Late Bloomer

The name on the file read “Humphrey, Shawn.”

I looked around the office. I looked back down at the file.

Do I open it?

I took another look around the office. I looked back down at the file.

Only a peek, I promised myself.

I hastily investigated its contents:

  • Application form
  • College transcripts
  • GRE Scores.

It was my Masters program admissions file.

Some shuffling of the remaining papers revealed my personal statement. I read the first two lines before putting it down in embarrassment. The shuffling also revealed a letter of recommendation from my college professor Gil Klose.

Am I allowed to read this? I asked myself.

No. You waived your right to review the contents of the letter, I answered.

Go ahead and read it. It’s been a couple years, I rationalized.

But, do I want to read it? I asked.

Yes, yes you do, I answered.

So, I read it (I also made a copy of it).

It started off strong.

“Shawn’s quantitative preparation is weak, but I think he has the aptitude to make that up without too much trouble.” (Emphasis mine)

“He started college as a narrowly focused, career-oriented student…he initially had little interest in fields outside his major.”

“Until his junior year, Shawn had been a clearly better than average, but not overly interesting student.”

“Shawn was a conscientious student who attended class regularly and did his homework, (though not always on time)”

“…on his exams [he] demonstrated a good grasp of the essentials of the material. Those who earned higher grade generally exhibited a greater depth and detailed knowledge.”

Damn, Gil did not hold back. But, it got better:

“…it was in his junior and senior years that something of a quantum leap occurred”

“Shawn revealed a new breadth of vision and sensitivity to humane issues…”

And, then he added:

“Shawn is one of our late bloomers.”

Gil was right. I was a late bloomer. I am a late bloomer.

Precocious is not a term that has ever been used to describe me. I started off grade school slow. I started off middle school and high school slow. I started off college slow (as Gil attested to in his letter). And, because of that slow start, I was roundly rejected by all thirteen PhD programs I applied to upon graduation. So, I went to get my Masters first. And, as you would expect, I started off that program slow as well. Upon getting my Masters, I would reapply to all original thirteen PhD programs, get accepted, and go on to start off my PhD program slow.

Starting off slow and climbing out of a hole again and again was exhausting. It was downright trying at times. But, as a late bloomer, I also learned some valuable lessons. I learned how to:

  • See my name at the bottom of a depth chart and smile.
  • Live happily knowing that I was someone else’s second or third choice.
  • Pick myself after not being picked.
  • Make photosynthesis happen even when I am in someone else’s shadow.
  • Read “Thank you for your application but we had an unusually competitive pool of applicants this year…” and get back to work.
  • Pave a path to personal success by moving one grain of sand at a time.
  • Spy an opportunity under the heaps of hard work that those who were chosen first usually believe is beneath them.
  • Make shit happen with the resources I got.

Life as a late bloomer also has its benefits. We usually get overlooked by traditional power brokers (at least for a period of time). This is good. Because, we do not get crushed by their expectations. We also do not show up in our competitors’ peripheral vision. This gives us creep. And, there are few things more rewarding than the look that competitors gives us when we’re all kitty-cat paws and fur in their faces!

I also learned to love my limitations.

If you haven’t already, it feels pretty good.


If you enjoyed this blog, you may enjoy my This is the Work newsletter.

Thanks. – shawn

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson