There has long been fanfare and hype around young dynamos: Mark Zuckerberg, Marsai Martin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After all, there is something truly impressive to see CEOs, executive producers and politicians dominating in their fields without year’s of experience — and accompanying wrinkles. However, those who have found early success aren’t the only ones making waves and in high demand.
Research has shown that finding one’s way later in life can bring achievement and long-term success. Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard and author of Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement blends interviews with neuroscientists, personal anecdotes and scientific research to prove that blooming later in life allows us to reach our full potential.
“Late bloomers have their own unique gifts, most of which will reveal themselves with patience and encouragement,” says Karlgaard. “Recent neuroscience studies strongly support the idea our cognitive abilities change over time, mostly for the better. We give up a little bit of speed and fluid intelligence, but we gain crystallized intelligence, executive functioning, communication skills and host of other qualities.”
Karlgaard, who had a mediocre academic career at Stanford (which he got into by a fluke), and after graduating, worked as a dishwasher, night watchman, and typing temp before finally finding the inner motivation and drive that ultimately led him to start up a high-tech magazine in Silicon Valley, and eventually to become the publisher of Forbes magazine. Glassdoor caught up with Karlgaard to dig deeper into the benefits of being a late bloomer. Here’s what he had to say.
Glassdoor: What inspired you to write “Late Bloomers”?
Rich Karlgaard: Three things.
One, I’m a late bloomer myself. After college graduation, my roommates went off to grad school with grand plans—law, chemical engineering, divinity. I went off to become a security guard, dishwasher, and temporary typist. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I began to make strides towards my current career trajectory. After a plodding and humiliating start, I made rapid progress. But only after discovering my gifts and passions.
Two, I believe it is much harder to be a late bloomer today. We live in a world of early achievement celebration and the intense pressures that go with it – straight As, high test scores, admission into elite colleges. This pressure to achieve works for some, but most kids, teens and young adults are suffering for it. Rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among young people is an alarming symptom. The $1.5 trillion college debt overhang is another symptom. The recent college bribery story is an extreme symptom.
Three, late bloomers are undervalued, by teachers, schools, employers – even unwittingly by parents, siblings and friends. Late bloomers have their own unique gifts, most of which will reveal themselves with patience and encouragement.
Glassdoor: Who are “Late Bloomers”? How would you describe them and their value to a room full of head hunters or recruiters?
Rich 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 key word here is expected. And they fulfill their potential frequently in novel and unexpected ways, surprising even those closest to them. They are not attempting to satisfy, with gritted teeth, the expectations of their parents or society, a false path that leads to burnout and brittleness, or even to depression and illness. As Oprah Winfrey says, “Everyone has a supreme destiny.” Late bloomers are those who find their supreme destiny on their own schedule, in their own way.
Glassdoor: Why should employers and recruiters care?
Rich Karlgaard: Late bloomers have their own unique strengths: curiosity, compassion, resilience, useful creative insight (as opposed to raw or random creativity), calmness under pressure, and wisdom. These are the very attributes CEOs say they want in their employees.
In the 2017 edition of its annual “100 Best Companies to Work For” list, Fortune asked several CEOs what employee attributes they want most. Bill Anderson of biotech leader Genentech led with “curiosity, a passion for the field, and a desire and drive to accomplish something great.” Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit at the time, said: “People who live our company values, who treat failures as learning opportunities, and who lead with their emotional quotient and their curiosity quotient, rather than their intelligence quotient.”
Glassdoor: How can finding one’s way later in life be an asset instead of a liability in today’s work world?
Rich Karlgaard: I love early achievers and celebrate them. The world has been enriched by them, whether Mozart or Mark Zuckerberg. The problem arises when we pressure kids, teens and young adults to be early achievers when their brains are wired differently and their passions are yet to be discovered.
Finding one’s way later in life has an authenticity that many early achievers have lost. And by lost, I’m not referring to Mozart or Mark Zuckerberg, but all those people who are heading off to the “right” college or “right” career because they were pressured by educators, parents and society. These “forced early achievers” often burn out. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck told me the freshman she sees today are “exhausted and brittle. They don’t want to mar their perfect records.”
Late bloomers are those who discover their destiny – that wonderful intersection of talents and deep passions – and, hence, feel pulled, rather than pushed. When you feel pulled, you’ll work very hard, but you won’t burn out. The London science magazine, The Cube, calls curiosity a “dopamine hit” a drug that makes you feel good.
Glassdoor: In your research, what did you uncover about the time of our lives when we reach full potential?
Rich Karlgaard: We can only reach our full potential if we’re on a path of discovery that leads, ultimately, to an intersection where our deepest talents and passions meet. The good news: This can happen more than once in our lifetimes, because our talents evolve over time, and our passions change. I discovered that I could do good interviews with the likes of Bill Gates in my mid-30s. I discovered that I could do onstage interviews and give speeches with confidence – me, a frightened speaker in high school – when I was in my forties.
Glassdoor: Lastly, what myths would you like to dispel about “Late Bloomers?
Rich Karlgaard: One myth is that late bloomers are just not as smart as early bloomers, that they are plodders. Fact is, late bloomers are very smart, but not necessarily in ways that are seen from society’s early achievement conveyor belt, which tends to see only SAT scores, grades and elite college admissions as proof of smart. Another myth is that late bloomers just need to work harder and apply more grit to their tasks. Well, maybe. But it’s more likely the late bloomer needs to embark and a path of discovery and find that intersection of talent and passion. Then hard work won’t seem hard anymore. And grit will be supplied as needed.