bach entered medical school at the age of 46. She is currently a doctor in private practice. Her story is told in Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women by Prill Boyle.
Some people know their path, but didn’t have the resources in youth to follow it. Lack of guidance and lack of opportunity often go hand in hand.
Albert Einstein had an IQ of 150. Chris Langan’s IQ is so high that it can’t be measured. But you’ve probably never heard of him unless you’ve read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
Langan never got a degree. He ran into a few troubles and his college took the hard line. They kicked him out. For instance, his car broke down and he couldn’t afford to fix it. He could hitch into town for afternoon classes, but the admin office wouldn’t let him transfer to the later sessions. His mother forgot to sign his scholarship application, so they rejected it.
Gladwell thinks that Langan could have turned things around if only he’d learned to negotiate with authority figures.
But that’s just one symptom of the deeper problem Langan faced — extreme poverty. While growing up, food was a luxury. He owned only the clothes on his back. His stepfather beat him for eight years.
As Langan’s brother explained,
I couldn’t get financial aid either. We just had zero knowledge, less than zero knowledge of the process. How to apply. The forms. Checkbooks. It was not our environment.
Langan might as well have been raised on Mars. The guy with an IQ higher than Einstein ended up as a Rhode Island bouncer for 20 years.
Savant Daniel Tammet speculates that an intersection between talent and delayed opportunity causes late blooming:
If you’re born in a very poor environment, where you’re not given books and you’re not given good education and then subsequently doors are closed to you that are open to others who perhaps don’t have your talent…I could well imagine that throughout our history there are people who have come into their own relatively late in life.
Langan now raises horses and hones his cognitive-theoretic model of the universe — a grand theory of all origins. I don’t understand most of what he writes, but sometimes he gets oddly poetic. (“I just had a chance encounter with a garden slug, and it got me thinking about time.”)
But Langan will never be published in an academic journal, because he didn’t get the right credentials. Many of his would-be peers (with lower IQs) think he’s nuts.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. He’s living his dream – a quiet life devoted to higher learning. And the Internet has become the great equalizer. One day Chris Langan’s name might be as recognizable as Albert Einstein’s.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Carl Jung wrote, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” A brave statement, but the truth is, sometimes we do become what was done to us.
The National Institute of Health defines post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as:
an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
Psychotherapy recognized PTSD in the aftermath of Viet Nam. But PTSD doesn’t just affect veterans of war or victims of atrocities.
Children can develop PTSD after experiencing physical or psychological abuse or even playground bullying. PTSD symptoms can surface after learning about a traumatic experience second-hand.
The numbness, anxiety and emotional emptiness that characterize PTSD will kill the joy, passion and excitement necessary to bloom early.
My father was a heart-breaking case in point. Before World War II, he was an animator for Walt Disney Co. They discovered him when he won a drawing contest at age 15. He dropped out of high school to work for Disney and apprenticed on Fantasia.
The Army drafted him at 20 and assigned him to a mobile photo battalion. He saw and recorded atrocities that haunted him for the rest of this life.
Disney did not re-hire him after the war and it broke his heart. As a high school dropout artist, it became harder and harder for him to find work. He was often unemployed. Sometimes he drank.
He passed away in 1994, a broken man who, in the 50 years after WWII ended, never again engaged his passion for art or photography. You can see evidence of his early talent in the self-portrait at right and in his war photos.
I’m not a therapist, but I believe PTSD may be one reason why some people don’t reach their potential.
Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
In this installment, I explored the weeds that may need tending before you can bloom.
Recent media fixation on The Secret has rendered any discussion of hardship practically taboo. The “law” of attraction decrees if life doesn’t go the way you want, you must not have visualized correctly, believed hard enough, or unconditionally aligned yourself with the universe.
What kind of law tells victims of rape, war, poverty, and other tragedies that they authored their own misfortune?
If youth has left scars, being told to “move on” or “get over it” is just as insulting.You may never get over it, but the world needs your special gift. I believe that each person has one thing they must do that no one else can.
If this installment rings true to you, you may want to consult a therapist in order to cultivate your gift. Or you may not. But, no matter how thoughtful or wild, forthright or sneaky, typical or unconventional, you must find some way for your gift to triumph over what was done to you.
The best is yet to come! Check out Why Are Some People Later Bloomers? Part 2.
Resources, Part 1:
- Boyle, Prill. Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women.
- Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story Of Success.
- Kaufman, Scott Barry. Conversations on Creativity with Daniel Tammet: Part V, Creativity, Mind, and the Brain (Psychology Today: 10/26/09).