Van Gogh Didn't Start Until He Was 27

When I was 9, I pictured my life very differently at this point. According to my nine year-old desires, my daily activities should include preforming heart surgery in the morning, teaching a class of fifth graders in the afternoon, and polishing off the next great American novel. As I age, I constantly think my years of creation and productivity are gone. I know, I know. This is naive of me, and completely unfounded. In fact, it’s somewhat insulting to those I admire and respect around me. The world is replete with examples of individuals who stretched themselves well into adulthood. Maybe it’s Hollywood, but I have this misconception that has been percolating in my subconscious that the only time I will do anything truly groundbreaking and lasting is in my twenties. Oh, how awful this world would be if that single decade of transitioning adult years was the only time we could follow our passions.

Television shows like American Idol and others show the young phenoms out there. We drool over individuals who are preternaturally gifted at a young age. The three year-old who can play the drums like John Bonham. Or the 10 year-old opera singer. We shower praise on the golfer who has been playing since he was three, and many are left in the shadow of the 18 year-old drafted to the NBA straight out of high school. And of course, who can forget the 23 year-old billionaire? Seeing the many examples of early stardom, I sometimes get stuck with this feeling that if I didn’t steel/invent Facebook by the time I was 20, then I should settle down as a happy cog in someone else’s world.

We don’t have to settle for who we have become, because we have complete control over who we are going to be.

But the world is also filled with examples of people who are more like the rest of us. As Marge Simpson says, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Don’t pay attention to the 14 year-old phenom– get out there and make it happen! Who do you look up to who had a “late start” in their new careers?

At 37Signals, there was an article that mentioned Vincent Van Gogh. They pointed out that:

He wasn’t some child prodigy (he was 27 when he started painting), he learned his craft by hard work.

He only practiced art for the last 10 years of his life. Granted, at that point, he suffered from mental illness and died penniless. So I am not saying we should emulate every aspect of the guy’s life, but look at what he was able to achieve. This really struck me because growing up in Holland, I always pictured this man painting and drawing obsessively as a child, but that was not the case. He worked at his craft, poured his soul into it, but not until he was older. Do you have to be insane, though, to do what Van Gogh did? No.

How many of us can say we have truly poured ourselves into a craft with same gusto as Van Gogh? Whether it be academic study, or learning to sew, or becoming more focused, or learning to program? Is it ever too late to start? No. It’s not.

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