Young people today are under enormous pressure to achieve. They are pushed to be ambitious, driven and to succeed at all costs. Competition to get into prestigious schools is the highest it's ever been. Through social media platforms youth today constantly compare their looks, wealth, status, clothing, success to others. The message we’re sending to young people today is “succeed right now, or you never will”.
The sad fact is many young people today live with a crippling fear of failure. They're not given the time or space for self-exploration. They're paying a high price—young people today have the highest rates of anxiety and depression than any other generation.
What if you didn’t bloom early and were a little slower off the mark? What if you did okay in school, near enough to the top, but you always had the sense that you hadn't quite hit your stride? What if you knew deep down you were destined for bigger things, but you didn't know what they were or when you'd find them?
That was me in my early 20s
I identify as a late bloomer. I come from a long line of women in my family that followed a similar path—one of my aunts entered teacher’s college in her mid thirties. Other took on a tough career in commercial banking after she finished raising my two cousins.
Late bloomers is the topic of a recent book out by Rich Karlgaard, who identifies as a late bloomer himself. According to Karlgaard, a late bloomer is “a person who fulfills their potential later than expected; they often have talents that aren’t visible to others initially.”
The book describes the strengths of being a late bloomer, and it's those that I want to now focus on tonight.
The first strength of a later bloomer is curiosity—late bloomers maintain their sense of childhood curiosity and independence of mind. They hold onto a sense of wonderment, questioning and always wanting to know more.
The second strength of later bloomer is compassion. Late bloomers have the benefit of having seen and experienced life, probably with their fair share of hardships thrown in. This gives them the upper hand in putting themselves in the shoes of others, walking in their footsteps for a while and seeing the world from another’s point of view.
The next strength is resilience. Late bloomers have a tendency to respond to adversity with action. They’re not ones to sit around and wallow in whatever is dragging them down. Not only are they primed to act, they're better able to see their own role in the challenges they face, rather than blaming others or sabotaging themselves.
Calmness is next. I feel this one a lot. When I was younger, just about any kind tense situation would cause me enormous amounts of stress. These days not nearly as much. Late bloomers have usually experienced all kinds of turbulence, giving them a mental calmness, composure and even temper in difficult situations.
The fifth strength is insight—late bloomers draw on their mental library of experiences, patterns and context to create rich patterns of insights and value. They can see patterns, the wood from the trees, the bigger, meta, picture.
And finally, wisdom—it comes from extra life experience and an ability to handle ambiguity. Years of handling life's ups and downs tempers a late bloomer who acquires wisdom from meeting life's challenges.
Despite all the wonderful strengths late bloomers can have—they don't have it easy.
Many late bloomers often go through difficult life transitions like divorce, illness or death of a spouse. Their paths to success are always unconventional. They're prone to self-doubt. So much so that doubt can stop a late bloomer in their tracks. They have to find continual ways to instill confidence in themselves, their abilities and their decisions.
Many simply rise to the occasion. That’s the best way I can describe my own path. There’s been periods in my life where I was wracked with self-doubt and inertia, but I’ve continually pushed through uncertainty with an underlying need for forward motion and action. Rather than blooming early, all I needed was a little extra time.
This is an extract of a speech I gave at the Wall Street Toastmasters Club in June 2019.