2 Late Bloomers Who Found Success From Persistence
The story is the same: “I feel like I’m behind”
It’s hard getting older because we start to compare ourselves to others of a similar age who have more success, crazier experiences, or seemingly a better life. The hard truth is that most everyone thinks this way. But there’s always someone better off and always someone worse off, so comparing yourself to the most famous person in the world won’t help much of anything except making you more depressed.
If you’re not a Late Bloomer and find yourself much earlier in life, but with a similar struggle of feeling like you’re behind because you can’t break in, don’t fret. We can help. Read The Mission’s Early Bloomer series showing that you may, in fact, be closer than you realize.
I. The 50 Year Old Kook Who Transformed Our Understanding
Born in 1809 as the fifth child child to an already successful family, the business of medicine and finance were no stranger to this boy from a young age. His father, a medical doctor, was born in England as was the boy.
His father was a self-made man, setting up his medical practice at the young age of 20 years old. He got his break when the wife of a bookseller fell ill and another doctor was treating him incorrectly with another disease. After publishing a report of his findings, he became slightly well known in the town and after only a few years had a booming medical practice.
He parlayed the cash he earned from helping people live longer lives into other startup investments. Only this was right before the turn of the year 1800 so much of the startups then were focused on infrastructure like housing, canals, and roads for enabling the industrial revolution. The boy’s father invested in them all, did quite well and was married.
The boy was born in 1809 in a large red brick house called The Mount, Shrewsbury, along with his other siblings. The family’s upbringing was focused on freethinking. The boy, at 8 years old, was already fascinated by natural history and collecting things when he began attending the local school run by a preacher.
When his mom passed away that summer, he began at a new school in the fall and by the summer of 1825 he was already interning as an apprentice doctor for his father’s practice. Later that fall, he began attending the University of Edinburgh Medical School, which was the best educational institution for medicine in the UK at the time.
But, as most high performers can attest, he found the curriculum lacking, the lectures dull, and the surgery distressing so he simply stopped studying.
In the second year of his schooling he joined a group that would set him on a new course for his life. It was a student-led natural history group that challenged the popular scientific notions put forth by orthodox religion at the time.
He began assisting other professionals in the investigations of anatomy of animals, their life cycles, and how one species can impact another within the ocean (e.g., black spores in oyster shells were actually eggs of a skate leech).
The boy, now becoming a man, and having his mind opened by others found his traditional natural history classes lacking. They would cover geology and the classification of plants. He even found his way into working on a collection at the University Museum, which one one of the largest museums in Europe at the time.
His father, dismayed by the fact that the boy was neglecting his studies, subsequently sent him to Cambridge to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. Again, the boy preferred other activities to studying. It just didn’t hold his attention.
But he found something that did. Beetle collecting. It was a popular hobby at the time, and it let him to meet other people focused on it, including botany professors and naturalists. He eventually graduated, focusing on his studies towards the end to do well enough to finish at the top of his class.
But after graduation, the boy now a man, decided to take matters into his own hands. He wanted to travel, to seek adventure, and join others who were studying geology in the tropics. There was the opportunity for a two-year voyage, and again his father objected. Because it was untraditional and didn’t hold the path to financial or local celebrity success that his father had used.
Eventually, with the help of the man’s brother, his father agreed to fund the voyage. What started as a two-year trip lasted a long, five years.
The man collected many specimens through his journey, studying geology, making natural history collections, and keeping detailed notes of what he saw and how he was thinking about it. He sent this along to Cambridge as well as his family. He wrote and wrote, then wrote some more, even during times of incredible seasickness, he wrote. He wrote about zoology, about marine invertebrates, sea shells, lands rising and falling over time, and tropical forests.
He found fossil bones of huge extinct mammals with no sign of climate change or disaster. He lived through an earthquate in Chile and saw signs the land had been recently raised. High in the Andes he found seashells and fossilized trees that had grown on a sandy beach.
Once he reached the Galapagos Islands, he found he was looking for wildlife, but now for a purpose. He was looking for what he called the “center of creation”. He studied mockingbirds of varying species from island to island. He heard similar stories of tortoise shell differences from their origins.
The more he studied and observed, the more confused he got. Could there be not one, but two creators at work?
In 1836, at 27 years old, he had a break and the fuzzy idea he had been toying with finally started coming to light. But first, he needed help, both more people to do the work of cataloging but also a financier to fund this “gentleman scientist”. His father reluctantly agreed to the latter, while one of his friends helped with the former, agreeing to take on botanical specimen cataloging.
The man began working with the Royal College of Surgeons who agreed to work on the fossil bones he collected. It included massive ground sloths, huge armadillo creatures, and big rodent skulls, all close in species to animals in South America.
Quite curious, indeed. Why do extinct animal bones bear such a striking resemblance to living animals in similar and different areas of the world?
The man also submitted his findings to the Zoological Society where they further disected his bird specimens from the Galapagos into 12 distinct species of finches.
He carried with him a Red Notebook and in it, began to write his thoughts about how one species does change into another. This helped him explain why there was such a vast geographical spread of these creatures.
He began to make sketches of what looked like a tree. Only instead of leaves, at the end of the branches he placed animals. The man found it absurd that one animal might be classified higher than another. It centered around the idea of something called Transmutation of Species of how one species could mutate into another.
After much more work, now living in London, contemplated the growth rate of our own human population. If it continues doubling every 25 years in this geometric fashion, then we will eventually run out of resources. He found this parallel in his own work, explaining how species remain relatively stable over time. Namely, that a species will always reproduce beyond the resources it requires to survive, thereby killing off a part of the population until the food source stabilizes the population. It’s a natural mechanism that keeps out of control growth in check.
This in 1838 when the man was nearly 30. He was married to a woman named Emma and created their new home in London.
