There are few things that I find more despicable and pernicious than the idea of a “late bloomer.”
To be fair, a lot of that could come from me being a self-identified late bloomer. Like, for real. In everything that I’ve done. In fact, someone looking from the outside-in at my life might even say I have tendencies towards capriciousness. Hell, you might even say that looking from the inside.
Let’s take a look at my record. I figured out what college I wanted to go to late (transfers). I figured out what major I wanted after bouncing around for what seemed like an eternity. I took an inappropriate amount of time after my BA before I went to grad school. (A sane person would have used that time to realize grad school was a bad idea.) Once I got into grad school, it took me another 4 years to realize it was a bad idea and quit. And that’s just my education. Don’t even get me started on girls.
I mean, across the board, I’ve reached conclusions on an average of about 2 times slower than everyone else. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m slow? Maybe I’m methodical? Maybe I don’t give a shit?
Why Being a Late Bloomer Shouldn’t Scare You
Now let me tell you why none of this matters.
The entire idea of “blooming late” is premised on benchmarking yourself against not just other people, but an “ideal set of steps that a successful person takes”.
Let’s take a look at Johnny.
- He participated in a variety of clubs and sports in high school and took a painful amount of AP classes for the explicit purpose of getting into a good college.
- At 18 Johnny goes to a great school and gets a business degree.
- At 22 Johnny gets a job at a big firm and works 2 years.
- At 24 Johnny goes to get an MBA at a great school.
- At 35 Johnny is a VP of a major widget-making factory, owns an ungodly large house, a fast car, and has a beautiful family.
Ok, maybe that’s harsh. But look, Johnny’s trajectory is the classic, white American masculine dream of success. Think about what exactly it would be like if Johnny was your brother?
There’s Nothing Wrong with Johnny
Let me start by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Johnny. If Johnny, deep down, wanted to travel this path or wanted this type of success, then sure, good for him. We should all embrace him with the warm love we owe all living entities.
But really, the only reason your Aunt Martha thinks Johnny hung the moon and you’re a fucking loser is that Johnny more accurately followed a path that we have culturally decided, and continually reaffirm, is the best path to reach what we have collectively agreed is the “purpose” of maturing. Johnny is more “integrated” into our idea of success – which has its roots in a whole other pile of shit that we won’t get into here.
So the problem isn’t really with Johnny. The problem is that culturally, this path that Johnny went on is so ingrained with a sense of success, that it undermines how we feel when our path doesn’t mirror it.
Now think about that for a second.
It undermines how we feel about our endeavors.
This isn’t about how people look at us. Honestly, you should already be past that. The problem is that we in grain Johnny’s journey into our own sense of worth: this idea of what success is, what we are beholden to for ourselves and family. This is what scares us. Whenever we think about bucking the trend we’re flooded with insecurities, fears, and hesitations.
How are you going to explain to your parents, spouse or child that you want to drop out of college to play music? What will you say if you inevitably fail? Will they laugh at you? Will they be right to laugh at you? Is it stupid? How will you catch up with your peers if you fall on my ass and lose 2 years of career experience? Will you forever be behind?
What does being a late bloomer mean?
To bloom late means to visibility diverge from a trope of success. Don’t get me wrong, it can return real consequences. But those consequences are only consequences in the sense that they impact the way we want to live, now how others perceive our lives.
Just so we’re clear. I fully advocate living a life of intentionality. I believe, in a large part, that we achieve this by thinking deeply and consistently about what your passions are and executing on them. And sometimes that even means re-assessing in stride about what brings you joy.
And if that means being a “late bloomer,” then so be it.