Jessica: Hey there, it’s Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand Noonday Collection. And this is the Going Scared podcast where we cover all things, social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. You are in for a treat today. I needed this conversation so badly. It came during a really hard week, and, frankly, I began to prep for it an hour before sitting down with him. It’s Rich Karlgaard, and he is the publisher of Forbes Magazine. Which I didn’t realize until I actually sat down to prep, which frankly got me a little bit nervous, that I was talking to such a legend, and I think that’s why today’s conversation just blew my mind. He was absolutely one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever had the chance to bring on this podcast.
And he’s quite passionate about his latest book. I am so passionate about it as well after giving it a read. It’s called Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. You guys, if you are a parent, if you are the son or daughter of a parent, this is such a rich conversation and a topic that we all want to be a part of nationally. And you are going to hear from a legend, from a man of wisdom, and I can’t wait for you give this a listen.
Jessica: I did wanna ask before we get going. My Dad is actually a pilot. He was a Vietnam War vet and he continued to fly throughout his life. He had a little Cessna and he actually just sold a Beechcraft Bonanza A36TC. And I just gave a keynote this morning showing a video that my mom took when they had to crash land because my mom is videoing the takeoff, and she suddenly sees on the right wing something coming out of the wind. She didn’t know what it was and she just kinda kept going. She was like, “My husband, he knows what he’s doing. He’s been flying his whole life.” Suddenly, the plane begins to coast, and my dad had forgot to screw the cap on the gas tank, and it was the fuel.
Rich: Yeah, kind of essential.
Jessica: That is essential. And I use it in my talk to talk about entrepreneurship and how we have got to have enough fuel to actually get us to our destination and what keeps us from screwing on our gas cap. And I’m wondering as a pilot yourself, what are some of those correlations you found between flying and entrepreneurship?
Taking Off in the Business World
Rich: Well, I think there are many. I took up flying when I was 46 and I owned a Cessna 172 Bonanza A36 and then most recently … I no longer have it. I’ve been so busy. I travel so much that I just don’t feel my head is in the game when I’m in my plane, and that’s a dangerous place to be. But I had a Cirrus. I think there are many good lessons. I think that my wife was struck by the idea that everybody should have a checklist. Parents should have a checklist. Entrepreneurs should have a checklist. It doesn’t mean, in the real world and the business world, that you’re doing nothing but following the checklist. But a checklist is a good thing to have. It’s essential in flying to have a checklist so that you screw the caps, fuel caps, back on the wing.
I think another one that’s really important is situational awareness. If you don’t develop situational awareness as a pilot, you’ll kill yourself. And to be an entrepreneur, you have to have a situational awareness. You have to have developed that third sense that things are not moving in the right direction or they are moving in the right direction and you need to double down on that and you have to have that situational awareness because if you wait for the numbers to tell you the story, sometimes you can be too late. You can miss an opportunity, you can miss a real pothole.
Jessica: Wow. I love that you took up flying. What made you decide to take it up?
Rich: Kind of goes to your point about imperfect courage. Two things that will show up on everybody’s list of things they’re most afraid of: one is public speaking and one is being in a small airplane. I consider myself an absolute terrified chicken flyer, but the fact that I was meant that I had to do it. Similarly, first time that I ever spoke in front of a group as a business person was shortly after Steve Forbes hired me and he came out to Palo Alto and we did an a launch party, and he introduced me and I was literally dumbstruck. I mean, nothing came out of my mouth for what seemed like 20 minutes. It was probably 45 seconds. And I have this theory on public speaking that most people have to give their first 20 crappy speeches before they get any good…
Jessica: That’s so true.
Rich: …and develop any confidence in themselves. And then when you do, then it’s easy because you’re not thinking about yourself. You’re thinking about the needs of the people in the audience. And then it becomes a joy.
Jessica: That’s so true.
Rich: But a lot of people, they never get enough repetitions.
Jessica: It’s true though I still get nervous to public speak and I’ve definitely given enough keynotes where I think, “When is this gonna stop?” So, you wrote this book called Late Bloomers and I’m so fascinated by the topic. And I mentioned earlier, yes, I live in Austin in a town that has so many early bloomers. We’ve got the founder of Bumble, we’ve got the founder of Outdoor Voices, founder of multiple other companies. And they are babies. I look at them and I think, “How? I don’t understand.” I had no idea what I knew I wanted to do at age 25. And it’s easy for me in my 40s, I started my company 8 years ago.
