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“While today’s wunderkind culture favors early bloomers and seems to create needless barriers for late bloomers, in fact, we late bloomers have our own amazing strengths that lead to success and fulfillment. And these qualities — curiosity, compassion, resilience, equanimity, insight, and wisdom — are conferred only with time.”
— Rich Karlgaard, Late Bloomers: The Hidden Strengths of Learning and Succeeding at Your Own Pace (my affiliate link)
I’ve always been a late bloomer. It’s not my imagination or an exaggeration. I definitely progressed on a slower and more deliberate timeline than most others.
I was small for my age and didn’t physically mature until my 20s.
I didn’t have a serious relationship until I was 18 and out of high school.
I screwed up my first year of college, dropped out, came back, and graduated much later than my peers.
When I applied to graduate school at 25 years old, I was considered so “old” that my advisor recommended I address the issue head-on in my application letters.
I married later than my friends, and we had our first child later than them as well.
I was over 30 when I started my first solo business, and I was in my late 40s when I founded my first tech startup.
I didn’t start seriously working out and lifting weights until I was in my 40s.
It feels like I’ve only truly started feeling calm and confident now in my 50s.
Yeah, no one would ever describe me as an “early bloomer.” 🤣
Do you think of yourself as a late bloomer too? During your lifetime, have you ever felt like you were one step behind your peers in physical development, maturity, professional achievements, finding success, or those magical markers of adulthood (e.g., getting married, having children, buying a home)?
Unfortunately, many of us have experienced a great deal of stress and anxiety due to cultural pressure to hurry up, figure out our lives, and chase society’s definition of success. When you always feel like you’re trying to “catch up” with other people, it does a number on your self-esteem and self-confidence.
You feel like you’re behind your friends and peers.
You may feel like you’re never good enough.
You find yourself sprinting for some mythical “finish line” that was established by someone else (and actually may not be right for you anyway).
In your darkest moments, you feel like a failure as you watch your peers passing you by.
You become frustrated and discouraged when you watch your friends achieve success that you haven’t yet.
You wonder if you should just give up.
A Flawed Definition of Success
The idea that success has a schedule or an expiration date is deeply flawed. You aren’t a failure if you haven’t achieved society’s definition of success in your 20s or 30s.
We all develop on a different timeline.
Also, the supposed “race” we’re running is a one-person event. Yes, it’s great to be ambitious and push yourself. But, much of this peer-to-peer competition is disastrous for our emotional well-being.
The only comparison you should be making is to your past self:
Are you doing better than you were before?
Are you a better person than you were yesterday?
Are you still learning and growing?
Are you figuring out what you really want, what makes you happy, and what fulfillment means for you?
Our culture’s fascination with young early bloomers is so wrong because it is so fatalistic. It makes us think that — beyond a certain age — we are what we are and will never be something more.
We start to believe that things are set in stone as we grow older. You’re either a success by 30, or it’s now clear that you never will be a success.
If you haven’t achieved your dreams by now, just give up and settle for less. Head to the local bar after work and drink away your sorrows.
We don’t have to accept that fate. I’m in my 50s now, and I’m still changing all the time. If anything, I am even more aware of what makes me feel happy and fulfilled. So I’m continuously improving, adjusting my career, and changing my life.
I mean, what’s the alternative? To settle for being miserable?
Five Ways to Make Peace with It
If you’re a little bit older, you’ve probably watched a few “early achievers” stagnate or burn out. Despite our society’s fascination with it, early success is no guarantee of lasting success. There are plenty of examples of young superstars who flamed out and faded away.
It’s a cliché, but it is true; life is a marathon, not a sprint. However, that metaphor isn’t entirely applicable here either because there is no finish line.
How you feel while you’re running matters more. If you’re stressed, anxious, and miserable every day, what’s the point? What do you think you’re going to “win” at the end of this mythical race?
