Why Are Some People Late Bloomers? Pt. 1

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Are you a late bloomer? Grandma Moses began painting in her 70s!

A good garden may have some weeds. ~Thomas Fuller

Does an article about yet another twenty-something internet millionaire make you wonder where you went wrong?

Does a story about a grandma who ran her first marathon at 86 make your day?

If you’re a late-blooming adult, you’re not alone. But you’ve got some remarkable company!

We’re not talking about people who started early and kept going, like Picasso, Kurosawa, or Joyce Carol Oates.

This blog celebrates people who don’t discover their creative passion until their mid-30s or later, or who realize it young but can’t pursue it until adulthood—Later Bloomers.

In this article, we tackle the hard stuff and examine how early set backs and/or trauma might influence late blooming. In Part 2, we explore how multiple passions and unique learning patterns could play a part, and look at the lives of several famous late bloomers.

“God, I’d hate to be your kids”

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.

“We just had zero knowledge, less than zero knowledge of the process”

Do you recognize this guy? Does it matter?

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 because he ran into a few setbacks.

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.

His college took the hard line. They kicked him out.

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.

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 a crackpot.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. He’s living his dream—a quiet life devoted to higher learning. And the Internet has become a great equalizer. One day Chris Langan’s name might be as recognizable as Albert Einstein’s.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”

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, a state known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The National Institute of Health defines 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 affect only 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.

Conclusion

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
~A.A. Milne

In this installment, we explored the weeds that may need tending before we can bloom.

Recent media fixation on The Secret makes any discussion of hardship taboo. The “law” of attraction decrees if life doesn’t go your way, 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. Each person has one thing they must do that no one else can.

If this installment rings true, you might want to consult a therapist in order to cultivate your gift. Or you might 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.

Next: Why Are Some People Later Bloomers? Part 2: Passions, learning patterns, and a few famous late bloomers. {Read on…}

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Leave a Comment

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

GutsyWriter

Glad you found me via GetintheHotspot. I am a late bloomer (career-wise) for a different reason. It took time to focus on something I didn’t realize was a passion: writing and promoting. Blogging has helped me discover this as well as my kids leaving for college, and having time to focus on what I want to be now. Thanks for coming over and let’s stay in touch. Sonia.

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Debra Eve

Definitely, Sonia. I’ve subscribed to your feed and look forward to your latest adventures!

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Sara @Soulspackle

I’m so with you on The Secret. I think a lot of the LOA movement does more harm than good, although I do get the basic idea that we can *choose* how to handle what comes rather than become victims to it. In Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, Susan Jeffers says we must take responsibility — but by that she simply means to empower ourselves to move forward, NOT to become *victims of ourselves* because of some perceived judgment about how we got where we did. Vicious circle, isn’t it?

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Debra Eve

Hi Sara! I think it’s easy to get caught in a negativity trap when life gets tough, and extremely hard to change one’s mindset toward the positive. But The Secret takes “you are the author of your problems” to an extreme. I agree that the LOA movement can be very damaging. These days, I try to find concentrate on the positive, but not beat myself up when I can’t change my attitude or situation right away.

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Joe

Thanks so much for this post. It is exactly what I needed today. I especially liked the story of Chris Langan with the IQ ‘so high it can’t be measured’. Whenever I try to give to cut myself the tiniest bit of slack for my lack of knowledge and inability to get around certain stumbling blocks in my youth, the voice in my head always curtly reminds me that if I were smart enough, I’d have found a way. It’s encouraging to see that even someone of genius IQ couldn’t figure things out. :)

The ideas about ‘lack of guidance and opportunity’ are interesting as well. I’m forever beating myself up in comparison to the great men who succeeded in my fields throughout history. Most were already well on their way or ‘there’ at my age (and even a lot younger). But while they certainly deserve all the credit and recognition received, they started out with a lot of advantages I didn’t. Most were set up or at least given the tools to succeed by others at a young age. In other words, lots of guidance and opportunity. That’s not to say they didn’t face adversity or overcome challenges but there’s nothing wrong with pointing out advantages they had as well.

I also had some traumatic issues as well. However, all we ever hear about is how ‘a stronger person’ would have triumphed in spite of it. And I will triumph in the end too. But it still feels like only early achievers are valued in this society.

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Debra Eve

Hi Joe, your story is so familiar. I can’t believe someone isn’t doing serious academic research into this area. I’m just a synthesizer.

Malcolm Gladwell is the closest, but as I mention in Part 2, he basically comes up with “early achievers succeed through support; late achievers succeed through support.” But few late bloomers have the support he describes in his hallmark article.

