In Part 1, we explored how “a good garden may have some weeds”—life’s difficulties and Later Blooming.
In this installment, we examine two intriguing traits that many Later Bloomers share—wide-ranging passions and learning through experiment.
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.”
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 have wide-ranging 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.
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.
By far, writers comprise the largest subgroup of Later Bloomers I’ve researched.
Old Masters and Young Geniuses: Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity
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:
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 result;
- become totally absorbed while pursuing an ambitious, vague and elusive goal; and
- experience frustration that their goal may be 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.
Learning by discovery and experimentation may take longer, but the results will be worth it.
Not all those who wander are lost.
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 2
- Galenson, David. Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story Of Success.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. “Why do we equate genius with precocity?” (The New Yorker: 10/20/2008).
- Lobenstine, Margaret. The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.
- Pink, Daniel. “What Kind of Genius Are You?” (Wired Magazine: 07/2006).