On a bad day, I can go to a dark place and think “I missed the boat. I wish I would’ve started this earlier.” Because our goal is to be a $500 million company. So, we’ve got a long way to go. And so, I picked your book up as a businesswoman, but as I read it, I really started reading it more with the lens of a mom. I just had my oldest turn 13, and I just became curious about you and what inspired you to write about this topic in particular?
Late Bloomers: Growing at Your Own Pace
Rich: It’s called Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement and it comes out on April 16th. I was a late bloomer myself. At age 25, despite having graduated from a good college although I barely got through, I was not capable of holding a responsible adult job. I was a dishwasher, I was a temporary typist, and I was a night watchman. Now this is when I’m 25 and I’m 4 years from graduating from college, and my roommates are off doing extraordinary things. One became one of the most powerful corporate securities lawyers in Silicon Valley. Another got his advanced degree at the University of Pennsylvania and worked on the space shuttle and another one became a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles and still thrives doing that.
And I remember I hit this low point. One night, when I was a night watchman at a rent-a-truck yard, I’m making my rounds and I heard a dog barking from the yard next door, and I swung my flashlight around and I saw that it was a rottweiler. And then it occurred to me that their security guard was a dog. And so, at age 25, my professional working colleague was a rottweiler. Months later, Steve Jobs, 25, would take Apple public and become worth several hundred million dollars. And I was stuck on life’s launching pad. Well, I always thought about this, Jessica, and why I was so late. And really, I don’t think I was particularly lazy or dysfunctional. I think my brain was simply not ready to take on the adult world. It’s still had some growing to do.
“I always thought about … why I was so late. And really, I don’t think I was particularly lazy or dysfunctional. I think my brain was simply not ready to take on the adult world. It’s still had some growing to do.” Rich Karlgaard on being a late bloomer.
One of the things that I did when I was a night watchman is that I read a lot and I read for my own pleasure and not just sports magazines and things like that, but I discovered contemporary literature. I remember reading the works of Saul Bellow and Tom Wolfe and people like that, and I was really inspired. So, I was not done with my education and I was not done with my brain development. Now I look at what we’re doing to children and to teens and young adults today and we are putting so much pressure on them to achieve early that we’ve created this national insanity.
Now I love people who achieve early. I love all those early bloomers. I think it’s absolutely wonderful but to imagine that everybody else can be like that is a fallacy. And you see, what we do is we’re putting kids on this conveyor belt and the conveyor belt ask them to study hard, take test preparation courses, apply to the best college that they can get into. And they may not thrive at that college because they may be in the lower percentiles of the people who got into that college. And to take on a lot of debt. We have $1.5 trillion student debt problem.
“I look at what we’re doing to children and to teens and young adults today and we are putting so much pressure on them to achieve early that we’ve created this national insanity … I love all those early bloomers. I think it’s absolutely wonderful but to imagine that everybody else can be like that is a fallacy.” Rich Karlgaard
Since the year 2000, rates of suicide, anxiety and depression among teens and young adults has doubled. Something we’re doing is not right. I think it has to do with this incredible pressure that we’re putting on people. And even some of the apparent winners in this early achievement race turn out to be not who we thought they were. You look at Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos. I mean she clearly was an early bloomer. She took all the advanced courses in high school. She went to Stanford. She impressed her college advisor. She started a company. And then when things went sideways at Theranos, rather than face up to the truth, she was kind of trapped in her world of, “I’m Elizabeth Holmes. I achieved early. I can always achieve.”
One more little marker is that if you think about somebody who gets into an elite university like Stanford today, Stanford is in my backyard here in Silicon Valley. They only take 3% of applicants. These must be the early-achiever winners, right? Well, I talked to a freshman psychology professor named Carol Dweck. You might recognize her name as the author of a book called Mindset.
Jessica: I love that.
Rich: And I asked Carol about these kids and she said something bad is happening. She said, the kids that I see today, and this is a couple of years ago when I interviewed her for the book, the kids of the I see today are exhausted and brittle. They don’t want to mar they’re perfect records,
Parenting vs Pressuring
Jessica: I’m curious. Is it your journey as a father, as a journalist, as an entrepreneur that gave you a burden to really bring this topic to light?
Rich: Well, like you, our kids are adopted, and we…
Jessica: I didn’t know that.
Rich: And, yeah, they’re both adults now. One is 26 and one is 22 and living here in Silicon Valley, tremendous pressure for them to achieve. And guess what? The skills that God gave them are not the kind that are gonna bloom early and show up on a perfect SAT score or perfect advanced placement courses. So even though the idea of late blooming had been jostling around in my mind since my own experiences decades ago, it was as a parent that all of these ideas were renewed. And I remember reading, writing at the time that I thought, “Should I write this book, or should I not write this book?”
