I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “What the Dog Saw,” a collection of his favorite writings from over the years. In typical Gladwell fashion, every piece starts off being about one thing before he becomes fascinated with something different altogether. Kinda like M. Night Shyamalan, except – you know – good. At any rate, one portion of the book focused on prodigies vs. late bloomers. As a culture, we tend to assume that brilliance shows itself early. Gifted piano players will show a knack for music as toddlers. Talented artists will demonstrate prowess before adolescence even hits. Gymnasts should become Olympians by high school. You get the idea (and you can learn more about fixed mindsets like this in this post). Gladwell meanwhile suggests that there are late bloomers, people that work and develop their skills rather than simply being blessed as kids. His primary case study is a writer named Ben Fountain who quit his law firm to write fiction despite having no indication that he could make a living within that realm. Let’s just say it took a while.
For most of the article, I thought my primary interest was as an aspiring late bloomer. As a guy who still has not gotten that first book published or that first film made, I always appreciate stories about people who finally broke through in their 40s or 50s. But then Gladwell reminded me that it takes more than just hard work and perseverance…it takes faith. And I’m not talking about one’s faith in his/her own gifts; I’m talking about faith from others. Here’s the excerpt that caught my attention:
Ben Fountain did not make the decision to quit the law and become a writer all by himself. He is married and has a family…”When Ben first did this, we talked about the fact that it might not work and we talked about, generally, ‘When will we know that it really isn’t working?’ and I’d say, Well, give it ten years,’” Sharie recalled. To her, ten years didn’t seem unreasonable. “It takes a while to decide whether you like something or not,” she says. And when ten years became twelve and then fourteen and then sixteen, and the kids were off in high school, she stood by him, because, even during that long stretch when Ben had published nothing at all, she was confident that he was getting better.
Ten years? Think about that. Your spouse proposes a total career shift. How long would it take for you to get frustrated with the lack of success? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say it’s less than a decade. I know, I know…I’m a total cynic. Regardless, Sharie is pretty much my new hero. Ben Fountain eventually succeeded as a writer, an award-winning one, no less. It took years of practice and hard work and improvement, obviously. But it also took a partner that patiently believed, a partner with faith. I’m tempted to make a George Michael reference here, but I’ll spare you. Maybe next time.