I’m out to celebrate late bloomers — start a whole celebratory movement. We’re a huge demographic. I do find prodigies fascinating, but there’s something so rich about late blooming, about the stops and starts and the will to win through. (Like yours!) Thanks for stopping by.

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Biswa Prasun Chatterji

Very nice article, very inspiring……

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Debra Eve

Thank you!

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Yapper002

I don’t know if you realize it, but this post illustrates a dramatic east / west culture clash.

I live in S.E. Asia, and I am a late bloomer (I failed in school, at one point failing English and maths). Today I provide content for Yahoo Finance and Xin MSN, and I front a finance column in a local mag.

My childhood was harsh by Western standards. I had hot wax dripped on the back of my hands, or chilli rubbed into my eyes for failure. For the more severe punishments, I used to have the back of my hands scored with a fine needle.

Which was not unusual in my culture, it’s just a form of discipline. The current perspective here is that the harsh upbringing is responsible for my eventual success. In the West, the opposite view holds true: That it was breaking away from this sort of thing that let me grow.

I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

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Debra Eve

I’m sure you’ve heard the controversy engendered by the book “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” here. It’s about a Chinese-American mother trying to raise her daughters with the same strict discipline she was raised with. Some critics praised the book, but others saw it as a description of child abuse. I landed somewhere in the middle. Her methods, to be clear, were nothing like what you experienced, but they did illustrate the east-west culture clash you mention.

Try as I might, however, I can’t adopt cultural relativity with your situation. I don’t believe in torture as a means to any end. I believe in discipline, yes. But what you describe would contravene the Geneva Convention. It’s not responsible for your current success. That credit is all yours and you should be proud of it.

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Soubhagya Kumar Patra

Hi Debra,

It was just a random search on google, about such related articles. I find your your lines, thoughts, and explanations on Late bloomers are quite superb and awesome.

Here m gonna subscribe your email feeds, hope I will get similar motivating articles in future. :-)

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Debra Eve

Thanks for subscribing, Soubhagya. I try to post every Sunday, so I won’t overrun your mailbox!

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Your X Classmate

Been a while since eight grade……

Just read your book “Later Bloomers” and greatly enjoyed it. Gives me a lot of hope looking forward to the second half of my life….

The concepts you explain here are great life lessons….. A good read for all.

You turned out good kid!!

Greg Boone

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Debra Eve

Hi Greg, thanks so much. I swear, sometimes 8th grade seems like yesterday. It was 40 years ago, and you know, we could still be alive in another 40 years. Mind-boggling, isn’t it? It’s a thought that keeps me with this project!

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Deborah Pattillo Oliver

Hi Debra,
I am so excited to see your blog. Wow can it be over 30 years since we lived on Puritan Street together? I’m touched by the story about your Dad. I remember him well. He was an incredible artist and you inherited that gift.
I started my business at the age of 52. I never considered myself a “late bloomer” as a matter of fact I always say “I think I peaked too early”. It wasn’t until my children were gone (by gone I mean in college raking up $$$$ tuition bills) that I decided to pursue my love of cooking and hospitality.
It started as a way of helping with expenses and has turned into a passion that makes me very proud. So I guess I am a late bloomer after all since this new passion has given me a new outlook on self confidence, contentment and purpose. Love your posts, love your story and I’m so inspired by your encouragement.
XO
Debbie Pattillo Oliver :)

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Debra Eve

Thanks for your kind words, Deborah. So many troubles caused me to put my creative passions on hold, I’m excited to be doing this. I’ve got two foodies in my lineup, Ina Garten and Julia Child, so you’re in excellent company. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see DOT TV soon :)

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ike suarez

yep. i am determined to be a late bloomer.

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@DebraEve

I’m a late bloomer and proud, Ike! We’re the future.

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sam

music is my gift

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@DebraEve

It’s great you know that, Sam. Good luck in your musical endeavors — never stop!

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Tiela Garnett

Hi Deb,
Good Lord – I can’t believe how long it’s taken me to contact you! Happy Belated New Year, for starters. I’ve lost your business card but I remembered the name of your website, thank goodness. Please drop me an email and then we can be in proper touch. It was wonderful connecting with you at Wallace’s – I’ve had no news of Wallace in some time but, from her Facebook posts, it looks like she’s hard at work.
Look forward to hearing from you! (And so sorry to be so miserably slow to connect.)
xo Tiela

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Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Hey Tiela, yesterday, for some reason (maybe the Oscars) I actually thought, “I wonder whatever happened to Tiela?” So what a surprise to sign in and see you. I saw Wallace, I think, 3-4 weeks ago and yes, she’s working her keister off at the moment. Will send you an email!

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