‘Believing that one must achieve everything on the first try is a mistake’: The art of being a late bloomer

Escaping the culture of immediacy and scoring a victory at your own pace and on your own terms, no matter at what point in life, is possible and more normal than you think

Meryl Streep and Martin Short in a scene from the first episode of season three of ‘Only Murders in the Building.'
Meryl Streep and Martin Short in a scene from the first episode of season three of ‘Only Murders in the Building.' Patrick Harbron ( HULU)

“The people who figure their shit out right away are boring. The late bloomers? People like us? We make the world go round. You can afford to take your time, Mabel. What you can’t afford is to waste it.” These are the words of wisdom that Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd) has for Mabel (Selena Gomez) in an episode of Only Murders in the Building. If the first season was already an ode to late bloomers, the third — currently on release — is a heartfelt tribute to those who waited until maturity to achieve their goals; something that we are witnessing in many areas of today’s pop culture, as proven by the reappearance and the acclaim garnered by actresses from Jennifer Coolidge to Michelle Yeoh at a mature stage of their careers.

Raquel López, author of Guía de gestión emocional (Emotional management guide), believes that the very concept of late blooming is “revolutionary,” as well as contradictory. “It is a revolution that people don’t settle for following what is expected at their age and allow themselves to experiment, fail and also find themselves, or their calling, at a later age than socially expected — and above all, that they are not afraid to go for it and look for a chance to make it. On the other hand, I can’t help but think that this is normal. The mistake is believing that one must achieve everything on the first try; be 18, know what you want to do for the rest of your life and succeed right away. I see a lot of people in consultation who are supposed to have made it, to have their dream job and success, and yet they are not happy. Still, they have gotten so deep into that life that they don’t know how to get out of it, or even take a look outside.” Point for the late bloomers!

There is no rush

In his 2019 book Late Bloomers: The Hidden Strengths of Learning and Succeeding at Your Own Pace, author Rich Karlgaard states that there is a scientific explanation for why some people flourish later in life. The executive function of the brain does not mature until age 25; later in some cases. In fact, certain abilities reach their peak at different ages, which allows for different periods of personal splendor.

Globos de Oro 2023
Jennifer Coolidge during her acceptance speech for the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries, for ‘The White Lotus.’ NBC (AP)

When Jennifer Aniston accepted an award from The Hollywood Reporter magazine in 2021, she said: “[A] numerologist did her mysterious arithmetic on me. She said that, apparently, my numbers very clearly indicated that I am a late bloomer. And I said, ‘Late bloomer? Really? Are you sure? I mean, I feel like I’ve partially bloomed... a little bit?’ I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t have a TV,” the actress joked. “At first I was a little taken aback by this label, as if I was an underachiever who hadn’t reached her full potential. But as I sat with the idea of ‘late bloomer,’ it started to grow on me. Maybe I haven’t done my best work yet as an artist, or as a human being.” It was then that Aniston turned her career around.

The risks of having overly ambitious goals

“We live in the times of meritocracy,” says Raquel López. “We have been sold the idea that if you try hard and pursue your dreams they will come true, but in reality that only happens to a tiny percentage of people. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner in economics, talks about how 90% of people who are born poor die poor, regardless of their efforts, and 90% of those who are born rich die rich, even if they don’t deserve it. That’s why it’s important to check your expectations and make sure you’re flexible with them. Maybe your dream was to be a professional, famous singer, make a living from it, and you haven’t been able to achieve it. But that’s not the only way to be happy.”

It is not easy to boast about being a late bloomer in a culture that rewards immediacy and impatience and favors supposed child prodigies, although, according to Karlgaard (who, before creating a technology magazine in Silicon Valley and being a journalist at Forbes, worked as a dishwasher and a night guard), late bloomers have their own strengths, which lead to success and personal satisfaction. Those qualities — curiosity, compassion, resilience, equanimity, insight and wisdom — can only be obtained over time, he writes.

Michelle Yeoh, armed and in no hurry, in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997), 25 years before her Oscar-winning performance in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (2022).
Michelle Yeoh, armed and in no hurry, in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997), 25 years before her Oscar-winning performance in ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (2022).Keith Hamshere (Getty Images)

That elusive patience

Elizabeth Clapés, author of Hasta que te caigas bien (Until you like yourself), is concerned about the self-indulgence of immediate, effortless entertainment: “These days you don’t even need to read books; you can listen to them. More and more devices are invented to make our lives easier and finish certain tasks faster. There is a shortage of patience; we’ll see what consequences it brings. I think it is essential that we learn to stop.” Raquel López emphasizes how “demotivating” it can be that, as the years go by, society seems to offer people fewer opportunities due to their age, or that those who continue to try to achieve their goals are considered crazy or naive. “If your goal is clear, moderately acceptable and consistent with yourself, patience will keep you on the path,” she states.

Although the message that everything will eventually come and that effort and patience will make your dreams come true amounts to little more than a motivational poster slogan, Clapés insists that one should not feel overwhelmed after a certain age, despite not being where one expected to be. “There are no magic formulas, but sharing this feeling of failure with other people can help us realize that we all have set goals that we have never achieved; that it’s part of life and it’s okay. Not everything depends on you, regardless of all the motivational slogans that insist that if you can dream it you can do it. It’s not only about the desire.”

We end on a high note with the words of Oliver, another character from Only Murders in the Building, played by Martin Short: “The most important part of chasing a dream is the people who chase alongside with you. Those who look beyond the doubters and choose to believe your dream will happen... all in good time.” Or not, we might add. And that’s okay, too.

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