“Even though the idea of late blooming had been jostling around in my mind since my own experiences decades ago, it was as a parent that all of these ideas were renewed.” Rich Karlgaard
The Atlantic Monthly had a cover story called “The Silicon Valley Suicides.” And in one school year, 2014 and 2015, there were 6 high school suicides in Palo Alto and nearly all of them, I think all of them were kids who felt under tremendous pressure to get perfect grades and perfect test scores. One of them had been complaining on Facebook that he was exhausted from getting up at 3:30 in the morning every day to study for his advanced placement courses.
Jessica: It’s interesting that you bring up adoption because as I was reading your book … My first two are biological and our third is adopted and he was almost three when we adopted him. And in all of our preparation work to bring him home from Rwanda, we had heard for every year he’s been in an institution, treat him that much younger than he actually is and to always treat him younger than he is. And so, we actually very intentionally do that and that really changed the way we parented completely our entire family. And I think that, in some ways, adoption has been that gift for me to not necessarily get on that achievement train. We put our kids into a Montessori school, and we like it, in some ways are countercultural. And I do think adoption has actually been this beautiful way for us to look at things differently than this overachieving culture that I think we do live in.
Rich: Well that’s an inspiring story of your adoption of a Rwandan at age 3. I was really gratified that one of the people who endorsed my book, Late Bloomers, is a guy named Bruce Perry. Dr. Bruce Perry is the founder of the Childhood Trauma Academy and he looks at the trauma that has visited upon tiny children and how long it takes to work their way out of that. He participated in studies about Russian orphans and so forth. And so, you’re doing exactly the right thing. The child from Rwanda will bloom on his time.
Variably Adult—How Brains Mature in Different Stages
Jessica: OK. I love how you describe your coming out of … you’re around 29, 30 years, sort of coming out of this emerging adulthood concept you talk about. And you say, “I had a fully functioning brain at last. I read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times instead of watching TV news, I read political journals across the ideological spectrum. I could think both intuitively and logically and see the difference. I could write sentences, paragraphs and whole papers.” It really does seem like suddenly your brain matured. Can you talk to us a little bit more about that time and then kind of lay out this definition, this concept that you present called emerging adulthood?
Rich: Well. Sure. There’s a lot of emerging research that says that people aren’t really adults until their mid-20s or so and it can be earlier for some and it can be later, as it was in my case, for many others. In fact, there’s a neuroscientist at NYU named Elkhonon Goldberg who believes that today he’s seeing evidence that for many young adults, they aren’t fully mature as adults until their early 30s. And it has to do with the maturation of the prefrontal cortex in the brain. That’s the part of the brain that really controls impulse, that allows us to think ahead, that allows us to think logically. And that says a lot about how we should think about human development.
There’s another thing that’s really amazing, two other points of research. A woman named Laura Germine affiliated with Harvard, and along with a colleague at MIT, came out with a study in 2015 that looked at the different decades of our lives and what our brains do especially well during those unfolding decades. And sure enough, in our 20s, we’re particularly good at rapid synaptic processing. So, if you’re going to be a software coder working under a deadline, it’s good to be in your 20s. But we get much better at pattern recognition, at communications, at what you might call wisdom—all of those things happen in these unfolding decades over the course of our lives.
“In our 20s, we’re particularly good at rapid synaptic processing. … But we get much better at pattern recognition, at communications, at what you might call wisdom—all of those things happen in these unfolding decades over the course of our lives.” Rich Karlgaard
A guy who performs liver transplant surgeries at Mayo Clinic told me about his own brain evolution. He’s in his mid-60s now. The liver transplant, it’s the hardest of all organ transplant, he says. And I believe him, because there are so many vascular connections. Anything can start bleeding during a liver transplant. It makes a kidney transplant comparatively easy. And so, you have to really be able to diagnose things in real time. And then you have to have the amazing world-class hand-eye coordination that surgeons have.
Well, he told me that is world-class hand-eye coordination began to plateau in his early 50s and then started going downhill in a way that he recognized in his late 50s, and yet, at the same time, his ability to diagnose exactly what was happening in real time kept getting better and better. So, the answer to that was to find a young surgeon, a woman who had world class, hand-eye coordination, surgical skills, the kind of people who can tie a fly-fishing knot with their left hand or their right hand with their eyes closed, and that’s how good they are. But because she was a new surgeon, she was prone a little bit to panic when she saw something she hadn’t seen before. So, they made an excellent pair because he was able to impart the wisdom of his career to her, who is now a superior hand surgeon, and her confidence built over time. And one day she too will be in the coaching role rather than the doing role.
