Maybe getting a later start is an advantage, not a liability?

I often find myself wishing I had a time machine so I could go back and get an earlier start on things.

  • If I’d taken piano lessons in elementary school  …
  • If I’d have been the one to teach myself HTML in our office in the ’90s …
  • If I’d bought Apple stock when it was in the toilet …

But then I’m reminded that I’m not alone in continuing to grow into who I am.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New Yorker article a few years back with the headline, “Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity?” In that lengthy piece, Gladwell writes:

(University of Chicago economist David) Galenson points out in his study “Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity.” Yes, there was Orson Welles, peaking as a director at twenty-five. But then there was Alfred Hitchcock, who made “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho”—one of the greatest runs by a director in history—between his fifty-fourth and sixty-first birthdays. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” at fifty-eight.

And a recent Harvard Business Review article caught my eye with the headline, “Why Older Entrepreneurs Have an Edge.” It, too, quotes Galenson as a source, discussing creativity and innovation spiking later life for some.

In his study of artists, University of Chicago economist David Galenson has shown that genius clusters into two categories. Conceptual geniuses tend to do their best work while young, producing breakthrough ideas early in their careers. But experimental geniuses, by contrast, need a long period of time to reach their peak, moving forward by trial and error, slowly accumulating the elements that will be integrated into their fully realized work.

Later entrepreneurship often crosses paths with yet a third later-life trend — the urge to give back. Research shows that half of those who want to become midlife entrepreneurs — more than 12 million people ages 44 to 70 — also want to meet community needs or solve a critical social problem at the same time.

So if you’re Mozart, maybe you’re a prodigy who cranks out amazing works of genius while everyone else is playing hide and seek. But for those whose inspiration come from life experience, gray hair and wrinkles might be a sign we’re hitting our stride.

Do you feel your life experience is fueling your fully realized work? Or do you see your best years in your rear view mirror?



Categories: career, creativity

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