When you think of Beethoven, what comes to mind? A musical genius that speaks to generations of music lovers. Thomas Edison? A brilliant scientist and inventor. Henry Ford? A manufacturing innovator who changed the landscape of business forever. Enrico Caruso? He was ”The Voice,” long before there was a TV show by that name.
Why are we remembering these fellows in today’s blog? They were all late bloomers. Their early life experiences showed little to no inkling of the genius that would prove itself over time.
- Beethoven’s music teacher said, “as a composer he is hopeless.”
- Edison’s teacher declared that he “would be unable to learn.”
- Henry Ford was graded as ”showing no promise.”
- Caruso’s music teacher told him he “had no voice at all.”
In a culture that worships the young genius as the only true virtuoso, a culture that believes genius is born, not developed or grown into, the late bloomer may feel more like a “non-bloomer.” And non-bloomers don’t usually feel good about themselves. If you are a parent or teacher of a child who may be a late bloomer, perhaps you have felt some of their disappointment or frustration with themselves. How can you help?
Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on late bloomers is worth looking into. In it, he reminds us that “on the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure: while the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all. Prodigies are easy. They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith. (Let’s just be thankful that Cézanne didn’t have a guidance counselor in high school who looked at his primitive sketches and told him to try accounting.)”
In his article, Gladwell references the work of economist David Galenson, who has discerned two types of artistic creativity, two pathways to success. Young achievers who make bold quantum leaps in thinking are referred to as ”conceptual innovators.” They are all about the find, rather than the search. They often have little patience for process, research, analysis. They have one underlying idea; execution is necessary but not typically a pleasure, since they focus with certitude on the finished product.
Late bloomers are referred to in his work as ”experimental innovators.” Experimental innovators try things over and over again, refining as they go, often for decades, and usually feeling they are not ever finished or satisfied with their projects. Their ideas can only develop through the doing of repetitive tasks, pacing through the process with patience and tenacity.
Like many of the individuals mentioned at the beginning of this blog, late bloomers can often fall through the cracks of our educational system, struggling to process information in the way that makes sense to their brain. Frequently they may have learning challenges like dyslexia or ADD/ADHD.
Both creative types, and the sub-types that fall somewhere in between, have things to offer, and each have their own strengths. The problem for us as parents and educators is that we can become so tied to the expectation of the glory of early genius, conceptual genius, that we show disappointment or disapproval when our child or student fails to ‘deliver’ such on our expected timeline. And this is tragic, since one of the most profound conclusions of Galenson’s work shows that late bloomers don’t bloom without lots of patient, loving, loyal support.
So give your kids that kind of support. Believe in them. Teach them the value of being patient with themselves and the value of tenacity when pursuing a goal. And above all, give them all the time they need to grow into their own particular gifts. One of these days, they may just surprise both you and themselves.
Really superb. The only thing we need is patience.
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