Jessica: That’s incredible. What an incredible example to innovate around the diversity of having these cross-generational jobs.
Rich: Oh, I think we talk about diversity and diversity is such a positive in so many ways. But I think there are two forms of diversity that maybe get underplayed and can be really powerful. One is thinking-style diversity where you put intuitive people and analytical people in the room to work out a problem. And the other one is age diversity where you get young people full of great ideas and you get older people who’ve got the career’s worth of experience and wisdom that goes with it to help the young people avoid the obvious traps while not crushing the spirit of the young people.
Jessica: I want to see more of that in our workplaces.
Rich: Well, that’s how you’ll get to $500 million, Jessica.
Jessica: OK. All right, well, let’s see. I think the oldest at my company right now is in his early 50s and then the youngest, they’re gonna be college interns. So, we have a little bit of age diversity there.
Rich: You have a nice mix.
Navigating Age and Thinking-style Diversity
Jessica: We do. We do. So, you say that it’s time to consider a kinder clock for human development, one that doesn’t overemphasize standardized tests and that allows each of us to achieve our full potential. Talk to us a little bit about what that could look like, this whole concept of emerging adulthood.
Rich: Well, a kinder clock for human development says that each of us has talents and passions that can be discovered and will be discovered if given a chance, but it’ll happen on her own timetables. I described how I didn’t even feel like I had a working adult brain until my late 20s. And that’s just the way it was going to be. And so, I get a little irritated actually with so many people who have a public microphone today who look at the generation of millennials and see people who are lazy or snowflakes. You often hear, as a charge leveled at millennials … Well, no, consider that we put them under a lot of pressure and unprecedented level of pressure to achieve early when that may not be what they’re really good at doing.
“A kinder clock for human development says that each of us has talents and passions that can be discovered and will be discovered if given a chance, but it’ll happen on her own timetables.” Rich Karlgaard
I think about, I always use metaphors from the sport that I loved when I was in high school and younger, and that was track and field. I still watch the NCAA championships. I still go to the Olympics and watch track and field when I can. And what I love about track and field is that you have every kind of human creation out there. You have the explosive sprinters, you have the huge, massively strong shot putters and discus throwers. You have the skinny people who can run forever in the 10,000 in the marathon. And, you put them all in a room and you couldn’t find a group of people who looked any more differently than a … or looked any more different than the medalists from any recent Olympic track and field competition.
Well, I kind of look at it the same way in human development. You can’t tell somebody who’s a natural sprinter that “No, you must train for the marathon, and I expect you to be good. And I expect you to be very good in measurable ways. And if you aren’t good, well, it’s probably because you’re lazy or a snowflake.” That’s just ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.
If you really believe that we are created in God’s image, then we are born to do amazing things. But we are born to do amazing things in the gifts that we have. And so, this whole concept of late blooming is moving in the direction of your God-given talents and your deepest passions. Or, in fact, what I would like to call—rather than passion—a mission, because a mission is a passion that you’d be willing to sacrifice for.
“This whole concept of late blooming is moving in the direction of your God-given talents and your deepest passions. Or, in fact, what I would like to call—rather than passion—a mission, because a mission is a passion that you’d be willing to sacrifice for.” Rich Karlgaard
You write a about that a lot in your book Imperfect Courage about the things you are willing to sacrifice for. I love your phrase in your book, “getting out of the bubble.” Well, I think a lot of this track of early achievement is parents putting themselves in the bubble. “I must be a good parent because my little son or daughter got really good SAT scores. That makes me feel really good as a parent and they got into Rice University or Harvard or some school like that. That makes me feel really good and that’s my comfort bubble.” That just sort of a ridiculous way of looking at human beings if you ask me.
Jessica: It is. And yet it takes so much intentionality I think to get off the hamster wheel and really evaluate how you are letting your children’s achievements define you and where you are pushing our kids, where they just don’t belong in. In fact, I was talking to, I try to have a wide range of friends. I really enjoy diversity. And so, one of my friends, that’s about maybe, I don’t know, just 12 years older, but she’s in early 50s so she’s in a different season of life than I am. And her son is a definitely a prodigy when it comes to athletics, and he’s a tall kid. So, he’s in high school and he’s finally really doing club. And my fifth grader shows a lot of potential to be a really amazing athlete, but we have not gone that route. We’d still do family dinners, and we do like our little local soccer team.
