Success is never too late. Here’s some things you can do to keep reaching your potential as you grow
I recently came to juncture where everything in my life was changing — what I do, where I live, friendships, community, and more. At first, I felt lost. Very lost.
I am no stranger to change. I have moved cities nine times, pursued several careers, travelled the world, and reinvented myself again and again. But this time was different.
I found the ability to pivot to get harder with each decade. Landing jobs was once super easy whereas this time I faced countless “rejections” (more on why the quote marks later).
I always identified as a late bloomer. I didn’t lose my first tooth until age eight and my dentist got so impatient over my late development that he proactively pulled out six teeth before it was naturally time.
I was never going to be interviewed for a “40 under 40” article. While peers knew what they wanted to do from a young age, this clarity always escaped me. My life journey has been more like a meandering river than a distinct and compelling mountain.
In the messy middle of my transition, I came across the book Late Bloomers — The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement by Rich Karlgaard. It proved to be helpful on many levels.
I got to understand the neuroscience behind late success and some of the proven ways to help navigate life changes and success later in life. Here are several of the ideas I came across that I found very helpful.
1. Embrace your advantage
You have experience. Everything you’ve done to date, even if obscure or not directly related to what you hope to do in the future has not been wasted.
While the brain does deteriorate throughout adulthood, remember that the brain is not the mind. If the brain is the hardware, mind is the software. I wrote about this in an article titled “The 5 Brain Abilities You Need but Didn’t Develop as a Child.”
Some aspects of cognition slow down, but as people age, they compensate for slower cognition through connecting their rich experience with current knowledge. This is called wisdom.
Every decade brings more self-knowledge about our values, strengths, weaknesses. Age makes us less reactive and impulsive, and we develop greater cognitive capacities for goal setting, self-regulation, focus, discernment, pattern recognition, and making good decisions.
2. Know when to quit
As we grow, we develop greater resilience and persistence. Equally, we need to be courageous to not continue with paths that don’t serve us.
It is one thing to have self-knowledge and another to act on it. Start by honestly and compassionately acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses.
Success isn’t just about making good decisions about what to do. It is also about being clear about what we don’t want to do.
3. Have an identity goal
It isn’t enough to simply have a goal about what you want to do, you also need a goal of who you want to be.
Identity goals help connect our actions to our deeper values and sense of meaning. They make our goals more well-rounded and complete.
4. Honour your true nature
Success can take many different forms. Some people are quiet and introverted, while others are charismatic and aggressive.
Age gives us the opportunity to deny the molds created by society and peers. Honour your true nature and pursue paths that favour your strengths and happiness.
5. Create a bigger pot
We are working with the metaphor of a plant here. You are the plant and the circumstances of your life — city you live in, career, social network — are the pot.
In early adulthood, the pot for our success may have been more narrowly defined. At one time I defined myself at one time by the job or relationship I was in. I no longer need to do that and can hold a larger vision of myself.
Sometimes creating a bigger pot means consciously creating new social networks or even moving cities. It can also be a more subtle way of changing the story about how you define yourself.
To mix the metaphor, zoom out on your life and see it with a wider lens.
6. Reframe your story
Stories are the programs that run our minds, and I don’t mean this metaphorically. Narrative psychology has mapped the ways in which the stories we tell about ourselves shape our lives.
If you’re at a point in life where you feel lost or have regrets about where you are, a great place to start is reframing and retelling the story.
A mental frame — like a picture frame — is the structure we place around the images we hold. Create a positive and expansive frame for yourself that invites new possibilities.
Rejection isn’t rejection. It’s simply the closure of a path that wasn’t meant to be. Celebrate openings, not closings.
Whatever your story, write it in pencil rather than pen. And keep an eraser handy.
7. Set out to discover something
One of my favourite lines from the book was:
I accomplish the most not when I set out to prove something, but when I set out to discover something. — Rich Karlgaard
That may well mean something different to everyone, so I won’t superimpose my own interpretations. What — of meaning to you — could you set out to discover about yourself, life, or the world?
Curiosity builds mental agility, and the spirit of discovery has more freedom than the need to achieve and prove oneself.
We are all late bloomers
Here’s the ticket: while this article may have suggested there’s a neat divide between early achievers and late bloomers, it isn’t the case. We can all bloom and succeed.
These seven ideas offer a doorway to rethink the path to late-blooming success:
Embrace your advantage.
Know when to quit.
Have an identity goal.
Honour your true nature.
Create a bigger pot.
Reframe your story.
Set out to discover something.
Enjoy the journey. I’m cheering you on!