Where you're running — and where you're trying to go — matter too. What’s the point of sprinting to that mythical finish line if you hate where you’re running every day?
And, are you really on the right path to end up where you want to be anyway? I sure as hell wasn’t. But, I was so busy sprinting and chasing some meaningless dream of wealth that I hadn’t stopped to think about where the rat race was taking me.
I used to be so stressed about being a late bloomer. But, not anymore. I’ve finally hit my stride, and I’m enjoying the journey.
I stopped putting off enjoying life until some imaginary retirement date in the future. I focused on building a business and a life that I can enjoy now.
My health is better than ever. My self-confidence is stronger than ever. I know what I want (and don’t want), and I don’t give a damn about what other people think about my choices anymore.
If you're a late bloomer like me, it’s time for you to embrace it too. Here’s how you can start doing that now.
1. Realize that it’s never too late
Don’t ever feel like it’s too late to have what you want in life. Don’t give in to a feeling of hopelessness.
History shows us that talented people are capable of having amazing success for the rest of their lives. For example, this year, at age 70, Richard Branson became one of the first people to ride in his own spacecraft out of the Earth’s atmosphere and into space.
Grit and determination matter. I know people who are still pursuing their big dreams in their 70s and 80s. Don’t give up!
2. Stop the comparison contest
Stop comparing yourself to other people in all the wrong ways. I know you've heard this advice before. We all have. And, yet, we keep doing it.
Sometimes it is a conscious comparison (e.g., “My friend just took his company public and became a billionaire. What have I accomplished?”). Sometimes it is a subconscious comparison in the back of your mind as you mindlessly scroll Instagram and see your friends doing exciting things on an amazing vacation.
But, you’ll never be happy if you keep doing it. You also have no idea what is really going on in these people’s lives.
I know some folks that I thought had it all when I viewed their public posts. But, I discovered later that their personal lives were a disaster.
Use yourself as your progress indicator. Only compare yourself to your past self. Once you start doing that, the whole game changes for the better.
3. Keep dreaming big
Always be dreaming. I talked about this in my story, “Why dreaming big isn’t a waste of time.”
Dreaming gives you a clarity of purpose that will light up every opportunity that comes your way. It allows you to seize the moment instead of letting things slip by. And, it never has to stop.
I don’t know who decided to put an expiration date on dreams, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning and growing keep you young. Chasing new and exciting goals keeps you going!
4. Keep making plans
Always be planning. Dreams are inspiring, and they can help you recognize opportunities. But, they aren’t enough.
You will need a plan to put ideas into motion and take meaningful action. Plan and be ready.
And, I’m not talking about the plans you make for your job. Yeah, I’m sure you have to do a lot of that. But, you should be making plans for your personal life and goals that are independent of your work.
If you’re a late bloomer, you have a lifelong curiosity that serves you well. Use it to keep exploring and planning your next adventure.
5. Build those habits
Finally, discipline, persistence, and progress matter more than you would imagine. James Clear talks about this in his book, “Atomic Habits” (my affiliate link). Consistently making small changes and improvements in your life will accumulate amazing results over time.
I’ve always been a late bloomer, and that used to bother me so much. But, I’ve increasingly learned to appreciate it over my lifetime. I may be slower to find my path forward, but it feels better and better all the time.
It helps me avoid crazy fits and starts and massive failures. It feels like I’ve been slowly sculpting my life out of a block of marble, revealing more of what it is meant to be.
But, more than anything, I’ve focused on making my happiness, success, and fulfillment about me and what is right for me vs. comparing myself to others.
I finally learned that I don’t want what they have. I also don’t want to live the life they are forced to live to have what they have.
It’s never too late to commit to your own path of personal success and fulfillment! The alternative is unacceptable. You don’t have to play the same game that early bloomers play.
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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who want more accountability and support. If you’re not interested in starting your own business someday (or accelerating an existing one), that community probably isn’t for you.
Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take full control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.