And I’m like, “OK, at some point I do want to encourage this, but I’m not ready yet.” And so, I asked her like, ”When do I have to actually like commit to doing like club?” And she’s like, ”Wait. Wait till at least the end of middle school.” She’s like, “Now that my kids are in high school…” She’s interviewed a lot of her kids’ friends. Her daughter’s a volleyball player and she says, ”If you have a natural inclination already to be good at something, you’re gonna be good at it in high school just like you’re good at it in the fifth grade. And so, starting to completely build your family around this entire sports schedule is gonna actually cause more pain in the end because then you’re missing out on family time and all these other things that build these other skills.” But it takes a lot kind of not buy into the peer pressure and get in and rip that bubble wrap off.
Rich: You know, people will ask me, who are some of your late bloomers, and I’ll give a surprising answer. Some of them come from the world of sports. One of them would be Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots. Now, Tom Brady coming out of high school, his ranking in the college ranking system that looks at high school players and there’s a one-to-five-star ranking program. And Tom Brady’s ranking out of high school as a quarterback was NR, No Ranking. He wasn’t even a one. Coming out of the University of Michigan where he was the starting quarterback only for his senior year, he was the 199th player taken in his draft. That is to say, the smartest people in professional football thought there were 198 players in his class alone that were better professional football prospects than Tom Brady. And yet, just a couple of years later, Tom Brady wins his first super bowl. So, you could say, “How could somebody won a Super Bowl and a Super Bowl MVP at age 24 be a late bloomer?” Well, he was in his field. He was in the context of football.
Late Bloomers Blooming in Our Midst
Jessica: Tell us a couple other late bloomer stories because they were very encouraging for me to read about. Which others really stand out to you?
Rich: Oh, I like the story of Tammie Jo Shults. Tammie Jo Shults was the woman who, about a year ago in the spring of 2018, landed a 737 outside of Philadelphia when one of the engines blew up at 31,000 feet. In fact, some engine shrapnel went through the window and killed a woman, unfortunately, sucked her halfway out of the plane and she bled to death. The plane went from 31,000 feet to 10,000 feet in a matter of a few minutes. The plane depressurized, people were throwing up and you’ll listen to the tapes. And Tammie Jo Shults at no time panicked. Her discussion with air traffic control was calm. She landed the plane. She never had any doubt that she could land the plane. She was 56 years old. Captain Sullenberger was 58 when he landed the plane on the Hudson.
So, going back to Tammie Jo Shults, I mean, Tammie Jo Shults grew up in kind of a rural community in New Mexico. When she went off to college, it was a college that was pretty obscure. It ranked 75th on the list of Midwestern schools in the U.S. News & World Report survey, so it wouldn’t have ranked in the top 200 nationally. She went to graduate school at a university in New Mexico that had no ranking at all. She didn’t really find what her natural gifts were until she went into the navy and discovered she could be a pilot. In fact, she turned up, she was so good that she was teaching the men how to be combat pilots because in the Gulf War in the early ’90s, women weren’t allowed to fly as combat pilots. So, here’s a woman from an obscure background who went to an obscure college and even more obscure graduate school who ends up being the absolute right person at the right time when the Southwest plane lost an engine. So, I love stories like that because the calmness that she had was a calmness that was developed over time.
An Opportunity to Bloom
Jessica: Hey, thanks for letting me interrupt this conversation for just a hot second. If you guys have been listening to Going Scared for a while, I know that you are people who are committed to courage, you’re committed to impact, and you’re committed to entrepreneurship. And, as you probably know, I am the founder and co-CEO of a social impact company called Noonday Collection. And the way that Noonday grows and creates an impact is through our Ambassador Opportunity.
Ambassadors are social entrepreneurs who earn an income while also making an impact. And right now, I, personally, am looking for 20 social entrepreneurs who are ready to crush it, who are saying, “I’m ready to harness my courage to make a difference in the world.” And I want to personal invite you into this opportunity. We now have the opportunity for you to start a business for $99, which is so crazy and so amazing. For $99 you are going to get your own website, you are going to get sample collection of products, you are going to get all of the training that you need, and I want to get to know you.
So, if this is something that you are interested in, if you already know an Ambassador, then give her a call, let her know. And if you don’t know of an Ambassador then would you please reach out on the website, on noondaycollection.com, click on Join, let them know that you found out about it through Going Scared. And I just can’t wait to join you on this amazing journey.
