Why Are Some People Late Bloomers? Pt. 2

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Cervantes published Don Quixote at age 58

In Part 1, we explored how “a good garden may have some weeds”—life’s difficulties and Later Blooming.

In this installment, we look at two intriguing traits that many Later Bloomers share—being multi-passionate and learning by doing.

Specialization is a relatively recent compulsion

During the Renaissance, humanism arose in revolt against the limits of Medieval education, which confined learning to law, medicine and theology.

The movement reignited interest in what we now call the humanities—classics, languages, literature, philosophy, arts of all types.

Many of our greatest minds were “Renaissance Men.”

For example, Benjamin Franklin was an writer, printer, soldier, politician and diplomat. He invented bifocals, the lightning rod and the Franklin stove. Peter Mark Roget was a doctor, teacher, inventor, designer and compiler of the famous Thesaurus.

Specialization is a relatively recent compulsion.

Some people just have too many passions. They have no desire to specialize because they’re driven by curiousity and wonder. In today’s world, they’re often denigrated.

Margaret Lobenstine calls this type of Later Bloomer a Renaissance Soul. She writes:

Renaissance Souls much prefer variety and combination over focusing all their energies on one thing. They prefer widening options by opening more and more doors, to narrowing choices by specializing and sub-specializing.

After succeeding in one area, the Renaissance Soul will seek a completely new adventure instead of accepting a promotion, or job hopping to a higher salary.

The musical South Pacific was based on Michener’s first novel

This might be why many Later Bloomers eventually become writers.

James Michener didn’t publish Tales of the South Pacific until age 40. He became famous for epic historical novels—Hawaii, Iberia, Poland, Texas, Alaska and Mexico—and wrote prolifically until his death at 90.

But he also wrote non-fiction on subjects as diverse as The Modern Japanese Print, Sports in America and A Century of Sonnets.

Before becoming a writer, Michener peddled chestnuts, toured America by boxcar, joined a carnival, enlisted in the Army, taught English and edited textbooks.

Other late-blooming authors (and their former lives) include:

  • Miguel de Cervantes (valet, soldier, tax collector)—Don Quixote, age 58
  • Daniel Defoe (wine merchant, terrorist, tax collector)—Robinson Crusoe, age 60
  • Charles Perrault (civil servant)—Tales from Mother Goose, age 67
  • Bram Stoker (civil servant, theater manager)—Dracula, age 50
  • Isak Dineson (coffee rancher)—Seven Gothic Tales, age 49 and Out of Africa, age 52
  • P.D. James (civil servant, hospital administrator)—Published her first Adam Dalgliesh mystery in 1962, at age 42.  She’s still writing them.

By far, writers comprise the largest subgroup of Later Bloomers I’ve researched.

“They aim to discover the image in the course of making it”

David Galenson is an economics professor who writes about artists.

In Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, Galenson examined the auction prices of paintings throughout several artists’ lives. He identified two distinct patterns, not just in art, but in other creative fields:

Picasso, self-portrait, age 25

Picasso, self-portrait, age 25

Conceptual innovators peak early. They’re our prodigies and “young geniuses.” They see the whole scenario, then execute it—on canvas, in writing, on a music score sheet.

Picasso is the classic conceptual innovator. Picasso once said,

When I paint, my object is to show what I have found, not what I am looking for…I have never made trials or experiments.

Other conceptual innovators include Johannes Vermeer, Herman Melville, Sylvia Plath and Orson Welles.

Experimental innovators, on the other hand, are classic “old masters” and late bloomers. According to Galenson, they:

  • need a visual objective;
  • work slowly and incrementally;
  • consider their creative endeavors a form of research;
  • value the accumulation of knowledge over the end result;
  • become totally absorbed while pursuing an ambitious, vague and elusive goal; and
  • experience frustration that their goal may be completely unobtainable.

They consider creative output “as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it.”

Paul Cézanne is a classic experimental innovator. He created his most valuable paintings (in terms of auction price) at the end of his life.  Just a month before he died, Cézanne wrote:

Now it seems to me that I see better and that I think more correctly about the direction of my studies. Will I ever attain the end for which I have striven so much and so long? I hope so, but…until I have realized something better than in the past…I continue to study.

