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As a child I once heard that the record for youngest person to perform the Goldberg Variations at Carnegie Hall had been surpassed, having previously been set by Glenn Gould who had performed it in his twenties. This “new” person was a teenager. I remember being intimidated. There was no way I would ever beat that record. When I was twenty-two, I remember sitting at a bar with a writing pad thinking how sad it was that I hadn’t gotten a single thing published at my age and my favorite writer Hunter S. Thompson was already widely published at that same age.
In the Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed With Early Achievment, author Rich Karlgaard argues that society’s obsession with early achievement to the exclusion of individuals who achieve greater things later in life has led to people ultimately not trying anymore after they reach a certain age. They feel that if they didn’t achieve their goals by a certain age, they may as well not do it at all.
Late Bloomers opens up with a number of examples of people who didn’t get much accomplished early in life and went on to achieve greatness in what people would call “later” in life. For example, J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series (and others), was a divorced mother with a baby struggling to make ends meet. She didn’t see Harry Potter published until well after she had turned thirty.
Karlgaard explains how he suffered failure after failure growing up and shares an example of how he once spent an evening at the library reading old issues of Sports Illustrated instead of studying for his school exams. One would think that nothing positive could come of this but he later discusses how he used the memory of what he saw to completely redesign a magazine for which he was working. It became tremendously successful.
The book explores the development of our brains and how the executive function of our brains that allows us to see and plan ahead properly doesn’t fully develop fully until we are well into our twenties. Complex pattern evaluation comes to us in our forties.
Karlgaard discusses at length the costs that individuals and society pays for this terrible obsession with early achievement. Kids who play soccer, for example, quit early because they aren’t superstars. People are collectively paying tutors and test prep companies a billion dollars, an incredible sum. All in the name of getting ahead early.
As I read the Late Bloomers, I couldn’t help but wish that it had existed when I was a child. I wouldn’t have spent so much time wishing that I had already done so much more than I had. I would recommend this book to anyone with or without children. For parents, it’s a great reminder that, to use the words of Mr. Rogers, we are all special just for being ourselves— whether we do something great when we are young or if we don’t make anything happen until we are sixty-five, Colonel Sanders’ age when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken.
WORDS: Gordon Davidescu
IMAGE SOURCE: Currency/Crown Publishing