Jessica: I have to admit, as I was reading your book, I was also thinking about the Forbes “30 Under 30” list that I always read every year. And I was thinking and wondering what you would say to, how has media’s obsession with what you call the wonderkid ideal contributed to our obsession with early achievement?
Rich: Well, I’m very proud of the people at Forbes who started our “30 Under 30” magazine list and now it’s a series of lists and now it’s a conference that takes over a city. It’s very much like South by Southwest, the festival that you have in Austin. And this is just tremendously important to the future at Forbes because if you go back 10 or 15 years ago, the wrap on Forbes is that our readers who are all older white men. In fact, we once did a survey, we polled advertising people what they thought of when they thought of Forbes and they thought of a silver-haired white man who had just stepped out of the country club and he probably wore green pants with his blue blazer. So, what “30 Under 30” has done to rejuvenate the Forbes brand is nothing short of a miracle and the credit goes to our editor Randall Lane.
So, I have nothing but respect for our “30 Under 30” issue. And I have nothing but respect for the early achievers who make that issue. It’s just that many of us won’t. Most of us won’t make that issue. And what I wanna say is, “look, don’t be hard on yourself if you didn’t. You’re probably a late bloomer. You probably haven’t discovered that perfect intersection of your God-given talents and your deepest passions yet. And maybe if you stop trying to replicate the success of others and embark on your own journey of discovery, you’ll have a better chance of finding it,” which then of course leads us into some territories that intersect with your great book, Imperfect Courage, that a lot of late bloomers now have to with issues of self-confidence and self-doubt and things like that because they probably have too much of it at this point in their life, that is to say too much self-doubt.
And what I love about your book, Imperfect Courage, and what I discovered very similarly when I did the research for Late Bloomers is you proceed anyway. You know, you don’t have to have perfect confidence. You don’t have to have perfect courage to go out and do things. You proceed anyway. You start with this concept that the psychologist Albert Bandura, one of the great psychologists of the 20th century, called self-efficacy. Forget self-doubt. Just concentrate on the small thing that you can do where you know you can do it well and you build these expanding circles of things that you can do well. But self-doubt never goes away, and perfect courage never comes. And the bloomer, whether the early bloomers or late bloomers, but I think it’s particularly relevant for late bloomers, need to learn the habit of proceeding anyway.
“Self-doubt never goes away, and perfect courage never comes. … I think it’s particularly relevant for late bloomers, [who] need to learn the habit of proceeding anyway.” Rich Karlgaard
Jessica: Yeah. When I look back in my 20s, in my early 30s I didn’t have it together. I felt a lot of angst because I was on this random journey to discover what my passions, were and I think that’s something that’s really resonated with people and my book as like, “Oh, I’m allowed to not have a linear path. Like, this can be an OK journey.” What would you say to those people listening that are in their 20s, possibly early 30s, that are feeling like they are just sort of meandering and wandering?
“When I look back in my 20s, in my early 30s I didn’t have it together. I felt a lot of angst because I was on this random journey to discover what my passions were, and I think that’s something that’s really resonated with people.” Jessica Honegger
Rich: Well, I think you have to think about this concept that I called in the book repotting. That there’s a soil in which you can bloom, but you have to find it. And so, where you live and the people you hang out with may not provide the most fertile soil for you. Now, I’m not talking about people who are mean to you or constantly putting you down or those kinds of things. You might have friends that I would call “meh” friends. They’re fun to hang out with, but they don’t particularly care about you and your journey all that much. They’re kind of surface friends. And you can kind of get trapped in that because they save you from boredom, they’re entertaining. And you can have a job like that. It’s not the worst job in the world, but it’s not the greatest job in the world. And you can get trapped and time can pass on.
And so, you have to think about what is the pot that is perfect for me. Is where I’m living the perfect pot? Is the company I’m working for the perfect pot? Do I need to go to a different kind of a company? Should I start my own company? What about the friends that I have? What if I don’t wanna leave those friends but I need new friends? I’m a big believer in support groups whether it’s addiction recovery groups, church groups or professional peer groups where you can go, and you can talk to people about your journey. It almost helps that they’re not your best friends but that they share your interest because maybe you get into a groove with your best friends, and you typecast them and they’ve typecasted you and you’re simply unwilling to have that level of honest conversation with them.
So, look for the kind of support groups where you can have that level of honest conversation. And then, as I said earlier, figure out a new way to deal with your self-doubt. Self-doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s only bad when it’s in excess and it’s only bad when it begins to undermine your very self-worth. Actually, when you have a doubt, that message of doubt is delivering you useful information. If you just calm down and listen to it and say, “What does this doubt trying to tell me?” and you don’t panic, and you don’t collapse into self-loathing because this message has appeared, then you can work your way through it. “Gee, maybe I do need to prepare a little more. Maybe I did kind of punt on that last project and now I’m paying for the results.”
