It’s Never Too Late to Start A Brilliant Career by R. Karlgaard
Our obsession with early achievement shortchanges people of all ages. Research shows that our brains keep developing deep into adulthood and so do our capabilities.
[The author opens his story by explaining that when he was 25 years old, he was working at a low-paying job as a security guard, despite the fact he was a college graduate]
… In a few months, Steve Jobs, also 25 at the time, would take Apple public, change the computer industry and become fabulously rich. I, on the other hand, was poor and stuck. My story is embarrassing, but is it that unusual?
Today we are madly obsessed with early achievement. We celebrate those who explode out of the gates, who scorch the SAT, get straight A’s in AP courses, win a spot at Harvard or Standford, get a first job at Google or Goldman Sachs, and headline those ubiquitous 30-under-30 lists.
In 2014, Time magazine started an annual list of “Most Influential Teens.” Yes, teens.
But precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates.
All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.
Shifting our attention in this way can spare us much of the unhappiness generated by our worship of youthful success. How we evaluate young people places needless emotional burdens on families and has helped to spur an epidemic of anxiety and depression among teens and young adults.
The effort to forge young people into wunderkinds is making them fragile and filling them with self-doubt. It suggests that if you haven’t become famous, reinvented an industry or banked seven figures by the time you’re still in your 20s, yo’re somehow off track. But the basic premise is wrong: Early blooming is not a requirement for lifelong accomplishment and fulfillment.
…. The term that psychologists use for this sort of neurological maturity is executive function. Executive function has nothing to do with IQ, potential or latent. It is simply the ability to see ahead and plan effectively, to connect actions to possible consequences, to see the probabilities of risk and reward.
…. These findings validate what previous cognitive research has revealed: Each of us has two types of intelligence, known as fluid and crystallized.
Fluid intelligence is our capacity to reason and solve novel problems, independent of knowledge from the past, and it peaks earlier in life.
Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use skills, knowledge and experience; it shows rising levels of performance well into middle age and beyond. According to Georgia Tech psychology professor Phillip Ackerman, the best way for older adults to compensate for declines in youthful “fluid” intelligence is to select jobs and goals that optimize their “crystallized” knowledge and skills.
… What about creativity and innovation? That realm must belong to the young, with their exuberance and fresh ideas, right? Not necessarily. For instance, the average age of scientists when they are doing work that eventually leads to a Nobel Prize is 39, according to a 2008 Northwestern University study. The average age of U.S. patent applicants is 47.
Our creative yield increases with age, says Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University. …
Tales of late bloomers are found in every walk of life and often feature an under-appreciated talent that emerged more slowly than the standard expectations. [The author cites the example of NFL quarterback Tom Brady.]
… How many of us were overlooked in our school years, or dismissed early in our careers, or are dismissed even now? What gifts and passions might we possess that haven’t yet been discovered but that could give us wings to fly?
… International star Andrea Bocelli began singing opera when he was 34. Martha Stewart was 35 when she started her catering business in a friend’s basement, and 42 when her first book of recipes was published.
Toni Morrison published her first novel “The Bluest Eye,” at 39, won a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved” at 56 and the Nobel Prize in Literature five years later.
J.K. Rowling was a divorced mother on public assistance before she created Harry Potter at the age of 35. Tom Siebel founded his first big tech company, Sibel Systems, at 41, and his second, C3, at 57.
Alan Rickman owned a graphic design studio for years before he got his first taste of fame at 42 for his role as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.”
“There are no second acts in American lives,” wrongly observed “The Great Gatsby” author F. Scott Fitzgerald. But Fitzgerald was an early blooming snob: He attended Princeton and was already a famous literary success in his mid 20s. But that was his peak.
By his 30s, Fitzgerald was spiraling downward.
He must have met all kinds of late bloomers and second acts who were on their way up. He died a bitter man at 44, the same age that Raymond Chandler began to write detective stories. Chandler was 51 in 1939, the year his first book, “The Big Sleep” was published.
…. Like me, most late bloomers will discover that they have greater opportunities to success on alternative paths, far from the madness and pressure of early achievement. Today’s obsessive drive for early achievement – and the taint of failure for those who do not attain it – has squandered our national talent and stunted our creativity.
All of us know someone, care about someone or love someone who seems stuck in life. The critical thing to remember is that we cannot give up on ourselves or others, even – and especially – if society has made it harder to catch up. …
… A healthy society needs all of its people to recognize that they can bloom and re-bloom, grow and succeed throughout their lives.
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