In Defense of Late Blooming

Life never goes exactly according to plan.

My Facebook “On This Day” never ceases to be a source of secondhand embarrassment. Every morning, right before I access my social media memories, I think to myself, “What kind of garbage hot take did my younger self present on this day between 2009 and 2015?” I prepare for the worst, the cringy-est, the angsty-est.

In all fairness, those six years were my absolute undoing.

Throughout my elementary and high school years, I was a proud academic overachiever. I had won awards, accolades, scholarships. I was never the all-star athlete or the virtuoso, but I knew my place in the high school “pecking order” and was comfortable there.

Early on in college, I would take 18–24 credit hours per semester, work 10–15 hours a week and bat not an eyelash. I piled on extracurricular activities and joined a myriad of campus efforts while maintaining an iota of a social life. I was somehow managing to juggle three-dozen chainsaws — though barely — and wore that reality like a badge of honor.

At some point the routine ended abruptly, another story for another time. But I finished my undergraduate work with more than a few shreds of dignity, relieved that I was able to finish my final semester taking only 12 credit hours, working zero and limiting my involvement to a couple on-campus activities.

I still had my pride in May 2008, a 3.81 GPA, a bachelor’s degree and a rough outline of what the next four years of my life would look like.

Which, honestly, made me feel like I had direction on how practically the rest of my life was going to go.

It quickly became apparent that the rough outline of my early professional life was going to disappear — my pride with it.

Recent college graduates, with ANY sort of liberal arts degree, trying to secure their first jobs in the summer of 2008 feel my pain.

Even the highest-achieving, hardest-working and most involved of us drifted in and out of unemployment and underemployment for YEARS.

And that absolutely destroyed me. I had worked too hard and was too smart to be collecting my first unemployment check at 23 years old.

My pride was gone. I was ashamed. In my emotional floundering, I took to Facebook and other social media outlets to “act out” my identity crisis to anyone who would dare read.

As the years went by, I watched my colleagues join the work force, assume positions of substance and meaning, ascend corporate ladders and return to school for masters and doctoral degrees. I’d apply for hundreds of jobs (literally) per month. I’d land a few interviews here and there. I had a couple temp jobs and internships.

Thinking I could recover some pride or find some purpose on the academic front, I began serially applying for graduate programs in the area. The first time I was accepted, I lasted about three weeks in a local university’s graduate communications program. Meanwhile, I watched people who I once babysat enrolling and thriving in graduate programs at world-class universities.

What. Was. Wrong. With. Me. I’d frantically muse in 140 characters. Surely, time was not on my side — and was, in fact, running out.

How does one become a twenty-something already collecting unemployment checks and living in one’s parents’ basement? How does one stay married when the newlywed experience is delayed by three years? How does one start a family without a steady income or a place of one’s own?

Would I ever recover from being so far behind my peers? Was there still time to lead a rich, fulfilling life?

I am probably my harshest critic. So when I look back “On This Day,” I probably cringe a little too hard at all the professional and academic schemes I pursued in an effort to become something — MLM cosmetics, wedding and event planning, seminary, radio broadcasting, art school.

I had spent the first two decades of my life becoming something; I emerged from the womb juggling chainsaws. So when the environment I was in did not allow for becoming something organically, I panicked.

I had stopped living to become something and started living to become anything; however mindless, however artificial.

Even without the blessed assurance of social media archives to serve as a reminder of just how far I’ve come, there is really something to late blooming. In four short years, I have reached career and academic goals I could once only dream of! I feel happy, healthy, stable. The support and love of family and friends surrounds me and flows through me.

If I could do it all over, I’d spend much less effort pontificating and much greater effort thinking about the something I knew I could become — without dwelling so much on being nothing in the moment. Maybe I’d end up in the same place, or maybe I’d be ahead. I’ll never know for certain.

Here is what I do know: You cannot know when or how or how quickly you will bloom. But the One who tends the garden is always faithful.