Here are a couple of facts to mull over. Research shows that our ability to evaluate complex patterns, like reading people’s behavior, doesn’t peak until our 40s or 50s. The median age of employees at Facebook is 28. At Google, it's 29.
Are employers missing a trick?
Rich Karlgaard certainly thinks so. He’s the publisher of Forbes magazine and the author of five books. His latest book, “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement,” challenges the ingrained association between youth and success.
Losing the Late Bloomers
Rich Karlgaard is a self-proclaimed late bloomer. He found his true path later than many of his peers at Stanford University, which he claims to have got into “by fluke.” So this topic is personal, but he says it matters to all of us.
“The school system today, and employers today, are measuring people on such a narrow range of capabilities that it is excluding the vast majority of us whose gifts and passions lie elsewhere and are not seen at an early age,” he says, in our Expert Interview podcast.
“What we see at an early age is how well kids do on test scores, how well they do on their grades, how well they do in sports and other extracurricular activities," Karlgaard continues. "And because we can measure those early achievement metrics, we tend to overvalue them. So the people who blossom later, in unconventional ways, are not seen.”
In short, “we overvalue early achievement so much that we’re wildly undervaluing the capabilities of most human beings.”
Can Everyone Bloom?
Now, if you’re of a certain age, with a middle-of-the-road track record, this may not resonate with you. Perhaps you never expected to “bloom” at all, early or late. Maybe you never wanted to.
But Rich Karlgaard isn’t having any of that.
“I think that everybody has the capacity to bloom,” he insists, offering his own definition of blooming as the “intersection of your deepest passions.”
As well as intensive research, his book marshals interviews with neuroscientists, psychologists, and a variety of achievers at different stages in their careers, to convince readers that it’s never too late to do well. And there are tips to motivate mature workers to step up and take center stage, too.
Your Secret Weapon
Karlgaard recognizes that self-doubt is prevalent in late bloomers – they are more likely to feel they have failed or stalled in their careers. But Karlgaard advises us to treat self-doubt as a “secret weapon for blooming.”
How? Start by recognizing the difference between self-doubt and self-worth.
“Look at self-doubt as information,” he says. “Think, ‘Why am I feeling this doubt? Well, maybe I’m not quite on the right path. Maybe I need to prepare a little more. Maybe I need to look at this problem from a different perspective.’
"Then you say, ‘OK, what did I learn from this bout of self-doubt? What is it telling me exactly?’ If you can learn to do that, then self-doubt goes from being this trigger of depression and anxiety to a tool.”
He shares a simple trick to help us achieve this distance from self-doubt: when you’re mulling over a difficult situation, refer to yourself in the third person. “Why is Rachel feeling anxiety about this?” rather than, “Why am I feeling anxiety about this?”
“You wouldn’t heap scorn and pressure on your friends if they felt self-doubt,” Karlgaard points out. “You would coach them through a situation."
"It’s natural that we treat our friends and our family and our colleagues in a way that’s better than we treat ourselves, because we make the mistake of letting self-doubt creep into our self-worth, and then we’re shattered. So how you refer to yourself is seemingly a kind of little surface trick, but the research says it’s a very powerful tool.”
Listen to the full 30-minute interview with Rich Karlgaard in the Mind Tools Club.
Do you have any tips or tricks to help late bloomers fulfill their potential? Join the discussion below!