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Late Bloomers: Can This Grandma Moses Become George McFly?


As I sat on my hotel room balcony overlooking the turquoise waters and flaky white sand of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach last week, I pondered what lies ahead.  That’s so me, to be in a beautiful place, literally and figuratively, thinking not about the bird in hand, or in this case the black one popping along the balcony rail right in front of me, but about the potential ones in the bush.  Clearly, I still have some work to do to learn to be ‘present’ in the moment.

Nonetheless, there I was, contemplating my next move in life.  The last time I traveled to Grand Cayman, to that very same beach, I was a junior in college and had just abandoned the journalism program at SMU in Dallas to pursue a BS in Advertising (imagine one of those smiley face emoticons with the tongue sticking out here) at The University of Texas in Austin because I had heard that journalists don’t make any money.  As I said in my Falling Down the Wrabbit Hole post, I regret not staying the course.

Those thoughts led me to wonder if there’s still time for me to realize my original dream of becoming a writer.  I envy George McFly, the character in Back to the Future who fulfilled his dream of becoming a published sci fi author.  The scene in the movie in which Biff, the former bully, scurries to George’s front door to deliver a box full of George’s latest novel left an indelible imprint in my mind.  I want that.  Can I still have that?

Am I a late bloomer?  Could I be the Grandma Moses of writing?

Grandma Moses began painting at 78 and by the time she died at 101 she had created 1,600 works of art.  With that in mind, from my perch on the balcony, I Googled ‘late bloomer’ to see what other company I would be keeping.

I found a very interesting article, Late Bloomers – Late in Life Success, on the site Funders and Founders. In it, Information Designer and Infographic Author Anna Vital says that late bloomers are people who achieved proficiency in some skill later than they are normally expected to. The key word is “expected.” The article is worth a read and contains some very cool infographics depicting the ages at which notably successful people began and ultimately succeeded in their careers. To wit…

  • Joseph Conrad, English Writer – until 20 Joseph spoke no English at all
  • Paul Cezanne, Painter – until 20 never painted
  • Rocky Marciano, Undefeated boxer – until 20 never boxed
  • J.K. Rowling, Writer – until 23 taught school
  • Sylvester Stallone, Actor – until 24 only had adult film roles
  • Vincent Van Gogh, Painter – until 27 did not paint, only drew
  • Alan Rickman, Actor – until 28 had no film roles
  • Reid Hoffman, Startup Entrepreneur- until 30 never started companies
  • Julia Child, The French Chef – until 30 knew no French cuisine
  • Martha Stewart, Home Decorator – until 35 did no home decorating
  • Dave McClure, Angel Investor – until 40 did no investing
  • Momofuku Ando, Instant noodle inventor – until 48 sold salt, was in jail
  • Grandma Moses, Painter – until 78 never painted
  • Fauja Singh, Marathon Runner – until 89 thought marathons were 26 kilometres

Vital hypothesizes reasons why these achievers’ success was delayed, among them parents (Paul Cezanne’s dad envisioned Paul a banker), geography (English author Joseph Conrad was simply born in a non-English speaking country), and finances, or lack of them. The one that caused me to pause was non-dream jobs. Some people, Vital writes, “were simply in the wrong, but good, job for too long.”

A meditation on late bloomers would be incomplete without mention of probably the most significant piece written in modern time on the subject of late bloomers, an article aptly entitled Late Bloomers written by Malcolm Gladwell in 2008 for The New Yorker. Gladwell examines the idea that great people fall into two categories, prodigies (Picasso) and late bloomers (Cezanne). He writes, “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.”

In 14 Late Bloomers Show Us Why The Wait Is Worth It, Gabriel Bell says the message for late bloomers is, “All that time you’re spending not being an amazing success may very well be practice for becoming a shining star later on. While prodigies are rising and flaming out, you’re honing your craft, seriously considering your path, experimenting with different outcomes, and working out what will make you successful.”

As I shifted my sights from my ‘old dog new tricks’ pondering to a second rum punch, I began to form my own hypothesis on late blooming, at least from a memoirist’s perspective. I, in my twenties, didn’t have the insights necessary to craft a truly reflective piece. Those transformative experiences simply had not yet occurred. To Vital’s reasons why some achievers’ success was delayed, I would add lack of life experience.

7 thoughts on “Late Bloomers: Can This Grandma Moses Become George McFly?

  1. Never too late Karen. After a failed attempt in college, at 21, working in construction, I realized my peers were about to graduate and I was heading south. I joined the Navy to change my life and to avoid any embarrassment. At our 29th reunion, every person I ran into seemed to have a masters or PhD and though I was doing great in the military, It still bothered me. I loved my time in the Navy and I’m very proud I deployed seven times and made it my life. But when I retired, I decide to beat that college “demon” that had haunted and shamed me for over 20 years. At 48 I finished two undergrad degrees and at 51, I finished my masters. I hold my head just a tiny bit higher today and have put that reunion “shame game” to rest. You can do anything you want to, until any age, as long as you have the right motivator and the desire. Pope.

    Liked by 1 person

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