College is the place where students figure out their passions, decide their future careers, and take the steps for long-term success. We learn academic terms like “intersectionality” or “media conglomeration” and slowly start to integrate our lectures into our everyday discussions—what we learn in the classroom follows us into our daily lives and psyche.
In one of my classes, we read and analyzed Malcolm Gladwell’s article “Late Bloomers,” featured in The New Yorker. The story profiles artists, specifically writers and painters, and what the process for finding success looked like for those who didn’t become famous early on in life. Gladwell included, in juxtaposition, some well-known prodigies within history.
A few examples stuck out: the film Citizen Kane was created when Orson Wells was 25, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was written by a 23 year old, Herman Melville came out with Moby Dick at 32, and Mozart wrote his fame-gaining masterpiece by the age of 21.
“Genius,” Gladwell writes, “in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth.”
In contrast, Gladwell featured several artists whose careers didn’t take off right away; it seemed a common practice for writers—like the article’s focus, author Ben Fountain—to ditch their careers and moneymaking and dedicate all of their time to their craft, only to find failure waiting for them. It took 18 years for Fountain’s own writing to take off.
It struck me all at once, as I was wearing sweatpants and eating cake straight from the pan for breakfast, that maybe I’m no bloomer at all. I’m clearly not a prodigy with a novel hidden under my pillow, and I don’t have the resources to quit everything and focus solely on my writing. I don’t have the talent to be early, and I don’t have the time to be late.
What, then, is in store for me and my future as an English Writing major? Am I wasting my youthful exuberance? Like many college students before me, it can be assured that there’s no concrete way of knowing. Students graduate, discover other passions, and disregard their degree all the time. Biologists become insurance salesmen. Philosophers become bank tellers.
One thing, however, remains true: I will decide where I go. Maybe someday I’ll be struck with a mid-life epiphany and create a meaningful composition; maybe instead there will be a career I stumble upon and never want to leave. Blooming, I think, extends beyond Gladwell’s definition of fame. It’s internal, and it’s there for all of us.