The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

On Being a Late Bloomer

Ed. Note: This started out as a response to Marissa’s thoughtful comment on a previous post, related to the one before it I decided to let it stand on it’s own, as a post.

The thing is, I’m a late bloomer.

A late bloomer is a person who does not discover their talents and abilities until later than normally expected. In certain cases, the individual may be as old as 60, and retirement may lead to this discovery.

Maybe it’s due to my 30-plus years of untreated ADD. Maybe it’s just because I have a late blooming brain.

Indeed, until quite recently most researchers believed the human brain followed a fairly predictable developmental arc. It started out protean, gained shape and intellectual muscle as it matured, and reached its peak of power and nimbleness by age 40. After that, the brain began a slow decline, clouding up little by little until, by age 60 or 70, it had lost much of its ability to retain new information and was fumbling with what it had. But that was all right because late-life crankiness had by then made us largely resistant to new ideas anyway.

That, as it turns out, is hooey. More and more, neurologists and psychologists are coming to the conclusion that the brain at midlife–a period increasingly defined as the years from 35 to 65 and even beyond–is a much more elastic, much more supple thing than anyone ever realized.

Far from slowly powering down, the brain as it ages begins bringing new cognitive systems on line and cross-indexing existing ones in ways it never did before. You may not pack so much raw data into memory as you could when you were cramming for college finals, and your short-term memory may not be what it was, but you manage information and parse meanings that were entirely beyond you when you were younger. What’s more, your temperament changes to suit those new skills, growing more comfortable with ambiguity and less susceptible to frustration or irritation.

Sounds nice. But it doesn’t quite resolve some

Actually, retirement would have been a good time, because it might be a time when I’d have fewer responsibilities. In my case, I stumbled upon my path at a time when I have probably more responsibility to and for more people than at any time in my life. Just Googling “late bloomer” brought up a few articles about people who hit their stride in the 60s. I’m a soon-to-be-39-year-old working parents with two kids, not a 60-something retiree.

That’s also another wrinkle when it comes to discovering what I really want to do right now. If it isn’t something related to my family, or something to do with my job, there’s precious little time for it. Granted, that will change. Dylan will sleep through the night. The kids will get older, and their needs will change, etc.

Whatever I do then will still be doable. Not as easily, perhaps, as it might have been when I was a twenty something. Or as easy as my twenty-something peers made it look back then, when it was all I could do to keep my head above water, and often failed at that—as I said in a comment on an earlier post.

On another level, the frustration is something specific I’ve dealt with for a while now. I’ve written before about being diagnosed with ADD when I was in my 30s. I got treatment, and things changed dramatically for me in some ways, specifically in the kinds of work I was able to do. I’d spent my 20s struggling to keep my head above water, crashing and burning in every job I had and not know why or what to do about it. Those were “lost years”, during which I watched my peers advance in their education and careers while I floundered, and wondered what it was they “got” that I just couldn’t.

It was after my diagnosis and treatment that I realized I’d lost a decade of my life, and the opportunities it held bit that I wasn’t equipped to take advantage of , because I needed help I didn’t know how to get for a problem no one knew that I had. (And those who figured out that I had a problem were primarily concerned with making it no longer their problem.) When I got treated I did better, worked better, and starting moving forward after treading water for more than 10 years.

What I’m trying to figure out is what to do now and in the meantime (or maybe now is the meantime) to keep myself reasonably happy and sane. When it comes to writing, there are some options that come to mind.

  • Freelancing: I’ve actually taken on a couple of freelance jobs, and enjoyed them, but then also get sandwiched in between time dedicated to family and to the job that pays the bills. And that’s not much time.
  • Professional Blogging: The feelers I’ve put out have confirmed one thing. However moderately successful this blog has been, it has not made be a “somebody” to the degree that anybody’s going to pay me to blog on their site. I don’t have near the readers or page views for that. Nor do I have the credentials—the necessary resume, list of books and articles published, the appropriate letters behind my name, etc.—that the people who make those decisions are apparently looking for
  • Journalism: I’ve been trying to figure out how to make that shift, except that it would probably mean not writing about much of the stuff that I write about here, or doing the kind of thinking and writing I indulge in here. Because I don’t have the required inventory to suggest to the people who hire folks to do that kind of writing and thinking that they should care or that it matters what I think or write, etc. (See, above.)

The thing is I’m not a “name.” Sure, like Jim Croce, I got a name, but that’s something different.

In the meantime, I’ve got to figure out a solution, so that I don’t end of spending most of my time thinking about what I want to be doing while actually doing something else, and wondering when it’ll be my turn.

In other words, I’m trying to figure out to avoid what seems like an inevitable and extended period of quiet desperation.


  1. I am a Mom of an adhd boy who is 18 and has been treated with meds since age 7. Just because he has been treatd does not mean that he has not been altered by this lifetime of frenzy. medicine has only kept him sane at certain times as it only works for certain lentgth of time. It is certainly not an easy life living with adhd. but when you find your niche it seems the adders excell at what ever it is. I am very proud of my son for enduring all that goes with the
    life of an Add’er. I know his life has not been easy and for a Mom to watch their child live with the hardships that go along with it, it can be devestating but finding what is truly important and excelling in your place is life is a real moment of truth where you have found youreself. let go of the past and look forward to your future. and be proud at whatever it is you beleive in and the truths that complete YOU.

  2. I know what you mean about “losing your twenties”, mine weren’t lost exactly but I feel like I spent half of them running in place. Working for the same people, having the same fights, starting and stopping too many projects and personally spending all my energy taking care of my son and not doing anything for myself. But now I’m on the other side of it, and if I had done the law school thing back then I wouldn’t have had the confidence to speak up in class, or do moot court competitions or had my writing carry me through some tough courses.

    You have a unique voice that more people need to hear, keeping looking for the right venue. The most important thing is that you “bloom”, no matter how late.

  3. Had a couple of questions concerning this:

    I was diagnosed with ADD in 2nd grade, was a Ritalin 80s kid, sometime in high school I stopped taking the medication since I excelled in school.

    But my 20s sound much like your own, in that I never found a niche or a good job. I did well in school, ended up earning several masters degrees and now have found my niche and yet have not found a way to parlay this into a job that can allow me to enter adulthood at the age of 35.

    So I had the experience of watching my peers enter the middle class, develop families, settle down, while I lived the life of a graduate student with perpetual poverty, some worthwhile moments (my own personal religious quest was largely satisfied with my time in school and campus ministry work)

    In some ways I wouldn’t trade that away. But I also had a lot of wasted years, an almost debilitating (couldn’t get anything done) depression which made me take an excessive amount of time on a master’s thesis. I ended up dropping out of grad school after finishing the thesis.

    The last number of years have been keen in getting my life into order. I was accepted into seminary (looking to serve in the denomination I’ve worked with for the last 6 years), have taught a number of college courses, worked with others in developing a successful progressive ministry.

    And yet still hoping that this change of direction will secure the kind of employment that combines my political and social concerns with a stable form of financial existence. But I’m not there yet. Still working on it.

    I never really thought of ADD being something that lasted over a life, beyond childhood and yet I’ve had the experience of lacking direction, getting burried in life. Some of this time was marked by depression (I imagine poverty, not moving ahead, etc.) added to this

    But I never thought of ADD as being very relevant until your posts. And as someone who spent many years in the foster care system, I admit I get almost Tom Cruise -ish when I think of things like medication, being part of the mental health system.

    So my question does ADD plug into your experience and what sort of actions did you take to change direction?