“We late bloomers can risk more because at this point nobody really expects anything spectacular from us anymore. We can reinvent ourselves or give birth to our authentic selves as we rediscover and reclaim our essence.”
How Does Your Garden Grow?*
By Elizabeth Cutright
During our 20s, my friends and I used to have this little inside joke: When writing inscriptions on our birthday cards, we’d always include a countdown – “X amount of years to get your life together!” We figured – naïve little things we were – by age 30 we’d have it all figured out.
Thirty has come and gone, and while we’ve all resolved individual longings, answered lingering questions, and struck out on adventures grand and small, I can tell you right now that we all feel decades away from figuring anything out. In my life, the list of unexpected joys/sorrows is balanced almost perfectly by everything I thought I knew and all the early expectations that never did pan out.
The truth is, we are all late bloomers in some capacity or another.
I’m not the Olympic equestrian I’d envisioned in my preteens, nor I am a veterinarian or photojournalist or Academy Award winning screenwriter. If you ask me on a perfect summer day – like today, with the cloudless sky overhead and bees buzzing in the tree outside my window – if I regret those abandoned paths, I’d say “no,” confident in the knowledge that I am exactly where I was meant to be. But confidence and optimism are always easy to cultivate when the days grow long and warm and you know it’s only a matter of time before you sink your toes in the sand, cannonball into a clear, cool pool, or linger in the dusk at a backyard barbeque, watching fireworks burst in a clear night sky.
Summer is the time to cultivate satisfaction in your current circumstances. And it’s also the perfect opportunity to plant some seeds (how’s that summer project going, by the way?) and rest until Fall ushers in the harvest. If you’ve found yourself comparing your present to your past aspirations (or delving in the even greater sin of trying to keep up with the Joneses), now’s the time to realize that it’s more important to “bloom where you’re planted” than gaze at that illusion of the greener grass in someone else’s yard.
The truth is, we are all late bloomers in some capacity or another. So you haven’t published a book yet. Well, you could make yourself feel bad by dwelling on the fact that SE Hinton published The Outsiders at age 18. By why not focus, instead, on the long list of late-blooming writers who rocked the world with their creative efforts. Richard Adams’s did not publish his first novel, the bestseller Watership Down until he was in his fifties. The Marquis de Sade was 51 when his first novel, Justine, was published. Raymond Chandler published The Big Sleep at 51. The best by far…Frank McCourt didn’t publish his first book Angela’s Ashes – for which he later won the Pulitzer Prize – until he was 66. So Lena Dunham is the writer/actor/director of a hit HBO show? Well, Laura Ingalls Wilder did not publish her first novel in the Little House series of children’s books until she was well into her sixties.
“Being a late bloomer means that you have the time and the opportunity to revise and revamp if you experiment with life and fall short of our dreams,” declares Sarah Ban Breathnach, who believes that the third act is the one with the most potential because – in some ways – there’s less danger.
“We late bloomers can risk more because at this point nobody really expects anything spectacular from us anymore,” she explains. “We can reinvent ourselves or give birth to our authentic selves as we rediscover and reclaim our essence.”
Regret and remorse are two killer emotions we need to excise if we want to thrive as writers and creatives.
In fact, in many ways, you’re better off for not having peaked young. The late bloomer has the opportunity to live many lives and try out many different personas. While I may not have become a seafaring adventurer or international spy, I’ve slept on four continents, served subpoenas in flop houses, been the voice of San Diego’s “Smoking Vehicle Hotline,” and even found time to be an extra on CSI. I never envisioned being invited to tour Israel on behalf of that country’s government, and could not have imagined working the phone bank at a political campaign or speaking on a panel about the role of media in the water industry.
All those unexpected escapades and voyages? I don’t regret a single one.
In fact, regret and remorse are two killer emotions we need to excise if we want to thrive as writers and creatives. Failure is not the end; it’s only the beginning – especially if you can find the strength and courage to treat each setback as an opportunity.
“I have tried and failed and tried again,” says Ban Breathnach. “I have discovered that if we are to flourish as creative beings if we are to grow into Wholeness, we must bloom wherever we are planted.”
If you’ve already hit rock bottom, there’s only one direction you can head.
Ban Breathbach’s statement reminds me of the story behind the writing of Seabiscuit: An American Legend (the novel ultimately inspired the movie Seabiscuit). The entire essay is worth reading, but to distil it down to its essence: while battling debilitating chronic fatigue syndrome, author Laura Hillenbrand still managed to write – sometimes small articles, sometimes short pieces that took days to complete – until eventually one piece grew into an award-winning Hollywood movie. Certainly Hillenbrand would have rather crafted her stories under a more ideal circumstance, but in the end, she credits the disease with helping her attain a higher level of craft.
“Because my life is so silent and so still,” she says, “I think I’m able to get deeper into what I’m working on. My mind is willing to get out of here and go into there. It becomes such an intense experience.”
Silver linings are all well and good, you might think, but it’s hard to see bedazzled clouds when the car’s on its last legs, and the checking account is overdrawn, and everyone else seems to be jet-setting and buying flat-screens.
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want.”
Don’t believe the hype! Even if everyone IS better off than you, it’s in your power to change the course of your life and your creative endeavors. If you’ve already hit rock bottom, there’s only one direction you can head. Believe me, you will not want for companionship on the high road, we are all of us dealing with imperfection and untapped potential.
“Right now, you might not have the perfect career, home, or relationship,” says Ban Breathnach. “Few of us do. But if you have the gift of today, you’ve got another chance to recreate your circumstances and make them as perfect as it’s possible to do with the resources you have. Today you get another chance to get it as right as you can make it. What more could you desire?”
So even if you’re wilting in the hot sun of circumstance – thirsty for sustenance and fighting to push your roots through dry, tough soil – don’t give up. It might seem like a garden has sprung up around you, and all the other blooms are brighter and taller than your own, but in truth, it’s all about perspective and re-jiggering your energy and expectations for the long haul.
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want,” observed the English playwright George Bernard Shaw, “And if they can’t find them, make them.”
Cover photo by Fredrik Rubensson via Flickr
- Website Wednesday: Laura Hillenbrand (marketyourbookblog.com)
- Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand (lnatal.wordpress.com)
- The story behind the story…Unbroken: Louis Zamperini – 95 years of an amazing life! (breathelighter.wordpress.com)
- Late Bloomer (onthehomefrontandbeyond.wordpress.com)