Paul Cezanne, self-portrait, age 60

Learning by discovery and experimentation may take longer, but the results will be worth it.

Conclusion

Not all those who wander are lost.
~J.R.R. Tolkien

Curiosity and wonder drives many Later Bloomers. They have too many passions to settle. Plus, as David Galenson discovered, they often learn through discovery and experimentation, so achievement takes longer.

Daniel Pink (Al Gore’s old speechwriter and another lapsed lawyer) had this to say about Galenson’s work:

Of course, not every unaccomplished 65-year-old is some undiscovered experimental innovator. This is a universal theory of creativity, not a Viagra for sagging baby boomer self-esteem. It’s no justification for laziness or procrastination or indifference. But it might bolster the resolve of the relentlessly curious, the constantly tinkering, the dedicated tortoises undaunted by the blur of the hares.

In the end, though, you define success for yourself. What I like about Wikipedia’s late bloomer definition—“a person who does not discover their talents and abilities until later than normally expected”—is the sly implication that normalcy might be superfluous.

Further Reading, Part 1

Further Reading, Part 2

Get The 2014 Later Bloomer Calendar free when you sign up to receive posts from LaterBloomer.com

Hope you enjoyed! I publish just twice per month, so please sign up to receive

  • posts by email,
  • random freebies,
  • news of the next Later Bloomers anthology, and
  • The 2014 Personalized Later Bloomer Calendar (click at right to preview).
Your email will never be shared.

Leave a Comment

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Heba

I am very glad I found this blog after frantically searching the internet for some sign of hope that it is never too late to discover your passion in life. At 32, I consider myself a late bloomer, of course, especially that the most successful people that we (or society in general) admire have always known, at a fairly young age, what they wanted to be. I, on the other hand, am just discovering that I have been doing what I am meant to do all my life: write. I have been writing since I learned my alphabet, but I never gave a career in writing a bit of thought. I grew up in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates–not the most inspiring environment for an aspiring writer or artist of any sort. To transport myself to more fun places, I wrote for hours on end–complaining about my boring life, wishing I were some place different, dreaming of becoming an actress (Hollywood magic can captivate a young Arab girl), wishing my parents were dead, and spilling my guts to countless empty sheets of paper. Until recently, I never realized that I have been writing my entire life–for the same reasons still–and seeing that writing has helped me escape undesirable circumstances when I was a child, I am apparently trying to escape my circumstances right now.

I agree with all the points you might regarding why some people are late bloomers. My environment was not stimulating, my parents did not offer much guidance, and my passions were too many! I do credit my parents for stocking my bedroom with encyclopedias, science books, art books, and above all, the author to which I owe my love of adventure, creative imagination, and reading to: Roald Dahl. Because of books like Witches, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I travelled to magical lands, met intriguing and colorful characters, and took part in some of the most fun adventures. It doesn’t surprise me at all that people with many passions end up being writers; this is exactly the direction I am heading. To be able to explore your interests and be curious about the world around you through writing is a dream–a dream I wish to live. Wait, I think I am living it. Thanks for the inspirational blog.

Reply

Elle B.

Heba, I am so glad this resonated with you. Thank you for your heartfelt comment. I can only imagine how tough it was growing up an imaginative and talented girl in the UAE. But you’ve found your passion now and that’s what counts. Congrats on taking the first steps and living your dream.

Reply

Michael

Holy favorite authors batman! Quotes from 2 of my favorite authors in one post? OK OK two posts but ONE subject ;) Milne & Tolkien. This indeed may be a sign of some kind.

I’m 48 and definitely could describe myself using your reasons for a late bloomer. Too many passions being the major one. I often struggle trying to focus my site because there is just so much I want to write about! Darn those no cloning laws!

Reply

Elle B.

Hey Michael, it really was one post, but I broke it up. It really doesn’t get better than Tolkien and Milne. I’m so lucky to have found this subject matter, because it allows me to focus my many passions in an unconformist way. I’ve been told that “curating” fascinating material is the future of blogging, so you’re right on target!

Reply

Cristina Andersson

Hi Elle,

I just found your blog. What a blessing it is. I am striving to become a singer at the age of 52 and working to share the process with everybody who is interested. I believe Late Bloomers is one of the biggest trends in the near future.

