You often see articles in the press about finding success later in life. Apart from the common (and rather strange) assumption that age 30 or even 40 constitutes ‘later in life,’ they usually have some inspirational examples and useful tips..

One such article that I read a while ago referred to a chapter in a book called What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. The relevant chapter was called ‘Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius With Precocity?’ and I was so intrigued that I downloaded the book onto my Kindle on the spot.

His argument is fascinating – that while some people ‘get’ their career direction and their talent very early on, many people do not. In particular, Gladwell reckons that we assume genius is obvious from an early age, but the truth is that it can come to fruition at any age. Gladwell (relying on research by a bloke called Galenson) distinguishes between two types:

  • ‘conceptual’ talents, people who have a very clear idea from the start and just jump in and  execute it with total confidence; and
  • ‘experimental’ talents, people who have a much more organic approach, with imprecise goals, incremental progress – and often a great deal of self-doubt.

They’re not better or worse than each other, just different styles.

As a decided late bloomer, I LOVED this distinction. Gladwell tells stories about a number of people who came into full flower later in life, and whose work was the better for it. People who stumbled towards a finish line they couldn’t see or define, who let each project shape and define the next, people who changed careers or even their sense of self more than once.

(So, there’s still hope…)

Often, experimental types have a sense of lack of progress or even failure because they don’t get it together in their twenties (or even their thirties). The thing that distinguishes the late successes from the never-successes is of course persistence – and, I think, the willingness to try new things, to learn and change and slowly accumulate people who believe in you. What you don’t need is unshakable self-belief, which is a really important point…

I see clients like this quite often. They come to me almost in despair, as if I am their last staging post before giving up entirely. Occasionally, they seem to be daring me not to believe in the possibility of late blooming, of true satisfaction, even worldly success in middle age (or any age, for that matter). They seem to want me to tell them it’s too hard, not possible, that there’s no hope. To let them give up their dream and justify a life of quiet desperation.

But I always have hope. I always believe.

I always hold the possibility of finding your abilities or talents or potential and turning it to something tangible in the world. I hold the possibility because I’ve done it. Many of my clients have done it.

Maybe you can too. Do you have an unlived dream, or even a vague sense of unfulfilled potential? Then keep inching towards the light, and never say die!

Joanna Maxwell


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