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Hope for the Late Bloomers

“What were you like in High School?” my niece once asked me abruptly. While I was trying to recollect a clear picture of myself through the fog of memories, my sister chimed in, “She would stare up at the ceiling, and daydream…” The truth of the matter is, that time of my life is such a blur that I don’t even remember what I was daydreaming about. But it did sound familiar, that feeling of floating amongst ambiguous clouds. Without a destination. Without the certainty of who I was meant to be. Just floating.

I’ve always envied people with one singular talent. So undeniable to everyone, including themselves, that they have no choice but to pursue it at an early stage. Their gift, whatever that may be, becomes who they are. Who they are becomes the gift. Like Mozart. Like Picasso.v

With many interests and a humble ability to be satisfactory in most, I felt pulled in too many directions, or according to most, distractions. I felt embarrassed by my lack of commitment when I was surrounded by so many driven peers, who appeared to know exactly where they wanted to go. And those self-assertive extroverts, swimming on the shores of arrogance, the ones who were loudly articulate about their genius and their source of motivation, were the ones who got noticed and rewarded by the market place.

This creates an incredible burden on the ones who feel the need to wonder and explore priorto personally connecting to an occupation. Under the pressure to conform to the definition of success, they sadly pick the road that is most traveled, convincing themselves that this is their choice. As Sir Ken Robinson warns his readers in his book The Element, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

Our culture is too cluttered to hear the people who march to the rhythm of their own drums. Our fast-paced world has no tolerance to wait for you to prove yourself what makes you happy. You need to know. You need to be in unity with the opinions of others. You need to march. Now. If you miss a beat, without anyone even labeling you as one, you automatically feel like a failure. When I look back, I see that this very fear was the reason I chose to study film in college. I convinced everyone, myself in particular, that this was what I was meant to do. With panic, I mistook my choice of escapism – film – as a calling.

Yet the fact is that some of us take a longer time to hear our true calling that usually comes to us in whispers. Even if we hear it through the noise of our egotistical world, some of us need the space to experiment and allow ourselves the time to learn, in order to truly understand and master it. Like the beautiful Louise Bourgeois who wasn’t celebrated until her seventies when she created the sculpture Maman. Or Mark Twain who wrote his first known piece,Tom Sawyer at age 41, followed by his most loved work Huckleberry Finn at age 49. One of my favorite directors Ang Lee was 38 when he made his first commercially successful film.

In his brilliant article Late Bloomers in the New Yorker, celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell writes:

“On the road to self achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”

Seeking amidst trials-and errors, without knowing exactly what we are looking for, blind faith in the face of time is the most challenging thing of all. This is why Gladwell continues to argue that “If you are the type of creative mind that starts without a plan, and has to experiment and learn by doing, you need someone to see you through the long and difficult time it takes for your art to reach its true level.”

OK. But what if you are not lucky enough to have someone to pull you out of the well of self-doubt? What becomes of you when you have no one to remind you that your instinct is your flashlight in the dark, and that following your dream makes you not a “loser” but a knight? Simple. You must be your own flashlight, your very own guardian!

Most of my adult life, I felt like I was always doing something wrong and that I never achieved anything, even if that may not be true. Conveniently blaming my parents and teachers, I screamed at the Gods with despair and fury for never giving me a figure of guidance to help me come into fruition. I craved the love and care of a protector to help me ripen when in fact, the protector I was looking for was within me all along.

Easily misinterpreted as a waste of time, I now realize that when I was staring up at the ceiling and daydreaming, I was actually fermenting. All the success from the rises and the lessons from the falls were necessary components of a long process to bring me where I am today… to the awareness and acceptance, that I am a late bloomer. If we don’t make peace with our own uniqueness, who else will on our behalf?

Susan Cain, the author of Quiet, which studies introverts in the world of extroverts, reassures us that, “Everyone shines given the right lighting. For some, it’s the broadway spotlight, for others, a lamplit desk.”

With the same sentiment, if you know a late bloomer, remember that your love and patience will provide the right lighting for them to shine. If you are a late bloomer, no matter how long and intricate, instead of comparing your route to others, make peace with your own journey. I promise that once you start enjoying the ride, the universe will rise to greet you.