Your blog is in my favorites now :)
Best regards from Helsinki!

Reply

Elle B.

So glad you enjoy it, Christina! You’ve made my day, being all the way from Finland. We need someone else besides Susan Boyle to represent for late-blooming singers!

Reply

Robyn Stark

Oh yeah……I get this!
Since starting school at 4 through to finishing at 15 and no parental or teacher guidance on careers I’m still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up! I have always admired people who knew what they wanted to do from a very young age and achieved that goal.

Over the last 39 years I have had about 62 jobs some similar but many extremely different, around 42 places I have lived and still not knowing what I want, I continue to hear criticism and judgement from family and friends. “When you are going to settle down”….”what, another career”…..”why can’t you settle”? And that gets dumped on my own frustrations asking the same thing. But I have heaps of passions and interests conflicting with my love of new challenges and learning and then being kicked by my boredom state.

I still want to be an ‘ist’. That’s my terminology for a having a title or a name for what you do…’a biologist, a therapist, a physiotherapist, a psychiatrist…..or titles that don’t end in ‘ist’ that still define me: a pilot, an author, a builder etc. But I just come back to describing myself as a ‘mistress of all trades and a jill of none’ and a ‘corporate gypsy’! Is there one umbrella anywhere that I can put all my skills into? Or is that just called life?

Am I a 54 year old late bloomer? I hope so. I just wish I knew what flower I was going to become!

Great blog……thank you!
Cheers from sunny Queensland in Australia

Reply

Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, Robyn! You know, being an “ist” can be highly overrated. I was an archaeologist for a while, but the “publish or perish” academic attitude almost killed my love of the field. I’m sure there are other “ists in the same boat. As I mentioned in the article, specialization is a relatively recent compulsion. What you’ve been sounds fascinating!

Reply

Robyn Stark

Addendum to my comment above….

I just realised I am an ‘ist’…..!!!
I’m a florist!
I’m a late bloomer!
LOL

Reply

Debra Eve

Oh, that’s superb. I might have to interview you!

Reply

Rossandra White

I loved how thoroughly you covered the subject of blooming late. As a young adult in my homeland of South Africa, late bloomers were another way of saying someone was a “little slow.” That kind of mind set is one of the reasons why I don’t live there anymore. One other thing, I find it startling to find thirty-year-olds considering themselves late bloomers, perhaps it has to do with finding one’s passion which can happen at any age.

Reply

Debra Eve

Thanks Rossandra (beautiful name)! There are so many historical precedents for late blooming. Sometimes life just intervenes. I think many young people spend their 20s floundering for various reasons, which is why they consider themselves late bloomers at 30! Any time you find your passion is a good time.

Reply

Adventurer

Finding this blog could not have come a more needed time. I have been always successful however never have achieved the super success which I thought would come from for narrowing and focusing in the one path.

Talk about too many passions…that would be me. Too many paths to follow. It’s great to know it’s not all in vain but actully a method to the madness.

Glad to meet you all late younger late bloomers. I will be 65 in three months and still blooming.

Reply

Debra Eve

Hello and welcome! I recently read something to the effect that we now have entirely new life stage, twenty to forty years, that has never before existed in the history of mankind. What an opportunity! Only those of us with multiple passions can truly appreciate and use it. Thanks for your comment.

Reply

Keith

I found much needed, great encouragement and inspiration in your words here. Thank you for them.

I have every opportunity before me and yet I cannot bring myself to take them because I am self conscious about my grammar skills, or lack thereof. Any suggestions?
I feel overwhelmed and inadequate.
Thanks, surely there are others who feel the same.

Reply

Debra Eve

I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Keith. I receive hundreds of comments and emails, and can always tell when someone has problems with grammar or perhaps has English as a second language. Here’s something that may surprise you — in writing, at least, you have great grammar skills. So I’m guessing someone (a teacher or parent perhaps) told you that’s you’re bad with grammar, you’re the child of English professors, or you struggle more verbally than in writing.

In the latter case, writing (rather than talking) may be your strong suit, since you can play with words and edit your mistakes — or find a good editor. Not all gifted storytellers start out as great writers. I’d suggest taking a grammar class or hanging out with “Grammar Girl” online (just do a Google search for her — she’s got books, podcasts and a blog), more for confidence than anything else. I can assure you that your grammar skills are much better than you realize!

