I’ve been reading in small doses Jacques Barzun’s acclaimed “From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present.” I’m lucky if I can wade through more than two pages in one sitting since Barzun’s carefully researched survey of Western history is so densely packed. Like the Bible or James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” you don’t so much read as study this 877-page book.
What amazes me more than the breadth and wit of his writing is the fact that Barzun is now 104 years old. He began work on “From Dawn to Decadence” when he was 84, and it was published in 2000 when he was 92.
I thought I was getting “over the hill”; but compared to Barzun, I’m a mere toddler in Pampers. I say hats off to people like Barzun who continue their careers long after everyone else has called it quits and to those underachievers who, through persistence and hard work, bloom much later in life.
Success seems to be the domain of the fast and young in our culture—star athletes leave college so they can get a head start on their professional careers, and geeks like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg drop out of school, too, to make their first billion before the age of 30.
As it turns out, there are many celebrated late bloomers in literature, art and the sciences. Cezanne, Matisse, Edison, Einstein, Hitchcock, Freud, Defoe and Twain are just a few famous people who did some of their greatest work later in life.
It’s no surprise that Susan Boyle’s first audition on “Britain’s Got Talent” has had millions views on YouTube. I get shivers myself when I see her, a dowdy, unknown 47-year-old from a small village in Scotland, taking the stage to sing a soaring rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” and proving to all of the world that she definitely has talent.
If you’re a late-blooming career-changer like me, take heart. Like Boyle, your time has come. You have the experience and the skills to do great work. And if you’re willing to spend time learning “new tricks” like social media and think outside the box in an entrepreneurial way, I have no doubt you will do well.
As Americans continue to live longer and more productive lives, more people start second careers, and technology makes it easier and less expensive to start a new business, there’s undoubtedly going to be a Renaissance in the self-employed and small business sector.
Barzun’s description of the impact of the first wave of printed manuscripts across Europe reminds me of our current age of digital media. The similarities are striking. Think about how for centuries no one except the rich and the clerisy had access to hand-copied books. Suddenly, books and pamphlets are spreading like wildfire—translated into new languages, offering new voices and perspectives, and ushering in new ways of thinking.
The possibilities today are endless with new apps, social media, tablets and e-readers coming out every day. And the cost of producing and acquiring content just keeps going down. As the saying goes, “The world is your oyster.” It’s an exciting time for both young and late bloomers who’ve “got talent.”