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Janie B. Cheaney: Hope for late bloomers


WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Hope for late bloomers

Finding a calling later in life is more common than one might think

St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, Feb. 3, 2002 Associated Press/Photo by Doug Mills, File

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 10th, 2024. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Up next: WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney reflects on finding your calling, no matter your age.

JANIE B. CHEANEY: The phrase “late bloomer” has meant a lot to me over the years, mainly because it defines me. I didn’t formulate any clear goals in high school, never advanced in college beyond an Associate’s degree, didn’t decide I wanted to write until sometime in my mid-twenties, when I was already a wife and soon to be a mother. Homemaking, and later homeschooling, took most of my time and I wasn’t disciplined or focused enough to follow a writing career in the off-hours.

Then, after several failed attempts, I published my first novel at age 50, followed by five more over the next fifteen years. That puts me in the ranks of classic late bloomers, including: Julia Child, “Colonel” Harlan Sanders, Isak Dinesen, Kurt Warner, Morgan Freeman, and Copernicus.

In a recent Atlantic piece, David Brooks tallied up some common characteristics of the class. Late bloomers are internally, rather than externally, motivated. That is, they’ll pursue a subject for its own sake, rather than test scores, rank, recognition, or promotion. They tend to have a wider range of interests while younger, a kind of sampling period where they try on various hats and habits. They have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and even inefficiency. They allow themselves to fail. They’re naturally curious. They follow rabbit trails. They know how to self-teach. Eventually they “bloom” by committing themselves to a particular goal, which by then they possess the wisdom and discipline to pursue effectively.

To these I would add a kind of humble confidence: knowing that you have a lot to learn, but also that God has given you certain gifts he expects you to develop. Knowing that you have the capacity to be really good at something, and the road to excellence is worth the inevitable knockdowns and setbacks. God pays each of us the great complement of participation in creation: “Good works,” as Paul says in Ephesians, “which [He] prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Why “walk in them,” rather than just, “do?” Maybe because “blooming” into good works is a process rather than a series of deeds. Our good works make us as we make them. In that sense, we’re all late bloomers. There may be a time to retire from a career, but never from a calling.

As someone who’s not that much younger than a presidential candidate, I can sympathize with forgetfulness and diminished capacity. There does come a time to put down the hammer, the scalpel, the gavel, or the microphone. But whatever your age, or mine, whatever our fading or growing abilities, we can still bloom. Or as Tennyson’s elderly Ulysses puts it: “Come, my friends. ‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.”

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.

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