Reply

Keith

Okay, Debra,
I respect your opinion so I will take it and run with it. Clearly my fear must be grounded in PTSD from severe childhood abuse. It’s time to shred my unfounded notions about my skills.

It’s similar to the notion of skydiving. Why worry about falling and miss out on the pleasure of floating?

I have heard of Grammar Girl. I will certainly add Grammar Girl alongside your blog in my list of online mentor/resources.

Thank you for such a prompt and encouraging reply. I needed that just now.

Reply

Amanda

Its hard to rid oneself of the “shame” of being a late bloomer. I’m 34 and have no idea what I want to do with my life. Well, aside from finding a good looking guy to marry me. (very pathetic goal; this isn’t 1912!)
I never had the support of a family for ANYTHING I’ve done in my life, including the brief time I was a single mom, so yeah, there’s the lack of support and guidance. I’m trying to work on myself and just don’t know if Kim going about this the right way or not; should I accept that I’m going to be a very late bloomer in every aspect of life or should I fight it?
Truthfully, my main goal today its marriage. Everything else its bull if you don’t have love…

Reply

Debra Eve

Amanda, I don’t think this is a pathetic goal. You’ve said something very poignant about never having family support — what Gladwell thinks is most important for growing “genius.” Melissa Zink didn’t bloom as an artist until her happy second marriage at 43. Edgar Rice Burroughs worked a series of office jobs until age 35, when he wrote Tarzan.

Like perennial flowers in a garden, I’m beginning to think of the best kind of late-blooming happens over and over as we find our way back to the passions we lost in youth for various reasons. I hope you find the love and support you need in a good man.

Reply

Mike

Debra,

Your site is wonderful! During the course of the past several months, my longing to find my passions in life have haunted me. I am 39 and have been working in “Corporate America” for 17 years. I became a Dad in January and I realize that now is the time to pursue my career, creative (and yes) financial goals. What kind of role model would I be for my son if I didn’t have the courage to get up to make it work? If I let fear win every time?

I started a masters degree in Higher Education Administration a few months back and while I enjoyed it immensely, it made clear to me that it is time to pursue writing, my first love, as my way of life. I had far from the most troublesome childhood but I see now (after taking years of psychology and human behavior classes) how it affected me. Many times I make excuses as to why I can’t make a living as a writer (it is hard, after all) and I get discouraged and fall back into my meager, “secure” job. No more. I am a late bloomer and it is time to let go of the past! I know in my heart that I have the ability to write and to reach people- much in the way you do…..I just need to take the action to do so! You may have had the same predispostion as me- the propensity to over plan and over think and to wait for “the perfect time”, which age has revealed is pure fantasy!

Thank you for your inspiration and thank you for what you do! All the best to you!
-Mike

Reply

Debra Eve

Mike, we have very similar stories. I worked in “Corporate America” for many years and got a masters degree in Archaeology before I realized that I really wanted to write. Check, troublesome childhood, too. So happy to hear you’ve decided to go for it! The road will still be bumpy. I still divide my time between a day job and writing — but eventually I WILL make the transition and so will you. Thanks for your kind words.

Reply

lyle nicholson

Hi Debra;

I am a late blooming writer. I retired from my business at age 57, and started to write again. I have my first Novella coming out this month, followed by a Novel next year, and working on the first draft of second Novel.

I tried writing at age 35, my wife even offered to support me, but it just wasn’ there. Now, just weeks from my 60th birthday, writing is what I do.

Lyle Nicholson

lylenicholson.wordpress.com

Reply

Debra Eve

Thanks so much for your comment, Lyle! You’re just the type of person I love to write about. I understand what you mean about 35 — similar thing happened to me. Now I can’t seem to stop and am looking forward to many years ahead!

Reply

don w

The piece re: Daivid Seidler drew me into your website and it is just so on-the-nose simple but profound. Thanks for “raising up my bar” to carry on with creative pursuits. I’ve tested strange turbulent waters in NY & LA over 20 yrs in writing for the screen; a crazy world geared to skitter-skatter brains of 20 & 30-somethings with no regard for tradition or wisdom. (Some young producers NEVER heard of or know Charles Dickens!) The journey is definitely more important than the destination, thanks for re-planting this back into my “garden-with-weeds-and-flowers.” Wonderful site & I’ve recommended it to 10 others already. Thanks! Don W.

