Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how growing up as a late bloomer has affected me. At every stage of life, I have felt behind my peers in one way or another. I had my first growth spurt at 17. I didn’t go on my first real date until 24. I struggled in academics until sophomore year of high school. I became well coordinated and tall enough to be decent at sports in college. Every facet of my life has left me feeling left behind and out of the “norm.” Oftentimes, I’d try put up an aura of maturity, but the kid inside me never really went away.
I have many theories about the reasons for my late blooming. For starters, I immigrated to the US at the age of 9. You could say that making new friends and learning a new language after my earliest years put me at a cultural disadvantage. Having grown up in an upper middle class suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, I found it hard to fit in among those who were more integrated, wealthy, and gregarious than myself. Of course, the sheltered way that my parents raised me didn’t help either. My mother wouldn’t allow me to read Harry Potter because of her religious beliefs. My parents kept a tight leash on the where I was at all times and what I was up to. My parents fit quite well into the stereotypical Asian parents who singularly focused on academic achievement at the expense of everything else.
Recently I’ve begun to realize that being a late bloomer has its own benefits. Perhaps the next time I feel left behind and inadequate, I can turn back to this page and appreciate what life has given me. I hope others who read this, late bloomers or not, can connect with my experiences on some level.
Throughout my childhood, I’d always be the odd one out, the one who wasn’t invited to the parties, the one others either ignored or made fun of in conversations. While I grew used to it over time, the sting of alienation never really went away.
It’s one thing to be compassionate towards others and treat them as you would want them to treat you. It’s quite another to have felt the pain that others are feeling and be able to completely step in their shoes.
I do not mean to say that I am the kindest, wisest person on the planet with the best looking smile, but I have observed that it’s hard for me and others like me to get angry over small things. Late bloomers generally have an understanding of people’s emotions and the pain of criticism and exclusion. Thus we try our best to be understanding and inclusive of others.
One good thing about spending a lot of time alone is that I’ve come to understand myself. Being a late bloomer has forced me to dig deep and search for that inner peace as I wrestled with my insecurities. Over the years, I’ve found that my level of self-awareness has helped me to become a more well-rounded, independent and self-confident individual. I’ve learned so much about my strengths, flaws, insecurities and motivations. It was a painful process, but my self worth no longer derives from the approval of others, but from that inner voice which tells me who I am.
Self-awareness is a skill that allows us to see ourselves for who we truly are. At the same time, self-awareness enables us to improve without judging ourselves. Understanding the self is an ongoing process, and though I’ve made a lot of progress, I definitely have not found myself just yet.
I made very few friends growing up. In fact, I would say I have very few close friends today. However, the people who tolerated me enough to become friends with me are some of the most compassionate, humble, and intelligent people I’ve ever met. The friends I made while I was maturing were kind enough to not judge me by what I did or how I looked. Perhaps their character has also affected my qualities.
If you look at it another way, not having the advantage of appearances and talents early on forced me to develop my personality in order to make friends. People didn’t simply come up to me to make friends because of my dashing good looks, 200+ IQ, or 6 feet vertical; I had to work for it. As I matured throughout college, I’d like to think that I learned enough social skills, got decent enough at my hobbies, and developed an interesting enough personality to make the few friends that I made.
There are probably so many other things, positive and negative, about being a late bloomer that I’m not aware of, but I’m glad that I’ve become self-aware enough to discover what I know (see what I did there?). If you’re a late bloomer like me, I hope you’ve come to appreciate a little more about your life trajectory. I leave you with this quote:
Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
P.S. I drew inspiration for this post from the answers to this Quora post.