Monday, September 14, 2009

A list of individuals who developed talents later in life

This is a follow-up to my language-learning metaphor entry.

One comment was about the unlikelihood of mastering a "new language" (literally or metaphorically) if you only start learning beyond childhood or adolescence.

This seems to be a common view.

I always like to look for counterexamples (it's my mathematical way coming out in me):

1) the first one that leapt to my mind is Joseph Conrad, one of the greatest authors in the history of the Engish language. Conrad did not speak a word of English until he was 21. He began writing in English at age 32. His first published works came out when he was about 37. In order to learn English, he did not attend language classes or read grammar books, but chose to live and work in an English-speaking environment (immersion!).

2) I don't know much about rock musicians, but my research led me to a biography of Tom Scholz, from the group Boston. He started playing musical instruments at 21.

3) Here's a link to someone else's list:

4) Here's another list, which is part of a review of a book called Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women:

5) Another link with good examples:
(I'm the one who added Joseph Conrad to this list).

...I invite other suggestions to expand my list!


Anonymous said...

I think if you are making a list of individuals who prospered late in life you may also want to start a list of individuals who suffered/are suffering from serious mental disorders and yet achieved great things.

For example:

John Forbes Nash
Glen Gould
Abraham Lincoln
Virginia Woolf
Ludwig van Beethoven
Gaetano Donizetti
Robert Schumann
John Keats
Tennessee Williams
Vincent Van Gogh
Isaac Newton
Ernest Hemingway
Sylvia Plath
Winston Churchill
Vivien Leigh
Charles Dickens

These are just a few. The list goes on--- and on---

I think it is also important to credit individuals even if they ended up dying from their illness. (ie: Sylvia Plath died by suicide probably linked to complications of her illness.)

It is also important to remember that "abnormal" may NOT be harmful and even beautiful. (Also remember that "abnormal" is a cultural construct, which may change as culture does!)

And, if dysfunction is not harmful than it may be harnessed to positively contribute to our world and society.

Let us rejoice in our differences!


GK said...

Thank you for starting a new list!

In many cases, symptoms of a serious mental disorder can cause one to feel like a failure, even though there is great talent, ability, energy, creativity, potential, or achievement. Here I mean "achievement" in the broadest possible sense, as I think our culture overvalues certain types of economic or competitive accomplishment, and often undervalues the powerful and deeply meaningful achievements possible by having a compassionate and courageous character.

In fact, this leads me to consider yet another list, of great characters whose achievements were products of their compassionate nature, rather than feats of athleticism, intellect, etc. (Gandhi might be one example). Many of these characters might not be as well-known, since their humility might have prevented them from becoming famous. I invite some ideas for this type of list as well!