So, learning to see self-doubt actually as a trusted advisor rather than an enemy. Not a trusted advisor you particularly care to hang out with all that often, but when it comes along, it’s like that annoying friend who delivers information you didn’t necessarily wanna hear. Listen to it, listen to it, tell it, “Thanks.” Now tell it, “Go sit in the corner. I’m gonna proceed anyway.”
Jessica: What you’re describing is really a process of curiosity, right, to have a more curious posture? And you point out a lot of research which really thrilled me that curiosity can actually grow with age. And you talk about other qualities that late bloomers possess that can lead to success like compassion and resilience. Talk to us a little bit more about these qualities that can grow over time.
Rich: Curiosity is really the gift that keeps on giving throughout one’s life. It’s stimulating. There’s been neurological research that shows that curiosity actually is a dopamine hit. Well, if you’re going to have a dopamine hit, make it a good dopamine hit, not a bad dopamine hit. Don’t get into drugs and kinds of behaviors that provide the bad dopamine hits. Learn to nourish your curiosity. I tell the story in the book of how in college, as an undergraduate, I would walk off to the library every night with my friend Bob. Bob was one of these guys that could sit down and study for three or four hours straight and then come back and type up a paper in a three-hour stretch. I mean that was Bob. And Bob was the one who went on to become this great Silicon Valley corporate attorney.
And I was the guy who couldn’t pay attention to my studies more than 15 minutes. And so, I’d walk off to the library with Bob and he would sit at the study carrel and commence his hourly study regimen, and I would, 15 minutes later, wander off into the library and start reading back issues of Sports Illustrated, my favorite magazine at the time. And I read every issue of Sports Illustrated backwards and forwards. And this hurt my grades because I should’ve been studying. Instead, I was goofing off in the library, following my curiosity, reading magazines like Sports Illustrated.
About a dozen years later, after I bottomed out as the security guard whose colleague was a dog, and I’m now in the adult world and beginning to function, I had the opportunity with a friend to start what became Silicon Valley’s first business magazine. And I thought, “Well, this is a great opportunity.” He was in charge of raising the money and selling the ads, and I got to design the magazine and hire the writers and illustrators and all of that. And so, the first thing I had to decide was what should this magazine look like? What should be the personality of it? And I decided right then and there that we should be the Sports Illustrated of business magazines. And that’s the path that we followed. That was the one I knew. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was studying for my future. I was studying for my future when I was ”goofing off” in the library, reading back issues of Sports Illustrated.
Well, two years after starting this magazine, which was called Upside, we’d gotten everybody’s attention. Bill Gates gave me four hours of interviews, more time than he was giving magazines like Forbes and Fortune. And a year after that, Steve Forbes came out to Silicon Valley and ended up hiring me to work at Forbes and to report directly to him starting a similar kind of a magazine. So, I went from being a security guard at age 25 to 10 years later, I was reporting to Steve Forbes.
Jessica: It’s such a story of how God doesn’t waste anything, and I think even in those periods where you feel like, “Gosh, what am I doing and is this all there is to life?” I think that as long as you stay on that journey, and you say, of discovering your life mission, you’ll find you’ll be able to look back and see all of these connections, and then it will serve a purpose.
“God doesn’t waste anything, and … as long as you stay on that journey … of discovering your life mission, you’ll find you’ll be able to look back and see all of these connections, and then it will serve a purpose.” Jessica Honegger
Rich: We’re always learning. We may not know that we’re always learning, and we may not find a way to leverage our learning, but we’re always learning. And if you ask CEOs what do they want in employees today—and I bet the kind of person that you want: You want qualities like curiosity, resilience, compassion, the ability to stay calm under pressure, the ability to get along with the colleagues at work without being a pushover, the ability to be an independent voice yet be part of the team. All of those qualities is what every CEO says they want in employees. And yet, when we look at most employers, particularly in technology, they’re not screening for that. They’re screening for how well you did in school, the quality of school you went for and so on.
Starting a National Conversation About Blooming Late
Jessica: I love how you say that blooming doesn’t have a deadline and that our future stories written in pencil and not carved in stone. Where would you say you’re blooming right now?
