Why Are Some People Late Bloomers?

Why Are Some People Late Bloomers?

A good garden may have some weeds. ~Thomas Fuller

Does another “30 under age 30” achievement list make you wonder if you’re doing life wrong?

Does a story about a grandma who ran her first marathon in her 80s make your day?

If you’re a “late-blooming” adult, like I am, you’re not alone. We’ve got some exceptional company!

I’m 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 installment, we tackle the hard stuff and examine how early setbacks and poverty might affect late blooming. In Part 2, we explore the good stuff—multiple passions, unique learning patterns, and the lives of famous late bloomers.

How Early Setbacks Can Affect Late Blooming

defying gravityAt 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 asked her college counselor for advice. He didn’t see a problem. Why didn’t she just get married and have kids?

For a young woman in 1969 with no mentor, entering a male-dominated field seemed impossible. Linda felt rejection by two sources of authority—the review board and her counselor—foretold failure.

Today, thanks to the Internet, 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.

How Poverty Can Affect Late Blooming

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.

Some would say bad luck dogged Langan.

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, and his “bad luck,” are symptoms of deeper problem—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.

Chris Langan

Langan now raises horses and hones his cognitive-theoretic model of the universe—a grand theory of all origins. 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.

The Truth About What We Choose to Become

Carl Jung wrote, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” A brave statement, but 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.

But there is a great deal of hope.

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

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 didn’t visualize or believe with enough faith in the limitless 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 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 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…}

Further Reading

38 Responses

  1. GutsyWriter
    | Reply

    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.

    • Debra Eve

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

  2. Sara @Soulspackle
    | Reply

    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?

    • 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.

    • Liam

      Thanks a lot Debra for this great post… I have a late bloomer brother that is a musician and has been struggling to create his art and passion. Can you give me advise for him?
      Can I put a link of his music in this page? Maybe people with an open mind can hear his music.
      Thanks again!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Liam, I’m not well-versed in the music arena, but some steps apply to most creative fields. Your brother needs a professionally-designed website that profiles his music. Then he can give away tracks on it, perhaps in return for an email address so he can tell people when his album is ready. Here’s an example from someone my husband used to play for: http://jameshoulahan.com/. In fact, James is a great example of a singer/songwriter working the Internet and social media well. I know several music sites exist that will let your brother post tracks for sale — Reverbnation.com, Soundcloud.com. Posting here won’t do him much good, sorry, but he should check out how the musicians he admires are going about it. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Joe
    | Reply

    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.

    • 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.

  4. Biswa Prasun Chatterji
    | Reply

    Very nice article, very inspiring……

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you!

  5. […] Why Are Some People Late Bloomers? Part 1 […]

  6. […] Part 1, I explored how “a good garden may have some weeds” — life’s difficulties and Later […]

  7. Yapper002
    | Reply

    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.

    • 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.

  8. Soubhagya Kumar Patra
    | Reply

    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. :-)

    • Debra Eve

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

  9. Your X Classmate
    | Reply

    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

    • 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!

  10. Deborah Pattillo Oliver
    | Reply

    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.
    Debbie Pattillo Oliver :)

    • 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 :)

  11. […] moment I knew (12 years old – I’m a late bloomer) we were all going to die one day, I began to learn the art of waiting for […]

  12. ike suarez
    | Reply

    yep. i am determined to be a late bloomer.

    • @DebraEve

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

  13. sam
    | Reply

    music is my gift

    • @DebraEve

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

  14. Tiela Garnett
    | Reply

    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

    • 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!

  15. Patricia Taylor
    | Reply

    I run a group in an inpatient psyc unit for geriatrics and find your site to be full of good information to give group members. Thanks, and I always tell them to look you up!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      I’m so flattered, Patricia! Thank you. It’s my hope to give hope, because it really is never too late.

  16. Vanessa
    | Reply

    I’m really glad I found this, I am a late bloomer too. I have experience all of that. Traumas, violence who lead to academic failure etc… I knew something was wrong to me, I feel I was ment to do great things, but I did not know why at this point of my life I haven’t. I’m only 21 years old and planing on going to collage. I won’t give up!
    I am what I choose to become.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Good for you, Vanessa! It’s good you’ve recognized these things. No matter how long it takes, keep at it. I finished college at age 35 and I’m so glad I did.

  17. Lucy
    | Reply

    42 Not yet bloomed, but enjoying the journey.

  18. 1renoir
    | Reply

    These words are immensely powerful to me and perfectly confirming! I am 44 about to turn 45 and as my beautiful son has moved into his teen years, the wisdom I have gained through struggles with early parental loss, sexual abuse, depression, divorce, and negative guidance, are beginning to form in exciting ways as I revisit my art and am reaffirmed by friends that the idea of writing should very much be visited. My life is physically a complete chaotic, confused mess… but I have an excitement that wonderful, creative things are beginning to flow! I couldn’t be more pleased to feel this hope after all these years!! Thank you for this insightful blog and for allowing the commenters, who are equally strengthening!!!!!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      I’m so glad you found the piece powerful. I’m actually about to revise and expand it. I wrote it in the early days of the blog, around 2010. One of my favorite quotes is not by a late bloomer, but a very early one, Mary Shelley (she wrote Frankenstein at age 17): “Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.” I hope your chaos transforms into beautiful creativity.

  19. […] a long, late-blooming career–he was comedian Joey Bishop’s TV sidekick in the 1960’s–he is suddenly […]

  20. Karen
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for this post, especially your take on The Secret, which I think is a particularly pernicious version of the Just-World Bias and only revictimizes victims. So many people (including some therapists who should have known better) have cut me off and refused to listen to my story because they were uncomfortable with hearing about suffering–instead I’ve been told to “forgive” and “let go” whatever that means. And some have even asked why I felt the need to report my abuser to the authorities and hold him accountable in court. As if I’m the one who did something wrong instead of him. Anyway, before this gets much longer, I just wanted to say that I’ve been really struggling with handling some PTSD stuff lately, and your post helped me a lot tonight. Thank you!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Hi Karen, so sorry, getting over the flu, just saw this. I’m so happy my post helped you. Yes, I have a particular aversion to “The Secret” worldview and the way it has crept into the mental health professions. I really recommend Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.” She describes how breast cancer victims have been blamed for “causing” their cancer through negative thinking. ACK! Makes me want to scream.

      If no one holds abusers accountable, what kind of world do we create? I applaud your courage. There are still good therapists who recognize PTSD for what it is…our mind’s defense against the indefensible. Keep searching…each person’s path through their pain is different. Forward movement is what counts.

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