In those years when one decides one’s identity – tall/short, funny/serious, book smart/street smart, etc. – I decided I was precocious.
The evidence was there to support it. I breezed through school, never expending much effort because learning came easily to me. I read books far ahead of my peers, both in difficulty but also in subject matter. Ditto movies. I left my house at 18 and began to support myself when most of my friends were deciding which kegger to attend. I started my first business at 25. I was always the youngest person at work, with my husband and his friends, and in just about every situation.
But here’s the thing about being the young one: it has a shelf life. Like a fashion model who finds herself pushed back by crop after crop of younger models, banking on being precocious is bound to break your heart at some point.
It didn’t much occur to me until I entered the publishing industry. Until then I’d done everything early or “on schedule.” But when I published my first novel in my 40s and joined communities of working writers, I realized that wasn’t the usual path. While I had been knocking around blindly trying to find the back door into a writing career, others had blazed in with a purposeful stride, going from college creative writing major to all the right networking events to agent to published author all before the age when I had my first child. While I trembled at the idea of trying to do something as improbable as trying to make it by writing books, they’d joined MFA programs and made writing-hopeful friends by the dozens. So by the time I finally found my way in with my fairy-tale publishing story, I was late to the party.
And it hurt. I had never been the last one to figure out anything.
Of course, I know all the grown-up ways to look at the situation. Everyone’s path is different. Don’t measure your success by others‘. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to remake my 20s and 30s – I was doing valuable things like raising babies and creating a good life for myself – but that I worried what starting later would mean for my career. If I was 20 years “behind,” would I ever get to where I wanted to be?
That’s why I found it so soothing when I discovered this lovely piece in The New Yorker about “late bloomers” in creative fields. In it, the author talks about the fundamental differences between the prodigy and the late bloomer: “On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure.” It turns out that when you start isn’t an indicator of how far you’ll go. It may only be an indicator of how you get there.
Click here for the whole piece. Worth a read if you’ve ever thought it’s too late in life to take up a new endeavor or go for an old dream.
As for me, I’m just happy that I’ve finally bloomed the way I always wanted to.