In the book, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement, author and journalist for esteemed Forbes magazine Rich Karlgaard offers science-backed reasons and personal insight into why society should encourage blooming at our own pace.
Table of contents
The mental toll of pressure for early achievement
Karlgaard talks about the rise of something called the wunderkind, which translates to “wonder child.” These people reach the pinnacle of their field or industry faster than most people, usually because of some special talent or gift. Their stories and massive achievements are a popularized ideal, gaining media attention and sparking lists that spotlight early achievers.
With that kind of attention and rise of the wunderkind ideal, it sets a standard of early achievement many feel pressured to live up to. Parents want their children to create the next Uber, Facebook, Google, or some groundbreaking product. But that pressure to be gifted is impacting young people in an alarming way. The author shares some sobering statistics about environments prioritizing early high achievement have on students’ mental health. In 2014, a survey from the World Health Organization revealed depression had become the number one cause of illness among that age group.
Jean M. Twenge, who wrote over 140 scientific papers and books on teenagers, shares a theory for the rise of anxiety and suicide: research connects their mental health decline with the shift from intrinsic goals to extrinsic goals. That means, instead of focusing on their personal development as an individual, they feel pressured to achieve external markers of success like good grades and getting into the best schools. Their sense of achievement is closely linked to material things, the desire for social acceptance, and creating an impressive reputation.
The young brain is still developing
The author shares interesting and valuable science for any parent who wants their kids to achieve success early on in their lives. Emerging neuroscience research shows that most people between 18 and 25 aren’t fully developed. They’re in what’s called post-adolescence. The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for things like planning, organizing, and problem-solving, is the last part to fully mature. That means they literally don’t have the cognitive processes or functions they need to have what’s considered a fully-functioning adult brain.
With that knowledge, the author believes that’s why it doesn’t make sense to push anyone toward early success or expect them to be exceptional when their brains aren’t operating at full capacity. Instead, parents should have patience, and teach children they can bloom at any age without pressuring them to be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Taking the time they need to discover their talents and interests is key for their long-term happiness and success.
How to navigate emerging adulthood
The author talked to Jeffrey Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark University who thinks there should be a new life stage between adolescence and young adulthood. He refers to that period as emerging adulthood, and it occurs between 18 and 30 years of age. It’s a concept fueled by cultural changes, like fewer entry-level jobs, the need for more education, and young people feeling less rushed to get married.
Arnett believes prolonging that period of emerging adulthood has many benefits for our brains. One example is taking a year or two off before, during, or after college can help maintain plasticity, which is your brain’s ability to rewire itself and form new connections. It also boosts independent thinking, acquisition of new skills, and promotes a sense of motivation and drive.
Essentially, it’s a time that allows for more exploration and discovery before being launched into adulthood, so young people will be more mentally equipped to handle the challenges and responsibilities they’ll face.
How late bloomers can reach their full potential
Karlgaard actually talks about separating ourselves from cultural influences that end up shaping our path. He uses the story of Erik Wahl, who was taught to get perfect grades, go to a great school, and get a high-paying job. He accomplished those things but ended up losing his job during the 2008 economic crash.
What happened next was surprising. While Wahl lost everything he’d worked for, he ended up discovering something his cultural influence didn’t make room for. He started painting because he’d always admired artists’ perspectives and carefree thinking. He continued to improve and eventually was paid more money as a performance artist than he ever was as a businessman.
Expectations and influence from culture and society can lead us down paths that aren’t right for us. That’s why the author stresses it’s important to evaluate if the path you’re on is one you chose or one that was influenced by pressure to conform and do what was considered the right thing.
Late bloomers shouldn’t be afraid to reinvent themselves. It’s often necessary to switch up their environments and leave behind communities that try to box them in to start creating a new identity built on their own terms. The author uses Kimberly Harrington as an example, who uprooted from Los Angeles to rural Vermont and wrote her first book at 50. A big move isn’t always the answer, but creating connections with new people or getting a new job can be enough to help someone start to forge their path and reach their full potential.
It’s ok to be a late bloomer. Early achievement isn’t the determining factor of someone’s long-term chances of success or failure in their lives or career. So, we should all feel empowered to keep reinventing ourselves, encouraging children to move at their pace, and be patient with our personal experience of blooming.