We shouldn’t obsess over early achievement.

We live in a world where we applaud kids that do amazing things at a young age, but Rich Karlgaard is not focused on those early achievers. Karlgaard is the publisher of Forbes Magazine and author of “Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and he wants to start a national dialog about why it’s essential to recognize that some people’s prime comes a little later than others.

Late Bloomers begins with Karlgaard highlighting a 53-year-old woman named Joanne. When Joanne was in school, she was described as a “high-mediocre” student. Many professors do not remember Joanne, but one professor described her as a student that would often stare off into space while in class.

After attending school, Joanne got into a bad marriage, worked as a receptionist for a bit, and went into a spiral of depression after her divorce. For a time, she was even on public assistance.

But Karlgaard says Joanne is an excellent example of a late bloomer.
“At age 35, while taking a train, Joanne, otherwise known as J.K. Rowling, dreamed up Harry Potter,” says Karlgaard.


Why do parents push so hard?


If being a late bloomer is ok, then why do we see parents, coaches, and teachers push kids to be an early achiever? Karlgaard’s theory is that the predominant rewards in society are coming from two industries, software and high-end financial services.
“I like to say Google and Goldman Sachs,” says Karlgaard. “Now, these Google and Goldman Sachs, who do they look for in college grads? They look for college grads that have gone to most elite universities.”
This has created the idea that the most significant rewards go to those that attend elite universities and have the best test scores.
Consequently, it leads to parents and educators pushing kids towards doing whatever it takes to get into the best universities.
Karlgaard says his goal in writing Late Bloomers is to start a discussion about applying unneeded pressure on students that may need more time. He’s concerned that our current trajectory is causing financial indebtedness, anxiety, depression, and sleep-deprived kids.


What we’re getting wrong


Karlgaard says we have a very narrow idea of what K-12 education should be.
“That it should be a conveyer belt, and at the end of that conveyer belt, it deposits these kids into the best possible colleges that they can get in to.”

Karlgaard acknowledges some kids are going to succeed on that conveyer belt. He knows some will get high test scores, and they’ll manage the homework, and that’s great.
But he wants to make sure society understands that if kids are not succeeding, then “Plan B” is not to double down.

“There’s overwhelming research that the conveyer belt is missing more kids than it’s hitting,” say’s Karlgaard. “Many kids, their talents, deepest passions, and purpose, are never going to be revealed on that conveyer belt.”

This is what motivated Karlgaard to spend five years researching and writing Late Bloomers.


What can we do?


If we see kids succeeding at an early age, by all means, we should applaud the success. But we also need to be sensitive to the signs of kids that are rebelling against the current system.

Karlgaard says to watch for kids…

  • Mentally dropping out
  • Retreating to the basement and playing video games
  • Clinical anxiety or depression
  • Dropping out school


It used to be much easier to be a late bloomer, says Karlgaard. We didn’t have social media, where kids compare themselves to the curated versions of other kids.

Karlgaard says educators’ success should not be measured by how many kids you get into Havard.

“Success is measured 20-30 years down the road when you see your students are well functioning, healthy, happy, fulfilled contributors to their families and society.”

To hear our full interview with Karlgaard, listen to Episode 99 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.


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