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👟 Hitting Your Stride Late

My mother tells me I’ve always been a late bloomer. I think that’s a generous way of saying it takes me longer to do what most people figure out in short order. I’m not talking about an individual task or skill, more of an acceptance of the way things are and the adaptations and adjustments that go with it. When I was in college, the last thing I wanted to do was think about what I was going to do when I got out. Sounds ridiculous when I write it out, but I’ve always just picked up necessary responsibilities along the way and that hasn’t steered me wrong. Some part of me always trusted I would settle into the rhythm required to succeed without having to rush.

I’ve had a handful of epiphanies in my life that acted as forcing functions to fundamentally change my behavior. When I was in 10th grade, I became fed up with being shy and afraid to show my personality in school. With my family, I always felt like I could make them laugh and had no problem opening up, but amongst my peers I was too afraid of potential ridicule to do so. I remember deciding one day, without provocation, to change the way I was around my classmates. I came home and told my mother my plans to loosen up, make more jokes, smile more, and be more talkative. It felt like the opposite of quitting an addiction cold turkey. Instead of stopping something, I was starting it, and I remained that way ever since.

Professionally, my epiphany didn’t strike until I was 30(!). It was a little over a year after I left my first design job, where I’d climbed up from Junior Web Designer to Creative Director in a few short years. I began reading a lot about design professionalism and the proper way to conduct yourself - things I just assumed I was doing right from the beginning. It occurred to me one day as I read that I’d been 100% wrong the entire time in my attitude towards my work. The hubris of youth, we’ll call it. Again, I decided to change my outlook and behavior, and that’s how it stayed.

While I’m proud of my ability to grow and change in those moments, there remains a bittersweet regret that I didn’t come to those realizations sooner. Hindsight has a way of fooling us into thinking things could have been different, but in reality I’m only ready when I’m ready. I didn’t particularly like being so shy, but I didn’t have it in me to change that. Until I did. And maybe if I read up on design professionalism at 25 instead of 30, I would blow it off and think I knew better, still subconsciously clinging to that youthful hubris.

As I get older I realize that it’s not that important when you start. What’s important is that you start. I once heard Morgan Freeman didn’t start acting until he was fifty. That’s pretty damning evidence for anyone who thinks if you don’t have your act together by {insert age here}, you may as well pack it in. Don’t be afraid to start kicking ass today, even if you’ve never kicked ass before.