Are You a Late Bloomer in Work or Love? Maybe You’re Right on Time. | Mint

Are You a Late Bloomer in Work or Love? Maybe You’re Right on Time.

Instead of feeling pressure to hit life events on someone else’s timeline, maybe it’s fine to make our own.
Instead of feeling pressure to hit life events on someone else’s timeline, maybe it’s fine to make our own.

Summary

  • Why you should challenge that secret timeline of milestones in your head

Gerry Breen always wanted to have kids. For years, he wasn’t with the right partner. Then he was with the right partner, but she couldn’t get pregnant. They tried for five years, eventually resigning themselves to a life as just two—until the day a pregnancy test turned positive.

He became a dad at 51.

“It was almost like a miracle," says Breen, now a 62-year-old father to 11-year-old Rosemary. Caring for a newborn in his 50s was exhausting, the Brooklyn, N.Y., resident acknowledges. At the playground, kids sometimes ask if he’s Rosemary’s grandpa. But when he plays guitar to help his daughter drift off to sleep at night, the timing feels just right.

So many of us have a secret, internal timeline we’re always measuring ourselves against: the ideal age we’d like to get that degree, get married, reach a certain title at work. Our fantasy chronology hasn’t evolved much over the years. A 2018 Stanford University study of people ages 25 to 94 found that all generations agreed around 26 is the right age to get married, 27 the time to buy a house and 28 the moment to start a family.

What if it’s not? Saddled with student-loan debt and overwhelmed by rising home prices, many millennials can’t afford to buy their first place. Some 60-year-olds are in better physical shape than their parents were at 40. Everything from Botox to fertility treatments has scrambled the calculus of middle age.

Instead of feeling pressure to hit life events on someone else’s timeline, maybe it’s fine to make our own.

“You go to college right out of high school. That’s the rule, right?" says Nikki Ivey, a sales trainer and consultant outside Jacksonville, Fla. Once a teen mom, she got her undergraduate degree at 28. She spent years feeling like an outsider and failure as she watched her peers ascend in school and work, figuring she’d never catch up.

One by one, she missed the milestones she’d envisioned in some imaginary dream life: earning six figures by 30, buying a house by 35. Then she hit one—reaching the C-suite of a company. She didn’t love the job. She did love sitting around the dinner table laughing with her kids. She ended up leaving the job, and started to wonder about all those milestones.

“Do I even want them?" she asked herself. “On whose clock?"

Late bloomers

Younger generations are increasingly pushing back everything from the age they start a full-time job to when they begin saving for retirement, says Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. There are some downsides to the delay.

Forgo buying a home and you could miss out on a massive asset. Postpone saving for retirement and you may face financial insecurity down the line. Fertility isn’t forever, and bodies break.

We’re also living longer: 30 extra years, on average, over the last century, Carstensen says. Instead of rushing through all the big stuff, only to face a long period of stagnation at the end of our lives, why not spread out the milestones?

“People are feeling like they’re falling behind, when in fact they’re probably doing exactly what they should," she says.

Working as a public defender in Rochester, N.Y., Danielle Ponder would frequently Google, “Did anyone make it after the age of 35?" A gifted singer, she chose a career in law because she was passionate about criminal justice and wanted the stability of steady work. She sneaked in shows between court dates instead of committing to music full time.

“I kept pushing the moment back," she says. At one point, she quit her day job, only to return a year and a half later, thwarted by the pandemic and disappointing bookings. “As I was getting older, my dreams did become smaller," she says.

On the last day of 2021, five days before her 40th birthday, she tried again. This time, quitting her job led to a debut solo album, television appearances and sold-out shows. When I caught up with Ponder recently on a rare mid-tour pause, she was feeling both shocked and grateful her success came when it did.

“I don’t know if I could survive this happening to me at 19," she says. She thinks her insecure teen self wouldn’t have handled the stress of the public eye well.

Facing fears

It can be hard to make a transition later in life. After years of being single, Frank Gallagher worried about people ignoring or rejecting him on online dating sites. And after being on his own, the thought of sharing a kitchen with someone new, adapting to how they, say, put away silverware, felt overwhelming.

“Could I compromise?" he wondered.

For his now-wife, Stefanie, the answer was yes. He was right; she dumped the forks in the drawer in one big clump. It turned out he didn’t really care.

“There’s a lot of things that don’t matter when you’re 60," says Gallagher, now 68. The couple got married at a Maryland botanical garden in December 2017.

The fear of doing something new can turn exhilarating when it’s a less traditional moment.

“Climbing made me really remember what it’s like to be white-knuckled scared," says Debra Hotaling, a communication professional who first tried rock climbing at 60. “It was so life-affirming."

She realized how comfortable she had become in her day-to-day life, and wondered what else was possible. She joined a climbing gym, purchased gear and installed a pull-up bar in her Redondo Beach, Calif., house. She recently left her corporate job to start her own business, a jump she says rock climbing gave her the courage to take.

“I realized," she says, “you can do things in all sorts of different orders."

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