In praise of late bloomers

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 30, 2009 12:00 AM

I was talking with my son a few months ago and he was saying, half-smiling but half-seriously, that he was running out of time in getting to where he wanted to be as a musician. He is a guitar player in a band in Sydney. He is 20 and soon, he worried, he would be too old to be a big star. I looked at him for a few seconds for any indication that he was being sarcastic, or joking, but I did not see anything of the sort. The kid was stating something he was really feeling.

I could only shake my head and explain to him what a ridiculous notion that was. He was far from being too old to be anything. But no matter how I explained it, there was no convincing him. He said that there was something spectacular about being young, talented and successful, like Mozart and other child prodigies.

That is true, of course, and I admired him for setting himself up for such a big goal or achievement, but I also had to tell him that it does not really matter how old one is when one becomes successful. The important thing is to try your best and be as successful as you can be.

When I think about it, I‘d say that I am pretty much a late-bloomer myself. I did not have the capacity to understand or think things through until I got to high school. And even in high school, I did not feel as bright as some of my other classmates. It was only in second-year college when I felt that both my mind and my personality began to bloom. It was then that I felt my mind awakening.

Come to think of it, growing up was a time when I heard a lot about child prodigies and super-talented kids who finished college at 12 years old, math whizzes, and the like. But instead of being fascinated by them, I wondered if I was normal! When I saw the yawning gap between them and me, I came to the wrong conclusion that I was not good enough. It was a crazy conclusion, I must say.

Sports-wise, I was such a klutz. I could not even dribble a basketball. The total time I spent at play on a basketball court in all my years in school was probably no more than two minutes. As soon as I got on the court, the coach would pull me out because it was obvious I had no business being there at all.

It was only in my mid-thirties that I began liking sports. I got into swimming, biking, running, and in my late 40s to early 50s, I went into scuba diving.

It also took me years of being a member of the APO to overcome my shyness. Sure, I could perform on stage with Danny and Boboy, but was not half as friendly as they could be outside of a concert setting. For one, I was uncomfortable being a public figure. And being admired made me feel uneasy. It took me many years to feel at home in my chosen career.

Looking back, I am thankful that success in my musical career did not come in my teens. It was hard enough to handle all the pressures of being famous, successful or viewed as being talented in my late 20s. How would I have handled it at, say, age 15?

I have seen a lot of child stars grow up to be adults and the first thing I notice about them is that most if not an overwhelming number of them never grew tall, or even look like adults like the rest of us. They mostly retained the small frame, the childish look, and the cuteness they had as child stars.

Look at Vilma Santos, Niño Muhlach, Aiza Seguerra, Roderick Paulate, Maricel Soriano and Jolina Magdangal. I wonder if it’s because their body-minds knew that being diminutive and child-like were the traits that made them successful and so they were not ready to let go of those “survival” traits when they became adults.

I have also met people who have bloomed rather late in life. My mother–in-law, while being artistic all her life, only began to become prolific and intense about art at age 64 when she took up Chinese brush painting. I have friends who, in their 50s, shifted careers or seriously committed to new hobbies and passions and are now starting to be recognized in their new fields. Better late than never.

If today’s kids have a fear that they are over the hill at such a young age, we baby boomers feel the opposite: We are still good and up to doing a lot of things.

Perhaps awakening to life may have something to do with it. The slowing down of the body (not too much, but just enough) may be the ingredient that can wake us up and be remind us that time is running out and we must seize our passion before it is too late.

A recent article in Psychology Today made the case for late bloomers being the driving forces behind many of the things that have shaped our lives. Charles Darwin was written off by his own father but astounded the world with his evolution theory at a late age. Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond series at age 45. Grandma Moses started painting at age 70.

The magazine article explains that intelligence that lies inside us may take time to gel. It seems that some genes and sections of the brain take time to be ready before they kick in and show their brilliance. The analogy given is that of an orchestra: some sections may be more coordinated while others take time to get into the groove of the play. But when they do, it is serendipitous!

The opposite may be what happens to child prodigies. While their genes may seem to kick in earlier, there is no guarantee that the prodigy will remain one forever. Some of them lose it and the very thing that propelled them to fame may fail them later on.

All these facets of intelligence develop better with proper direction. And the direction that psychologists talk about is what makes one passionate. Passion can become the central headquarters that summons the ingredients needed to get to what we want to do in life.

I believe that the unknown quantities that suddenly appear in our lives are there to awaken us to a bigger space potential we did not know existed. The passion that awakens us is what makes us dive into the unknown, scary at it seems, and emerge feeling alive, accomplished and victorious.

So, if you’re feeling restless at age 50, don’t complain. Observe and see what it is that makes you feel alive. Who knows? The best part of your life may still be waiting to be lived.

And so, Mio, don’t despair. There is life beyond being young and talented, and not yet making it. There is time for success, however late it happens. A slow glorious sunset is always more impressive than a fleeting high noon.