Late bloomer is a term often associated with developmental milestones in kids. It turns out the actual meaning is a lot more generous than that, despite what Urban Dictionary has to say on the topic.

I always topped my class in school. Even through undergrad classes, I stayed in the top 5 ranks. So, “late bloomer” is not a term that anyone would associate with me. Frankly, I haven’t considered the possibility until very recently. I did well in most of what I took up doing. And if you look at my career path, I’ve dabbled with a lot of technologies across the spectrum. I mean, does anyone even remember SSI clustering anymore? Until recently, I even had a google alert setup for “Mosix clustering” - if you even remember something like that in the first place. Just out of college, I had the opportunity to setup both SSI cluster as well as a Mosix cluster :-). So to say, that I had the opportunities and then I had the capability to pick up on those opportunities is somewhat humble. So where is this thought of a “late bloomer” even figuring in all this?

Awareness - The first step to learning is “awareness” - the cognizance of the existence of a thing

My son is learning to play the drums. He’s been doing that for a while. For that period, my Sunday afternoon routine involves taking him to the class and waiting around until his session is done. I typically walk around the block listening to my podcast backlog. My listening list is normally just tech stuff, but around the beginning of the pandemic, I stumbled upon Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History”. I am a history buff. For the longest time, I believed the history I learnt in school wasn’t the full picture. But I was too lazy to do my own research (and I would rather spend time with SSI clustering than with history anyway). I’ve always loved Malcolm Gladwell’s work, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to catch this one. Then pandemic struck and there was a gap after season one. I assumed there wouldn’t be others and stopped tracking the podcast. But I digress.

Earlier this month, I realised there were close to 6 seasons of this podcast that I hadn’t caught up with. I have been binge listening them every time I go on a walk.I still have 3 seasons to cover. Interspersed within the episodes are a couple of sessions where Malcolm Galdwell meets Adam Grant. I haven’t had an opportunity to read Adam Grant’s work so far, though I have gifted his books a couple of times :D. In one such episode, Grant was discussing the topic of late bloomers. As I was listening to this episode, it dawned on me that the definition of late bloomer applies to well beyond just developmental milestones. Now I am not sure if Grant particularly talks about the definition, but he does talk about the need for a different kind of inclusivity in his book. And that is how I gained awareness of this topic.

Realisation - Understanding the role of the thing in our life or work

“Realisation” is probably not a valid step in the learning process. Or it might be the last step in the process too - depending on how we choose to define the term. But if there is anything true about myself, it is the fact that I alway seek to avoid status quo.

I tend to introspect a lot. I don’t do this as a set activity in my day. I have often caught myself pondering over seemingly pointless topics a lot. For instance, I spent a few years pondering over the meaning of the Gita verse that talks about doing our work without expecting results. I have come up with so many explanations and theories for what it might mean. Interestingly, I have also read up different interpretations, watched various lectures on this topic. The topic, though, is still open in my mind. I don’t have a conclusive answer to what it means. Not yet, at least. There are a bunch more like this. I honestly enjoy this aspect of me and I fully intend to take this to my grave :-)

The corollary of that last paragraph is this: I am not done until a topic “clicks” in my head. And I don’t know how or when a topic clicks either. And I don’t consider myself knowledgeable in a topic until the click has occurred. To an extent, I cannot exploit my ability to use the topic until the click has occurred either. This is, potentially, a bad downside to how my mind works. And it has been this way since high school. The Adam Grant episode actually unlocked my realisation of this limitation within me. For the first time, I could put a finger on why I am reluctant to try some things. Honestly, as I have grown older, this obsession has gotten worser. For instance, when I built those SSI clusters right out of college, I only needed a minimal understanding of the concept. But if I had to do it today, I will probably need understand a lot more of the underlying concepts before it will be done in my head.

There are some places this has come as a major handicap.

  • I learnt the basics of Machine Learning way back in 2014. I learnt basics of NLP almost 8 years back - am immensely grateful to my mentor Ramaseshan for choosing to guide me on this path. And I learnt the basics of DL using Fast AI during the pandemic. From that point, I have learnt a lot more of each of these topics. I’ve successfully built a few apps using this knowledge, solved a few Kaggle style problems even. I still don’t talk about my “expertise” in these topics. I can even do a 101 course on each of these topics, but to myself - am not yet an expert. Why? It hasn’t clicked in my head. It is all nice and beautiful what I can do with this. The “why” of it all is just not adding up in my head. It will, one of these days. But until then…
  • I started learning “Lisp” somewhere around 2007. I’ve known the “syntax” all this time. I started learning Clojure about 3 year back. And yet, my first major project was only last year. And I still don’t even have an open source project or a big enough project in “Common Lisp”. Why? It is not even that hard, right? Its a programming language after all. But you see, the point of lisp is not writing the code. It is probably about learning to think in lisp. While I have made a tonne of progress, am far from there. So, while I can probably “teach” you lisp, I don’t yet consider myself an expert!
  • I have wanted to be an entrepreneur when I was in high school. My father randomly asked me what I wanted to pursue for a career. And I told him I wanted to be on my own - do my own thing. Honestly, I had no idea if or whether it was possible. No one in my family had done anything like this. There were no role models. I’ve been reading about startups and entrepreneurship since early college days. I’ve had a few false starts too. And yet, until late last year, I did not take a concrete step in this direction. Why? While I always attributed it to a lot of reasons, the actual reason turns out that it just did not “click” in my head. I had everything and yet something was missing.

Application - Using the thing in our life and work

In my case, it is more of dealing with the knowledge that I might not be as fast as I thought I was. Since this realisation I have started going down this rabbit hole to understand my motivations and strengths, my weaknesses and things that I can excel at and skills I shouldn’t go for. I’ve covered my findings in another post, but it is sufficient to say here that I am right in my “gut”.

I have always been a “gut” call guy. A whole lot of my decisions are made that way. Yes, some of them failed on my face but the wins outnumbered and I stuck with the system. I knew back in high school that I am best left alone ;-). I’ve always pursued mastery, always sought knowledge, always took opportunities to try different things and took quite a bit of chances with my career. Honestly, though, I didn’t make sense of this until now.

The quest for a “why” continues - until one day it will click in my head. I remember one of my elders going – " we all live to fulfill a specific purpose. and once that is done, we will move on “. Perhaps, there is some truth to that statement.