Book of the week
Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed With Early Achievement
If you’re 30 and still floundering, “yes, the world is conspiring against you,” said Harvey Schachter in The Globe and Mail (Canada). But even in our youth-fetishizing culture, that doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of achieving great things. Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard spent his 20s failing at various entry-level posts and bouncing between more-menial jobs before finally finding focus at 34, when he launched a business magazine of his own. In his new book, the 64-year-old former dishwasher uses stories of later-in-life successes and findings about the unique cognitive advantages of age to argue that we have to stop thinking of talent as a trait that must manifest in youth. We shortchange society, and too many potential late bloomers, when we do.
In his bid to highlight the accomplishments of late bloomers, “Karlgaard occasionally overstates his case,” said Andrew Hill in the Financial Times. Sure, Raymond Chandler didn’t start writing fiction until 44, the same age at which F. Scott Fitzgerald died, and Colonel Sanders was 65 when he founded Kentucky Fried Chicken. But many people who start slow never do make it, and Karlgaard doesn’t fully account for them. “He is onto something, though”: Research indicates that our brains continue to mature after 21, and there’s even measurable evidence that people make gains in resilience, empathy, and wisdom well into middle age. Karlgaard also highlights the stress placed on young people when early achievement is overemphasized, said Eric Spitznagel in the New York Post. Rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide have risen rapidly among teenagers and young adults, and the pressure to get to the top early also promotes cheating, as seems to have been the case with Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes: “Holmes’ fatal flaw,” Karlgaard writes, “was an obsession with early success.”
“It’s a nice idea that success can come at any point in life,” said Philip Delves Broughton in The Wall Street Journal. But “some intimidating statistics” cast doubt on that feel-good message. At top tech firms, the median age of employees in 2016 was just 32; at Facebook and Google, it was under 30. One reason that’s true is because older workers cost more, and Karlgaard argues that keeping some on in lower-paying positions would be better than buying all of them out or laying them off. He has advice for older workers too, encouraging them to “re-pot” in new environments if they’re stagnating. But it’s the employers—private and public—that have to change. “Individuals can only do so much.” ■