Why Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Why Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Did you know that specialization is a relatively recent compulsion?

During the Middle Ages, you could only study law, medicine, or religion.

The Renaissance resurrected what we now call the humanities—classics, languages, literature, philosophy, arts of all types.

This “rebirth” lauded well-rounded individuals—those who painted, sculpted, wrote poetry, mastered a weapon, studied the cosmos, spoke several languages, and played a musical instrument.

Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci epitomized this movement. But so did Queen Elizabeth I. She played the lute, rode into battle, spoke fluent Latin, and ruled for 44 years. The Renaissance tradition continued for centuries.

For instance, Benjamin Franklin, drafter of the U.S. Constitution, was also a writer, printer, soldier, politician, and diplomat. He invented bifocals, the lightning rod, and the Franklin stove. Peter Roget, compiler of the famous Thesaurus, was a doctor, teacher, and designer. He might have created a movie camera prototype.

Some people starve without a daily dose of novelty and wonder.

Margaret Lobenstine, in The Renaissance Soul, writes that these people

…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 field, the Renaissance Soul will seek a new adventure instead of climbing the corporate ladder or job hopping to a higher salary.

Today society denigrates Renaissance Souls, so they often wait until adulthood to explore their gifts. Perhaps that’s why many late bloomers become writers. It’s the perfect multi-passion chariot.

James Michener, for example, published Tales of the South Pacific at age 40. He penned over forty historical novels before his death at age 90. But he also wrote on The Modern Japanese Print, Sports in America, and A Century of Sonnets.

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

Madeleine L’Engle penned her beloved children’s book, A Wrinkle In Time, at age 44, after careers in acting, teaching, and shopkeeping. She also wrote plays, prayer books, poetry, and nonfiction. The parallels between magic, science, and religion intrigued her.

At age 74, against her family’s wishes, she trekked across Antarctica. The journey resulted in a spiritual memoir titled Penguins and Golden Calves.

In many ways, we’re back in the Middle Ages. We still privilege an education in law or medicine. The business degree has replaced the theology degree. Some people thrive in law, medicine, or business, but many feel societal or parental pressure to enter those fields.

Where does this leave the modern Renaissance Soul?

If you still long to write a book, speak Latin, study astrophysics, learn to tango, and design your green dream home, consider this:

1. You’ve got more time than you realize. The average U.S. life expectancy will shortly reach 80. Let’s say, like Michener, you’re 40 and want to write books on a dozen subjects.

You still have 67% of your productive life ahead (40 productive years if you reach 80, divided by 60 productive years total if you’d started working at 20) — ample time to explore.

2. You don’t need a map, but you do need a sketchbook. Of course, not everyone will reach 80, but we all need to embrace the prospect. Increasing life expectancy will usher in the next Renaissance era. How can you be a part of it?

Start a journal. Record infinite possibilities. Make diet and exercise adjustments. Read Barbara Sher, Ben Franklin, Margaret Lobenstine, Joseph Campbell, and J.R.R. Tolkien for instruction and inspiration.

Why Not All Who Wander Are Lost at LaterBloomer.com

It’s Tolkien—poet, professor, philologist,  cryptographer, fantasy and children’s author—who wrote:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Here’s to your late-blooming Renaissance. Happy trails!

How do you relate to that verse from The Fellowship of the Ring? Bilbo, of course, embarked on his greatest adventure after his 111th birthday (should that we all)! Let me know here.

(A version of this article first appeared in Jennings Wire: The World of Success.)

19 Responses

  1. Debra Eve
    | Reply

    I’ve written too much already, but I just love the line “The old that is strong does not wither.” I constantly struggle with health and pain issues, but recently changed my diet (way more plant-based) and am starting to feel so much stronger. It’s given me a glimmer of “deep roots” for the future.

  2. Lindsay
    | Reply

    I think renaissance souls are common; in fact, it is the natural state of most of us.

    • Debra Eve

      Common and a natural state, I’m sure you’re right, Lindsay. But remembering that place after so much cultural indoctrination is difficult indeed. I feel I’m waking up after a long sleep.

  3. Thanks so much for the quote from Tolkien. It speaks to me.

    • Debra Eve

      You’re welcome, Patricia. Glad you liked it. I think it has so many layers.

  4. florence fois
    | Reply

    Debra, always a treat to come here to find a soul-mate and inspiration. I could be discouraged because I’ve gone over so many “hills” … yet today I believe more than ever that people of vintage are finding that which makes them sing and the chorus is marvelous 🙂 Thanks so much !!

    • Debra Eve

      You’re welcome, Florence. There are many hills to come — thank goodness!

  5. August McLaughlin
    | Reply

    Inspring post, Debra! Here’s to not fearing, but embracing, aging—and we might accomplish in those years.

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks, August! You started your “second act” (literally, after acting) a bit on the early side :). I predict you’ll have great success for many years!

  6. Sandra Heska King
    | Reply

    A neighbor once said, “Sandy, you have a terrible job history.”

    My sister calls me a woman with many interests.

    But is this what I am? A Renaissance soul? 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Sandy, wow, can’t believe your neighbor said that. But it’s exactly what I meant by the denigration of Renaissance Souls (and yes, it sounds like you’re one). Check out the book I referenced by Margaret Lobenstein, The Renaissance Soul, and also Barbara Sher’s book, Refuse to Choose. My biggest problem these days is finding time for all my interests. It’s a special type of time management that both Sher and Lobenstein cover. And don’t forget to have fun!

  7. Bobbi Emel
    | Reply

    I love this, Debra Eve! It’s really inspired me to not give up on that part of my soul that is Renaissance. Let the life-long learning continue!

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks so much, Bobbi!

  8. Karen McFarland
    | Reply

    You inspire me Debra! According to your post, there’s hope for me yet! Funny, isn’t it, that so many of us do not realize our talents until we are much older. Maybe it takes age and experience to allow ourselves the opportunity to reach our full potential and pursue what we love most. Loved your post Debra! 🙂

    • Debra Eve

      Thanks so much, Karen. I think a lot of people we know are blooming in midlife for whatever reasons…and they’re all good!

  9. Lee J Tyler
    | Reply

    Recycle away. The more people read your posts the better and more engaged we all will be. It also means that you are ” off plotting your next adventure”! I cannot wait!
    I so love what you bring to us. I am a subscriber, of course, but need to read you every day for you inspire me with the lives you write about. Where you find all of this, I don’t know but I am so happy that you do!
    I have determined that I am coming everyday to dip into some inspiration. You have so much to offer us!

    • Debra Eve

      Thank you so much, Lee! I’m not posting as much as I used to (explanation forthcoming), but I do have a big archive. I really appreciate your support and kind words.

  10. Valerie
    | Reply

    I’m so happy to have found your website! To cut a long story short – for years I secretly wondered if I was a bit odd for deciding at around the age of 35 that I didn’t want to climb the career ladder and give my all to my job, but would rather use that time outside of work to pursue hobbies and learn new things! I’ve found it really hard to have just one passion. I remember saying to my youngest sister last year – you know, I really believe I’m a late bloomer (I’m 56) and that in the coming years ahead I will come into my own.
    Thank you Debra.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve

      Sorry for the late response, Valerie. I’ve been on a short break. Congrats on your decision! The career ladder (or hamster wheel) isn’t for everyone. In fact, I believe very few thrive there. It’s not our natural habitat. Love what you’re doing over at your blog too!

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