Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 10, 2019
My father’s opinion of the likelihood of my achieving early success (and in fact any success) caused him to comfort his son with the words, “You’ll be a late bloomer.” It was a kind way of lowering his expectations of me to the level of a Walmart greeter.
Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard has some thoughts that make it very clear that the popular hyped millennial mantra of “having to make it before you are 30, otherwise, you might as well commit hari-kiri” is actually total nonsense, as argued in his new book, “The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement.” Karlgaard says that although he went to Stanford, (“I barely got through”), after graduation he was both confronted and challenged by the amazing apparent trajectories that his classmates were embarking on. “I remember a low moment, here I am a 25-year-old Stanford grad and the best job I could get after college was as a security guard at a trucking company.”
Readers — pause and reflect. Then admit that all of us have had the demon of envying our peers who seem to be ahead of us in the race (where and why we are racing is for another column). Karlgaard says he was walking the perimeter with a flashlight, while “his professional colleague” in the yard next door was nothing more than a Rottweiler. Three months later, Steve Jobs would take Apple public.
I want to ask Karlgaard what his parents said to him at that time. Did they tell him that they loved him regardless and to hang in and that blooming was right around the corner? Or did they see themselves (and their son) as the failures? This is hard stuff. Some of us are early rock stars, but most of us have “gifts that go undiscovered” until later — or if ever. Karlgaard talks about the “early achievement conveyor belt” and the potential anxiety, depression and even suicide that occur if you are not on that path. I am confessing now and forever that I have seen those demons up close and personal.
The twin paths of computer science and Wall Street finance are the quickest route to early recognition. Those skills develop earlier than what Karlgaard calls “fully functioning mature adults,” who more deeply express the traits of curiosity, resilience and equanimity. Companies say they want those core values but the problem is that they don’t always hire for them in the beginning. It turns out that those seemingly clear early performance markers — GPA and SAT scores — become increasingly irrelevant over time.
Karlgaard supports his premise by turning to the real science of how and when the brain develops. The high frequency hedge fund trader brain peaks in the 20s and 30s; deeper pattern recognition, empathy and compassion peak during the 40s and 50s; and finally as we age, we finally head toward “exhibiting wisdom.” Karlgaard says that late bloomers tend to find their own path, which in turn leads them to the place where this late blooming occurs. He calls it the intersection of talent, passion, grit, density and finally mission. Wow.
The question is a simple one, but not easily answered. How do we find a way to allow our children the time to find their bloom? He argues for encouraging a gap year after high school graduation — time to wander, to stray from the path, to leave the conveyor belt, to get lost and then finally to discover your way. He even touches the third rail of mandatory military or civil service (Israel, Switzerland and Singapore). He argues that “not everyone should go to a four-year college,” and he supports “shop class.” My favorite memory from high school was building a model wooden sailboat (which I still have).
Finally, his book turns to parenting, the eternal dilemma, but the emerging neurological and cognitive science point solidly to the fact that “we have multiple decades in which to come into our own.” The glib mantra of “quitters never win, winners never quit” is complete madness. We all know that letting go and walking away can be transformative. We all can be reinvented and embrace the pivot. There are always second chances, but they only appear and bloom when they are good and ready.
Rule No. 613
Can I interest you in a watering can?