Reply

@DebraEve

Thanks for stopping by, Don. Preaching to the choir here — I’m in Los Angeles and actually attended the UCLA screenwriting program ten years ago. Definitely not the place for a middle-aged woman! I was actually told by a few people that I was too “literary,” meaning well-read, and should consider novel-writing. It was good advice. Just keep going, we need screenwriters like you.

Reply

Labeeb

Hi Ms Debra Eve,

I just want to say that I love this blog of yours. I only discovered it like last year and I’ve been reading some articles from time to time. I may not be the intended audience for this site, as I am only 24 years old (turning 25 soon), but I feel that I am destined to become a late bloomer AND a renaissance soul. All my life I have experimented with different passions and areas of interest and I still haven’t figured out what I want to do with my life. I haven’t achieved anything significant with my life either and have faced failures and false starts without seeing any light of ‘success’. I have experienced criticism, scrutiny, pessimism and skepticism from family members and some friends when it comes to my dreams and it makes me have a lack of confidence in myself. It’s as if they are forcing to live an average, dull, non-eventful life just because other people are doing it (like they are recommending it to me, how could they do this to others?!?!).

I see people younger than me succeeding in things that I want to do and it makes me ask myself “What is wrong with me?”, “Am I living my life wrong?”, “Is my life a lie?” and it makes me feel bad sometimes.

Your blog makes me feel good about myself and gives me hope that it is never too late to start living the life of your dreams. Late bloomers are given bad representations because they are seen as failing to keep up with society’s expectations of achievements and success and are labelled as ‘weirdos’, ‘crazies’, ‘special cases’, ‘anomalies’, ‘try-hards’, ‘laughing-stocks’ or ‘people who have dysfunctional youth’ This is what happens in a society that is obsessed with youth and youth-related achievement and fears aging. It’s twisting our world into something sinister.

It as if our society is saying ‘If you don’t succeed by a certain age, you will be labelled as loser and a failure forever” or “Youth is power, Age is a handicap” or “Your time has passed for starting this thing, give up now. Go stand in the corner of the world and remain out of sight until you die. You have no use in this world. The world doesn’t want to acknowledge your existence anymore. You have failed to follow society’s expectations. You are not worthy. Goodbye”. This is wrong. This is very very very wrong. I’m glad that this blog is battling against these crippling notions that are ruining many people’s lives and stunting their futures, killing them before they die for real.

As I turn a quarter of a century, I feel that my life has just begun (What ever would become of my previous 25 years? Don’t they count?, Don’t they matter? Was it all an illusion? Was I really living through all that time? Have I been living my life as a corpse up until now? Are the past-quarter century of my life rendered negligible? A lie? A dream?….

At least I have about 6 decades ahead of me to do awesome things in my life, to add something to this world (life -permitting of course).

Thank you for all that you’ve done, Ms Debra Eve. Sorry for the long comment. I just feel that I need to express all of my appreciation of your hard work for all of the late bloomers around the world. I want to join in the cause. Late bloomers are the driving forces in the world (hardly anyone wants to believe that, as they believe young people are gods, the best role models, vessels of envy and desire, marketable goldmines and are preferred above almost everybody else who is not considered ‘young’, which leads to our society’s obsession with beauty and cosmetic surgery).

Late bloomers are like fine wine: They get better with age.

Keep up the super cool work. I’ll do my part as well.

Labeeb from Malaysia.

Reply

Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Thank you so much, Labeeb! You’d be surprised at how many young people feel as you do, my niece among them (she’ll be 25 in December). There is so much pressure on young people these days to know exactly what they what to do before they’re 20! Not to mention the way the media gushes over young internet millionaires, for instance, but not 90-year-olds who’ve written their first book.

It makes no sense. You can’t choose a direction until you’ve had time to explore — the world and yourself. Best of luck to you, Labeeb, and stay in touch. I’d love to hear about your adventures (and life, more than anything, should be an adventure). –Debra

Reply

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: