I recently came across this interesting and thought provoking article titled “The Art of Blooming Late” which appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review. Nassim Nicolas Taleb once dismissed HBR and similar publications as “Soft porn for intellectuals”! He is usually dismissive of such publications and “research materials” which use circular citation and create a buzz about trivial things. He calls them IYI – Intellectuals Yet Idiots. I tend to agree with Taleb. However, I found theme of this particular article interesting and relevant for a blog I wanted to write for some time.
Actually the article’s tag line is “The upside of being a late bloomer” (you can see it if you hover cursor at the browser’s tab header. I was more interested in that line rather than the title. I could relate with some of the conversations I have had in last few years.
I see that there is tremendous obsession for Young Achievers – across all walks of life. Be it Business, Entertainment, Sports, Education, or even Politics. Forbes India magazine regularly features a special edition on “30 Under 30” or “40 Under 40″…people below 30/40 years who have made it big. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates were more popular and iconic because they started their companies as teenagers and became millionaire and billionaires at very young age. On the contrary, Warren Buffet was relatively unknown till 1972 (age 42) when Forbes magazine first did a cover story on him. He became cult only in 90’s. Buffett is less attractive because he was not 20-something and his way of building wealth was slow and steady and conventional.
Last year, a well known Twitter personality tweeted the following:
Age when founders started:
- 19, Bill Gates: Microsoft
- 19, Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook
- 21, Steve Jobs: Apple
- 23, Daniel Ek: Spotify
- 25, Larry Page/Sergey Brin: Google
- 30, Jeff Bezos: Amazon
- 30, Elon Musk: SpaceX
- 34, Jack Ma: Alibaba
- 36, Reed Hastings: Netflix
His subtle message was clear…people who started early and made it big at young age.
However, since I’m a contrarian and like to challenge ideas, explore other possibilities, I replied with this tweet:
Age when founders started:
- 40, Henry Ford: Ford Motors
- 41, Donald Fisher: Gap
- 41, Robert Noyce: Intel
- 41, Thomas Siebel: Siebel Systems
- 47, Bob Paraons: GoDaddy
- 50, Bernie Marcus: Home Depot
- 61, Charles R Flint: IBM
My point was simple. There are enough examples of people who started late and made it big. The so-called “late bloomers”.
You choose your idols or get inspiration from people you can relate with or people you want to be like. Everybody wants to be rich and famous, and as early as possible. So it is easy to get attracted to young achievers and mimic them. However, if you are into your mid 30’s, mid 40’s does it mean that you have missed the bus and hence should give up on your dreams? No! You find new idols, inspiring stories you can relate with.
Having said that, there is certain “age profile” that works in various domains. If it is Sports, the age when you have to “bloom” to do something great is very young – probably in teens. You cannot start playing cricket at the age of 25 or 30 years and expect to be part of national cricket team. Fortunately, such fields are very few. In fact I cannot think of any other field – except maybe “Movies and Entertainment” industry, to some extent. Other there too, young age matters only if you want to be a typical Hero or Heroine. If you want to be known as a good actor, age doesn’t matter. Versatile Bollywood actor Boman Irani (born 1959) made his film debut in 2003 – at the age of 44! Before that he was acting in small plays and theatre.
Politics is a good example of later bloomers. If you are a politician, your best years come only after age 50. Mahatma Gandhi spent long years in South Africa and had earned some name when he returned to India in 1914. However he became THE LEADER (and “Mahatma”) he was only in 1920 or so (after Lokmanya Tilak, the erstwhile national leader passed away). Gandhi was 45 years old in 1914 and 51 years old in 1920. So the age when he “bloomed” is between 51 and 78 years. Take another popular example (and the one I hate from bottom of my heart). Narendra Modi (born 1950), was relatively unknown till 2002 when he was airdropped as Chief Minister of Gujarat. Yes, he was a Pracharak and known as rising administrator among RSS circles even before that. But most of Indians had not heard about him. They heard about him only in 2002, when he was 52 years. And today, he is known in entire world. Do we call him late bloomer? I guess not. Because nobody expects to make it big in Politics at young age.
My point is that “Late Bloomer” is a nonsense tag. It assumes certain set patterns as the norm and if you miss those norms, you are considered non-normal (not abnormal, but an outlier). You have to conform to social norms and that pressure causes a lot of anxiety, heartburn, depression, jealousy and many other negative effects. Once you are 30 years old, the pressure to get married starts rising exponentially with each passing day (more so in case of girls). If you are 35, you must have babies, as if you are approaching your expiry date. These and many such pressures are well entrenched in our society.
That’s why I feel that we should teach Mathematics in much more depth! It can address and correct some of these wrong notions very well. We should teach children that most of the life is non-linear. Things don’t move or happen in a linear, steady-line pattern. It doesn’t mean that nothing is happening or the period is getting wasted. It just means that, like Exponential function, some things just take time to “ripe”.
Anybody who is exposed to Finance domain knows the Power of Compounding.
Warren Buffett is a perfect example to illustrate this:
This does not mean that Buffett was not great in all those years till age 50 or 60. In fact he was always great from the young age of 11 (when he bought his first stock) and he kept on learning and becoming better. It’s just that the nature of the business he was in (investing) is one where all rewards and goodies come late (because of compounding effect). Understanding this difference is key to your peace of mind and happy life. If Buffett (born 1930) had tried to mimic Elvis Presley (born 1935), he would have lived a miserable life. By 1956, Presley had sold 250 million records and was a Star! Buffett, his contemporary, was nowhere in picture. However, that doesn’t matter. Because they were in different fields. The metrics, the benchmarks of success are totally different.
So what metrics you should choose to measure yourself? Rather, who should choose them? The correct answer is: Yourself. Don’t play someone else’s game. It’s your life. Measure yourself on the parameters you set and work for.
If you understand this fundamental principle, you’ll see the real upside of being a late bloomer. Because for most of us, there is no compulsion of blooming early or on a particular date. Don’t subject yourself to the rat race and allow someone to tag you as “Late bloomer”
As for myself, I may not even bloom, ever. And that’s fine! I know what I want to achieve in life and I’m happy pursuing it all my life. In the end, if I don’t achieve, I’ll still be happy. Because I know that I tried hard…for my entire life!