Not All Who Wander are Lost

A recent Facebook message sent by someone I went to high school with informed me that a group from our grad class was starting to plan our 30-year reunion. After reading it, I had two reactions. The first one was, “We are just not that old—seriously; weren’t the 1980s just ten years ago?” and the second, “I’m really not sure if I should go.” Not because I dread seeing my classmates again, but what I dread the most is all the bragging that seems a natural accompaniment to high school reunions. It shouldn’t be such a big deal, right? After all, a person gets to the point in life that they are established in a career, have a great partner and amazing kids, and have life pretty much figured out.

Or do they? I have a husband and son, whom I adore, and live in suburban Calgary. I’ve held down jobs and volunteered. But, deep down, I feel no further ahead in life than if I were in my early 20s. I am still in university, and the secret that I don’t tend to admit in polite company is that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. This isn’t a mid-life crisis in the traditional sense, because I’ve had this crisis in confidence for a long time. But during my adulthood, I’ve had periods of depression/panic/despair that stem from the fear that perhaps I will always be behind the pack, and that I don’t measure up how life is supposed to be.

However, now that I’ve reached my mid-life years, I ironically find that I can relax a bit. Being 40-something has come with a sense of wisdom and peace about who I am and being an “adult learner” has been a gift for me in terms of realizing that I am just not done yet–and, in fact, I am only just getting started. Rather than labelling myself as a failure because of what I have not accomplished, I am learning to notice and appreciate what I have attained. I am proud to call myself a late bloomer.

The general definition of a late bloomer is someone reaches certain milestones later than their peers and later than the norms of society. But, although this definition is handy, defining exactly what it entails is a bit more difficult. The usual patterns of graduating high school, entering some form of post-secondary education, finding gainful employment, and settling down to start a family, along with the expectation of what should be accomplished and when, is shifting–for the better. Although there will always be those that accomplish a huge amount while they are young, no longer is a person considered a has-been if they haven’t achieved all they wanted to by the time they reach some magic milestone (perhaps the age of 40?or is it even 30?). This may be due to many factors, including that people are living longer and that societal attitudes toward aging are changing. But a shift in mindset within society is also occurring. One that sends the message that people can change and adapt. After all, a lot of people often find themselves in a place that requires them to start over in life, perhaps due to a traumatic event’such as losing a home or business because of financial reasons, or finding themselves coping with a personal loss such as a death or divorce.

And yet, often those who identify with the label of a late bloomer still feel a little ashamed that they are a late starter. They still may wonder if and how they will ever fit in. Resources to help late bloomers thrive are difficult to seek out and often scant. But late bloomers are resilient; they use their determination to live life on their own terms, instead of those others expect of them, often in a way that non- late bloomers do not.

Michelle Despain used her experiences to create the website The Late Bloomer Revolution and she has also authored the book The Late Bloomer’s Almanac. She does not view being a late bloomer as a negative label; rather, she affirms that anyone who dares to live life on their own terms in mid-life and beyond should be celebrated. She calls these people “late bloomer revolutionaries.” However she notes that the biggest obstacle in finding one’s true potential is negative and defeatist thinking. She urges late bloomers to learn from and honour their past but to not get bogged down in it. Instead, she says, thinking positive and learning to dream again?but also following up those dreams with action?are the way that late bloomers can move forward and find their niche.

Debra Eve is another writer who is encouraging late bloomers through her website, The Later Bloomer. She recognizes that many creative people throughout history do not begin to find success until their later years. She also notes that often late bloomers have experienced some sort of trauma in their early life that they must overcome, but then they use their negative experiences, along with a sense of curiosity and wonder, to create their own goals and definition of success.

Of course, this comes as no surprise for Athabasca University students. Perhaps the alternate name for AU should be Late Bloomer University, because many of its students have overcome all kinds of difficulties to embrace their chance at learning. AU’s Office of the Registrar provided the most recent demographic numbers for AU undergraduate student age groups, which breaks down as follows:

Less than age 25 – 47.4%
25 to 34 – 33.0%
35 to 44 – 14.1%
45 to 54 – 4.7%
55 + – 0.8%

The Registrar’s office says that, generally, these numbers do not fluctuate much from year to year and notes that AU has a high percentage of adult learners, far more than traditional universities.

However, the nature of AU’s distance learning format, which opens learning opportunities for late bloomers, also has one disadvantage. It is often difficult for late bloomers to contact each other for support. Hopefully, new opportunities will open up for them to do But in the absence of organized meetups for students to get together in person, The Voice, as well as AU’s and AUSU’s Facebook pages, are crucial communication forums for students to reach out to each other. Late bloomers, no matter where they come from and whatever they face in life, need to stand up and be proud of all they have overcome and are on the way to achieving.

As for my high school reunion? Who knows what will happen in the next little while. I just may show up.

Carla might consider herself a late bloomer, but hopefully this label will not apply to her efforts at creating her first garden in her new house this year.

[Once you’ve read this there should be no questions why it’s part of The Best of the Voice. It looks at a connection many of AU’s students may have that might, at first glance, seem like a negative and turns it around. It does that while giving us information both about AU and the nature of that connection that we may not have known, presents a call to action for those people, and then wraps it all up in the very real experience of a student dealing with it on her own, as so many of us must.  Where else would it be but in the Best of? -Ed.]
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