He had a framework now for his ultimate theory and somethign to work against. He was researching selective breeding of plants and animals and found much evidence that a species is not constant, but rather changes over time.
For the next 15 years, he spent most of his time writing about geology and publishing technical reports, while the theory that would ultimately make him famous languished behind the scenes.
He sketched. He wrote books and essays. But he was chronically ill. He had been his entire life, due to the traveling, diet, and hostile environments he had frequented. In 1851, at 42 years old, his daughter passed away after a series of illnesses and he feared that his ailments might have been passed along to his own children.
It incited him a desire to press on. To find the underlying meaning. To figure out what drove our species forward. And to rewind the clock, did it have a beginning?
In the summer of 1856, he began writing a short paper that eventually expanded into a big book. Many questions, he must answer. Many threadlines he had been considering and investigating his entire life needed to come together in this ultimate volume. He even considered including the Races of Man. It took over a year until he had a full detailed outline of his ideas that he sent to a few friends for review.
And then it happened. Another person had caught wind and a half year later, saw that this person had already published a similar paper, beating him to the punch. Then his baby son died of scarlet fever.
His life was spinning out of control but he had to keep going.
He spent an agonizing 13 months preparing an abstract for this book, suffering in his own pit of illness during much of it. His scientific friends continued to support him emotionally and encourage him to “keep going”. Without this support system, our understanding of the world might never have came to pass.
Not everyone can be a genius, but sometimes you have the opportunity to support it.
The book, titled On the Origin of Species, was published on November 22, 1850 with only 1,250 copies available that were already spoken for. Friends and fans again. The rest is, as they say, history.
At age 50, Charles Darwin finally brought together an entire lifetime of pondering, research, study, and work, which you could argue began with his own father’s medical interests.
The concept of evolution, created by one human with the perserverance to keep going through loss, tragedy, and his own illness.
II. A 40-Year Old Woman Who Changed American Food Forever
Our story begins in 1912 in Pasadena California. A daughter to a paper company heiress and a lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, she was rasised as the oldest child in a loving family with another brother and sister.
The girl grew to such a height, 6 foot 2 to be precise that she was always athletic, playing tennis, golf, basketball and continued her sporting into college. She attended Smith College, which was a private all women’s liberal arts school located in Northhampton Massachusets. Today, US News & World Report ranks it as 12th among the best Liberal Arts colleges in the nation.
She graduated in 1934, after the Great Depression with a degree in History while also studying quite a lot of English.
But because she didn’t quite know what her passion was, she attempted to join the armed services. She applied to, but was subsequently rejected from The Women’s Army Corp (WACs) and the US Navy’s WAVES because she was too tall. Eventually, she found the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was an intelligence agency during World War II.
The goal of the OSS was to coordinate espionage activities behind enemy lines across all branches of the US Armed Forces.
So this woman, because of her education and experience, became a top secret researcher working directly for the head of the entire OSS. Some of her duties included typing 10,000 names on note cards to keep track of officers, and working as a file clearn for the Emergency Rescue Equipment Section in Washingtton DC. She worked as an assistant to people working on secret R&D for a specialized shark repellent that would make sure sharks did not accidentally set off secret weapons targeting German U-Boats.
Eventually, she was deployed overseas to China to solve a similar problem of too many sharks setting off too many explosives before they reached their intended target. Interestingly, her solution was to cook up a various concoctions to sprinkle in the water and repel sharks. It was her first foray into cooking and worked so well that it is still in use today.
While there, she met her future husband, who was also an OSS employee and the pair were married in the fall of 1946 in a small ceremony in Pennsylvania.
Her husband had lived for a time in Paris, working as an artist and poet, and as a result, had developed a sophisticated palate, introducing his new wife to fine cuisine. They eventually moved to Paris in 1948 when the US State Department gave him a new assignment.
Once they arrived in Paris, they worked, and dined and discussed their various meals. Her husband took her to the city of Rouen on the River Seine in the north of France, where she had a culinary awakening. Her meal of oysters, sole meunière, and fine wine she later described to the New York Times as “an opening up of the soul and spirit for me”.
That was all it took.
She signed up for the famous Le Cordon Blue cooking school, studying and working furiously. She met with and studied under master chefs like Max Bugnard and joined women’s cooking clubs where she happened upon another female friend writing a cook book.
The problem was that they didn’t know Americans nor the American market so they needed her help to translate the delicate French cuisine into something approachable for a different palette.
In 1951 the two women along with a third began an informal cooking school for American women, loosely translated from French as “The School of the Three Food Lovers”. The wrote their first cook book and submitted the manuscript to Houghton Mifflin, but was rejected because it was too dry and read more like an encyclopedia than a story book.
But, they kept at it and in 1961, Knopf, one of the premiere publishers in history, released the 726-page book entitled “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. It became a best seller and received critical acclaim across the world.
It hit at just the right time as the 60s era people in the United States began a love affair with French culture. The woman would go on to publish twenty titles, and appear as a long-running TV show teaching Americans how to cook.
Julia Child started her life as an athlete, then an English and History major, then working in Intelligence for the military. She didn’t learn to cook until she was 36 years old and didn’t get her now famous TV cooking show until she was 40 years old.
She pioneered cooking as a media empire in the United States, with the reality chef shows now being some of the most popular and most watched on US television.
It’s a lesson in that life can take us on many different journeys until we find our passion and what we were meant to do. But once you find that spark, that magic, hang on to it tightly, and trust it in. You never know, you could be the next Julia Child, setting into motion a series of events that transform an entire culture for generations to come.
Being a Late Bloomer isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s often the way it’s supposed to happen. So worry not about your age, or time, but rather if you’re focused on your passion or not.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.
~ Calvin Coolidge