What’s the Rush? The Perks of Being a Late-Bloomer

Throughout history, there are countless artists, leaders, writers and other very influential people who didn’t hit their stride until they were well into middle age and beyond. Many did not enter the field in which they garnered the most success and fulfillment until they had already tried out a number of different careers. This makes sense, if you think about it. Doesn’t it defy all logic to assume that at the tender age of 18, we have the capacity to identify a career path that will motivate and inspire us for the next 40 or 50 years? Is the job you aspire to in your 20’s the same one that will fulfill you in your 50’s or beyond? I say ‘unlikely’.

The benefits of experience that come with maturity can be a true competitive advantage and lead to greater success at a later age. As we mature, we can take full advantage of the life lessons we  have learned  and the experiences we have had. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that delayed blooming makes sense.

Here are some late-bloomers to consider:

Artists

  • The painter Anna Mary Robertson Moses, aka Grandma Moses, cut short her career in embroidery due to arthritis and didn’t begin painting until she was 75.  Her career as an American folk artist lasted until she was 101 and one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million in 2006.
  • Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh created roughly 2100 works during his  career, including over 800 oil paintings, most of which were completed in the last two  years of his life. 
  • Acclaimed French artist Paul Cezanne did not get his first solo show until he was 56.

Authors

  • Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first book until she was in her 60’s. 
  • Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison published her first novel at the age of 40.
  • Bram Stoker’s most popular novel Dracula was published when he  was 50.
  • Miguel de Cervantes wrote his best known novel Don Quixote when he was 58.
  • After a career in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division, Ian Fleming introduced Bond, James Bond to the world when he was 44. 

Are you seeing a pattern here or do you need more proof that being a late-bloomer is a roundabout pathway to success?

Company Founders

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken, aka KFC: Colonel Harlan Sanders was 65 when he first started offering up his finger-lickin’ fare.
  • McDonald’s: Salesman Ray Kroc bought the hamburger company at the age of 52 and turned it into the world’s largest fast food chain.
  • Ford Motor Company: Henry Ford built the iconic Model T when he was 45.
  • Campbell Soup Company: Joseph Campbell created a canned goods company when he was 52, but didn’t start selling soup until he was 78.
  • Costco: Co-founder Jeffrey Brotman started the wholesale chain when he was 40.

Designers

  • Vera Wang was a competitive figure skater, journalist and fashion editor, but she did not become a fashion designer until she turned 40.
  • At the age of 41, Christian Dior founded the House of Dior. 
  • Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani was 41 when he started his empire which includes fashion, music and luxe lodging. 

Politicians

  • Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan started his political career at 53, after a successful stint as an actor.
  • Nancy Pelosi was first elected into Congress when she was 47 and became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives at  67. 
  • Nelson Mandela became the first President of post-apartheid South Africa when he was 76.

And last, but not least: 

  • Julia Child did not learn to cook until she was 40. Her iconic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published after she turned 50.

Who says the only way to connect two points is a straight line? That may be the quickest path, but is it the best? Couldn’t all those detours and stops along the way lead to a more rewarding life? What if the secret to life is all about the winding path of the  journey, rather than a laser focus on the destination?

I am proud to admit that I’m a late-bloomer too. Writing fiction is technically my third career- I spent 16 years in a variety of marketing positions in the telecommunications industry. In order to better accommodate my growing family, I entered the world of academia and I loved all of my years spent teaching, but after more than 20 years, I gave it up to write on a fulltime basis.

My latest historical novel Landscape of a Marriage is the story of Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect whose first finished project was the iconic Central Park in NYC. FLO is a perfect example of my theory that late-bloomers rule. Before finally committing himself to the designing of public parks, academic campuses and private estates, Olmsted tried on a number of different careers: merchant seaman, gentleman farmer, newspaper reporter, author, magazine publisher and he even managed a gold mine. He was well into his 40’s before he decided to focus his time and talents on a career in landscape architecture and millions of locals and tourists enjoy the fruits of his hard work and vision every day. 

It is our life experiences that shape us and prepare us for the future; failures, successes, stops and starts. Some of us thrive in a second or third career after working at a completely different job. Others achieve success only after decades of working in a particular field. Struggle is good! Early achievers (those who peak as a young adult  or happen upon a life-long career on the first try) fail to gain the hard-won experience that those of us who have floundered a bit wear proudly. We are resilient and flexible and grateful when we ultimately cross the finish line. 

It is widely accepted that younger workers today plan to change jobs and careers more frequently than their parents or grandparents did. The average millennial has already had as many jobs as workers in their fifties have had in their entire lifetime. A cynic might scoff at the idea of a young person worrying about which major to choose or where to secure an internship. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! 

To paraphrase Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, “youth is wasted on the young!” A late-bloomer himself (his first public success came at age 38) Shaw must have recognized that the benefits of both public success and personal  fulfillment achieved at middle age and beyond are even sweeter. 

In closing: Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those who wait. Enjoy the journey, learn from your mistakes, try not to repeat  your failures. Hang in there. Keep going, don’t give up. I could go on forever… but I’ll end with:

Here’s to ‘better late than never’!

GWO

What is your ‘later success’ story? Who are your favorite late-bloomers? Please share them here!

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