Sunday, June 12, 2005

Late Bloomers Keep Life Interesting

So, I'm watching TV today and I discover that Toulouse Lautrec, with all his physical maladies and alcoholism, died at age 37, leaving a vast collection of remarkable and ground-breaking paintings. Then I remember that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did all of his great works and didn't even make it to the age of 40. Eldar Djangirov, the hottest new jazz piano player on the scene right now is like, 18. Boy do I feel like an underachiever. I feel like David Letterman whenever he has an unusually talented young guest. He always says, "Sheesh, when I was 15, I couldn't even make a fist!"

My twenties were a blur of career attempts. If I were to show you the list of jobs I held during that decade, you would see a history of fits and starts and full-blown "do overs." I was fired three times (twice as a waitress and once from a $650 per month office gig -- I am NOT lying!). At my 10-year high school reunion, my classmates were practicing as dentists, hairdressers, and attorneys (we could all tell they were lawyers because they wore their navy blue pinstriped suits to our mid-August festivities!). I could only explain how I had just re-entered college to earn my teaching certificate. I felt like an extremely late bloomer.

I suppose it’s a good thing to know exactly what you want to do at an early age and then zero in on it with laser-like focus. But there's something to be said for getting some mileage on your odometer before you get to your first destination. I'm really proud of my varied life experiences. I figure it's a lot more fun to look back on a past that looks like a colorful "crazy quilt" than one long beige highway of sameness.

And I have a lot of company in my delayed efforts to hit my stride:

  • Actress Estelle Getty, who played Sophia on The Golden Girls made her first stage appearance at age 47.
  • Folk artist Grandma Moses began to focus seriously on her painting at age 78.
  • Actor John Mahoney (he played Frasier's father on TV) was a medical journalist and English teacher until he joined the Steppenwolf Theater Company in his late 30s and had his film debut at age 40.
  • Comedian Ray Romano planned to be an accountant and lived at home until he was married at age 29. Last year, he earned $19 million.
  • Baseball manager Jack McKeon led the Florida Marlins to the world championship at age 73.
  • Julia Child was 50 when she published Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which launched her long writing and television career.
  • Harriet Doerr went back to finish her Stanford degree at age 67 and she won the National Book Award for her novel, Stones for Ibarra, when she was 73.
  • Blues guitarist John Hammond recorded the best-selling album of his career at age 58.
  • Michael Bloomberg was busy becoming one of the world's richest men before he turned to politics and became New York City's mayor at age 59. (OK, he's also an overachiever).
  • Dolores Huerta started out as a teacher until she couldn't stand seeing her students come to school hungry. She eventually helped found the United Farm Workers and nursed several of her 11 children while she sat at the bargaining table!
  • Franklin Roosevelt was almost fired as Secretary of the Navy for his bad attitude before he contracted polio at age 39. Five years later, he re-entered public life and successfully ran for Governor of New York and U.S. President.
  • California Senator S.I. Hayakawa was a scholar, teacher, and college administrator before he ran for the Senate at age 70.
  • President Jimmy Carter's mother, "Miss Lillian" joined the Peace Corps at age 67 after a long career as a nurse.
  • French Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin was a successful stockbroker who started painting at 30 and, at age 43, moved to Tahiti to do his best work.
  • Harry Truman ran for the Senate at age 50 after failing as a Kansas City hat merchant (haberdasher -- I love that word).
  • Somerset Maugham was orphaned, studied medicine for 6 years, wrote lots of popular plays, but didn't enjoy his first success as a novelist until Of Human Bondage at age 41.
  • "Black Bart," a western outlaw and disgrunted Wells Fargo employee, staged his first robbery at the age of 50.

One Google search will tell you that a lot of people use the term "late bloomer" to explain a drastic change of direction, a career or hobby taken up late in life, or notoriety that came after years of trying. The exact definition doesn't matter; the concept itself offers comfort for anyone who feels boxed in by external expectations and hope for those who are still searching for inspiration.

Who doesn't love to see those first buds of spring? Early color is a great relief from a gloomy winter. But landscapers consider late blooming plants the source of long-lasting beauty in the life cycle of a garden. Likewise, late blooming people help make the world a more interesting place and they prove that we can keep embellishing our quilts with as many patches as we can dream up in a single lifetime


At 11:04 AM, Blogger WHS Cheer Girl said...

I think stories like this offer us hope that if something in our lives are amiss, we have the capacity for great change. We are surrounded by those who have made a break with their previous career paths and forged new ground way past the time when many are thinking of quitting work altogether.

I find hope in stories like these. I realize that my destiny is not outside of my control, bound by exterior forces. It's a heady feeling to know that I have the capability to whatever I damn well please with my life.

On a personal note, I love your blog Kel! I linked it with mine (dani's dish), but I only have a couple of posts. Drop us a line here in Wenatchee. We'd love to get together.

At 1:05 AM, Blogger ram said...


~ those whom GODs love - die young.

good luck


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