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Late Blooming - It Might Not Be What You Think

I confess – I’m a closet researcher.  When I’m not painting I’m digging into what other people have to say about creativity – what it is, how it manifests.  In art, the classic Young Genius/Late Bloomer example comes up frequently: Picasso as a child prodigy, and Cezanne, painting for years before he achieved high acclaim.  The analogy supports the idea that our star either rises brilliantly and then slowly declines, or it builds steadily over years of experimentation until finally bursting forth as the Late Bloomer.

On the one hand, I like the reassurance that there are Late Bloomers, but I have trouble with the part about Late Bloomers needing to work all those years before they find success.  What if you start late?  Is it still going to mean years of frustration before the light bulb goes on?

A recent article in Psychology Today points out that the standard definition of Late Blooming is not by itself sufficient.

Here are the takeaways from the full text:

  • The last century added 30 years of opportunity to our lives, often called the second middle age.  This extra time opens doors like never before.
  • Complex gene traits - like creativity - develop in the human brain at a different rate than, say, the motor skills of an athlete, and are often years in the making.  Researchers call it the “10-year rule”, or the 10,000 hours required for mastery – but what the article points out is that “the rule is an average with variation, not a fixed threshold…what may take the average person 15 years to master may take later bloomers only five once their genes sync up: even though they started later, progress can be rapid and make up for lost time.”
  • The reason for this has to do with all those years of neuronal ripening in the older brain.  Information moves through our brains with the help of a fatty coating called the myelin sheath.  Research suggests that the older we get the thicker these fatty sheaths become, “transforming the brain into a high-speed, wide-bandwidth internet-like system.”
  • While myelin speeds access to information, it is the knowledge gained by years of experience that matters.  Experience also comes into play in areas of self-discipline, and the perseverance needed to achieve goals that are a long time coming.
  • Key elements in creative success include finding purpose, a moment of revelation that “this is what I have to do,” and passion, “the thing that won’t let you sleep at night.”
  • Self-teaching is perhaps the most over-looked component, the element of the outsider, one who feeds his passion with his own ideas “uninfluenced by the established order.”
  • Running into roadblocks at any age is not necessarily a negative where creativity is concerned.

It may feel like we’ve missed the boat because life events kept us focused on other things until mid-life, but in fact we’ve been gaining all the experience, brain function, development and insight necessary to make up for the lost time.  It is never too late.

If you would like to read the full Psychology Today article by Scott Barry Kaufman, titled Confessions of a Late Bloomer, you can read the entire text here.