Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both dropped out of Harvard to pursue their embryonic tech companies. Good for them, bad for us. It sends a message that career success should come very early, perhaps in our twenties – a notion fostered by athletes, singers, artists and writers who also have blossomed at an early age.
But perhaps you’re a late bloomer. And Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, says that’s nothing to worry about. At the same time, he warns that you are fighting against a conspiracy. “Parents, schools, employers, the media and consumers of media are now crazily over celebrating early achievement as the best kind of achievement or even the only kind. We do so at the cost of shaming the late bloomers and thus shortchanging people and society,” he writes in Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement.
Mr. Karlgaard got stuck in his mid-20s despite a degree from a good university. He couldn’t hold a job beyond dishwasher, night watchman and temporary typist. And he has found others who also, as he puts it, ended up “glued to life’s launching pad” for a number of years.
He says we need a kinder clock for human development. Emerging research suggests that the human-maturation process from adolescence to adulthood requires more attention to the phase between the ages of 18 and 25. The prefrontal cortex, responsible for complex processes like planning, organizing, problem-solving and attention-allocation may take until our mid-twenties or later to develop. “Each of us deserves the opportunity to bloom in our own way,” he says.
And it’s worth the wait, he insists, highlighting six strengths of late bloomers:
- Curiosity: Our early-blooming conveyor belt doesn’t let people easily express their curiosity and take side trips into odd reading or extracurricular activities. And we lose out when people suppress their curiosity. Indeed, he notes that many CEOs list curiosity as a critical employee attribute they seek out.
- Compassion: It is important to be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to understand and help them. “Yet too often, compassion has been sacrificed in our race to early success. In the cutthroat battle for higher test scores or greater wealth, many of us have lost sight of the importance of kindness and compassion,” he writes. He notes that among college students, concern for the well-being of others has been tumbling since the early 1990s and is at a low point. He argues that late bloomers, through their years of trial-and-error, mistakes and restarts, develop a deeper sense of compassion.
- Resilience: Early bloomers, by achieving quick success, ascribe that to their own great attributes, an attitude that can set them up for a fall when they fall on hard times. Late bloomers have better support networks that can continue to help them when they hit rough patches.
- Equanimity: Young people’s emotional needle, research shows, is moved by excitement and elation, while peacefulness, calm and relief are critical for late bloomers. We’re better problem-solvers when calm.
- Insight: Research also suggests that as we age, our brains become more astute judges of what novel perceptions are useful to us. It can take time for these insights to accumulate. Late blooming gives that a chance.
- Wisdom: This trait is not something that we are born with or that develops in a few years. Wisdom increases with age and experience.
So if you’re a late bloomer, don’t worry. Yes, the world is conspiring against you. But Mr. Karlgaard argues time is on your side.
- Start your day by asking, “When I look back at the day, what do I want the highlight to be?” Tech designer and author John Zeratsky says it gives focus and can be the saving grace in an otherwise “blah” day.
- Communications coach Allison Shapira says senior executives have told her it’s important that people reporting to them learn when not to speak in a meeting and to save comments that might put others on the defensive for a one-on-one meeting. Ask yourself: Would this be better said privately?
- When being interviewed for a job, Kelly Lavin, chief talent officer for Canvas, the first text-based interviewing platform, suggests asking, "Tell me what your most successful employees do differently?”
- Stop using the phrase, “Does this make sense?” Communications consultant Jay Sullivan says it’s condescending, implying the listener doesn’t have the ability to ask for clarity on his own. It also can make you seem weaker – unsure you do make sense.
- “Coffee naps” are better than coffee or naps alone, research suggests. Drink a cup of coffee and take a quick nap. It won’t prevent you from napping and can make you more alert afterwards, science writer Joseph Stromberg says.
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