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Late Bloomers Have The Advantage

June 16, 2019

Society is obsessed with youth. We're always hearing about some new young success story. Mark Zuckerberg. Lena Dunham. 40 Under 40, 30 Under 30, 20 Under 20. These lists put an insane amount of pressure on young people to succeed as soon as possible.

But what if the benefits of succeeding later in life outweigh early success?

This week I read a fascinating book on that topic: Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard. He says:

"Our culture's obsession with early achievement has become detrimental to the majority of the population, to the multitudes of us who develop in different ways and at different paces. It pushes the message that if you haven't become famous, reinvented an industry, or banked seven figures while you're still young enough to get carded, you've somehow made a wrong turn in life. This message, I believe, is far more dangerous than most people realize."

The difficulties of being young and successful are so well documented, they're cliche. Celebrities overdosing on drugs, entering rehab, dealing with nervous breakdowns, and so on, is a constant theme of the news cycle.

Growing as a person involves unavoidable pain, frustration, and difficulty. Achieving early success can often insulate us to life's challenges, stunting our emotional growth. Because of this, Karlgaard explains that there are tremendous benefits to making it through those difficult years not succeeding. He lays out six of them:

  • Curiosity — Without a clear "direction" in life at a young age, our curiosity is naturally developed. (Don Peppers, quoted in Inc. magazine, says, "Innovation cannot occur in any field without curiosity.")
  • Compassion — After struggling with feelings of not being enough or having achieved enough, we find it easier to understand another's plight.
  • Resilience — After "failing" for so long, we develop a certain amount of resilience and resolve.
  • Calm Leadership — Honing the ability to manage our emotions while in the grind (aka emotional regulation) helps us develop the ability to be calm and clear-headed in leadership positions later on.
  • Insight — We pay better attention to how the world works as we wait for our chance.
  • Wisdom — When we spend more time wondering where our place is in life, we spend more time in self-reflection. This is the genesis of wisdom.

I've worked with so many clients throughout the years who have a chronic fear of being an underachiever for their age. Have you also felt that undue pressure to succeed early on?

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