It’s Never Too Late to Find Your Calling

Rich Karlgaard is an American journalist, bestselling author, award-winning entrepreneur, and speaker. He was named publisher of Forbes magazine in 1998.

His newest book, “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement”, explores what it means to be a late bloomer in a culture obsessed with SAT scores and early success, and how finding one’s way later in life can be an advantage to long-term achievement and happiness.

Karlgaard wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal based on Late Bloomers that makes me want to read the book.

He offers many examples of late bloomers:

  • Diane Greene, who spent her 20s and early 30s organizing windsurfing races and working for Coleman, the camping equipment company. At 33, she earned a master’s degree in computer science. In 1998, at age 43—late by Silicon Valley’s youth-centric standards—Ms. Greene co-founded the software company VMware and then led it for a decade. In 2015, Google acquired another company she started and, at age 60, put her in charge of one of its most important businesses, Google Cloud.
  • Ken Fisher flunked out of a junior college but later went back to school to study forestry, hoping for a career outdoors, but switched to economics and got his degree in 1972. In his early 20s, he hung out his shingle as a financial adviser, following his father’s career. To bring in extra money, he took construction jobs, and he played slide guitar in a bar. But he also read and read: “Books about management and business—and maybe thirty trade magazines a month for years,” he says. By the time he reached his 30s, an idea had gelled that would make him his fortune. As he puts it, during that period of reflection, “I developed a theory about valuing companies that was a bit unconventional.” Today he runs Fisher Investments, a stock fund with $100 billion under management and 50,000 customers.
  • Tom Brady, the winner of six Super Bowls, wasn’t on the radar of most college recruiters. Though he made the team at highly rated Michigan, he had to compete to become the starting quarterback in both his junior and senior years. He was only the 199th player selected in the NFL draft in 2000. A year later, when the Patriots’ starting quarterback was sidelined by injury, Mr. Brady, by then 24, finally got his big chance—and emerged over the course of that season as the spectacular success that he’s been ever since.
  • Scott Kelly, who has spent more than five hundred days in space, the most of any American, said he was so bored in high school that “I finished in the half of the class that made the top half possible.”
  • Billionaire Diane Hendricks, daughter of dairy farmers, sold houses in Wisconsin, married, divorced, then 10 years later met her next husband, Ken, a roofer. The two maxed out their credit cards to start ABC Supply, a source for windows, gutters, and roofing material. Today Ms. Hendricks presides over a company worth $5 billion.
  • International star Andrea Bocelli began singing opera when he was 34.
  • Martha Stewart was 35 when she started her catering business in a friend’s basement, and 42 when her first book of recipes was published.
  • Toni Morrison published her first novel, “The Bluest Eye,” at 39 and won a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved” at 56 and the Nobel Prize in Literature five years later. J
  • .K. Rowling was a divorced mother on public assistance before she created Harry Potter at age 35.
  • Tom Siebel founded his first big tech company, Siebel Systems, at 41, and his second, C3, at 57.
  • Famous movie villain Alan Rickman owned a graphic design studio for years before he got his first taste of fame at 42 for his role as Hans Gruber in “Die Hard.”
  • Raymond Chandler, one of America’s most influential mystery writers, didn’t begin to write detective stories when he was 44. He was 51 in 1939, the year his first book, “The Big Sleep,” was published.

Karlgaard notes that while we are obsessed with early achievement, such achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement.

One of my favorite points that he makes is that early blooming is not a requirement for lifelong accomplishment and fulfillment.

Karlgaard asks: How many of us were overlooked in our school years, or dismissed early in our careers, or are dismissed even now? What gifts and passions might we possess that haven’t yet been discovered but that could give us wings to fly?

He concludes:

All of us know someone, care about someone or love someone who seems stuck in life. The critical thing to remember is that we cannot give up on ourselves or others, even—and especially—if society has made it harder to catch up. Human life spans are lengthening. Most people recently born will live into the 22nd century. The vast majority of us will be better served not by high SAT scores or STEM degrees but by discovering and embracing our true talents. A healthy society needs all of its people to recognize that they can bloom and re-bloom, grow and succeed throughout their lives.

His words certainly hit home for me, as I often wonder what my true talent(s) are, and even if I did find out, if it would be too late to do anything about it. But his research seems to suggest that it’s never too late. I’m not sure if his book offers advice on how late bloomers can find their true talents, but even if it does not, it seems like it would certainly provide the motivation on wanting to do so.

*image of late blooming flowers from stuff