Rich: Well, this book, Late Bloomers, again, a little ad, Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement comes out April 16th. This is a different kind of a book for me. It’s my fourth book, but it’s, the other books were on business. I wrote a book on corporate culture called The Soft Edge in 2014. I wrote a book on teams called Team Genius in 2015, the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella blurbed it. But I guess that’s kind of expected when you’re the publisher of Forbes, and you write about business to write those kinds of books.
This book Late Bloomers comes from a much deeper place. And my goal is to start a national conversation around blooming, how late bloomers can actually bloom, what we’re doing to cut off their paths of discovery, why this insane pressure that we’re putting on kids and teenagers and young adults today to do it a certain way and to do it very early is backfiring in so many ways. And I think it’s creating a lot of dysfunction out there. Well, we see it, I talked about earlier about the rates of depression, anxiety, suicide, college debt, etc., etc. We need a better way. And if I can start a conversation that moves us in that direction and I want everybody to participate, I want everybody to contribute their own inspirational stories of blooming.
I think this is what God put us on earth to do. I would get very literal about this idea that if we are created in God’s image, well what does that mean? Well, God himself is a creator. So, if we’re created in a creator’s image, I guess that means we’re born to create, to go out and do new things, to discover new things, to build new things. That’s our birthright. And yet we put so many barriers in the way for most of humankind to go out and do that.
Jessica: I sense your heart and your passion as I read. And like I said, it gave me hope on a week where I really needed it. So, I am very excited to be in this conversation. Ironically, my dad, I always grew up hearing him say that he was a late bloomer. And he started his first successful company at age 50, and he just sold it at age 75. And so, I think also as someone who’s a little bit in that sandwich generation, I have my first teenager, and then my dad just sold his company, it’s such a relevant conversation. And I’m curious at this season of life that you’re in, as you look back, you are an author, entrepreneur, journalist. You’ve done so many amazing things. What are some of those things that most satisfy you as you kind of look back on the different pots that you’ve planted yourself in?
Rich: Well, this is gonna sound weird, Jessica, but I went through that very exercise at a leadership development meeting about three years ago when they asked us, before coming to the meeting, to write down 50 things that we were proud of doing in our life. And many of those things would be things that would appear in your biography or your resume, your Wikipedia page, if you have one. And I included some of those, but I included this run that I took during spring break when I was in college, when my brain had yet to bloom. And I wish I had extracted the lessons from that run and really listened to what I had accomplished because it’s an accomplishment that I’m still proud of.
It was during spring break, and I got up on a Saturday, all the kids, it seemed like most of them had gone off on a ski vacation or something, and I couldn’t afford that. And there were a few kids around campus. Anyway, I went out for a run. I was in really good running shape at the time, running about 70 miles a week. And I thought I would do my weekend 15-mile run. And I started out. And when I came to this intersection where I could keep going on that 15-mile loop or climb up the hill that overlooks the campus, the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, I decided to go up the hill and then all the way down at the other side of the hill, all the way to the ocean, which is 26 miles. And then I decided to run back. I had to beg for money because I wasn’t planning on running that far and I was dehydrated, and I needed to put some sugar in my blood stream. So, I begged for money, drank some Gatorade, ate some snickers bars and made it all the way back. I ran 52 miles that day in seven and a half hours.
And the lesson that I wish I would have extracted from that, at the time, more fully, was that I didn’t do that because I felt pressured to do it. In fact, if somebody had said 6 months before on such and such a date, you’re going to attempt this 52-mile run. I would have never done it. I would’ve found some way to have gotten out of it. This is one of those runs where all I did was get around the next corner, the next corner, and the next corner. And the question kept going through my mind,”What would it be like if I just went another mile? What would it be like if I made it to the top of the hill? If I made it to the ocean? If I just started jogging back, I can always stick out my thumb and hitchhike all the way back.”
And I just did it in small increments like that satisfying my own curiosity to know something. And I think when I’ve enjoyed the best things, the best accomplishments that I have in life, it’s never because I felt like I was being pushed. It’s because I felt like I was being pulled by some beautiful power, which surely must have been divine. It was more a case, Jessica, of taking the brakes off. Take the brakes off and listen to this divine destiny of yours and then you will accomplish amazing things without burning out, without feeling like you’re being pushed by other people’s expectations. That is a lesson that I wish I would have more fully absorbed when I was younger. But I think by and large I’ve gotten most of it.
Jessica: That’s beautiful imagery. Thank you for sharing that story. I’m curious as we begin to wrap up our time together, which you are a hope-filled a man. I mean this is … you are just full of wisdom and hope, and I’m so thankful for your voice in our culture today. And I’m curious, I usually ask people how they are going scared. Although sometimes this throws off people that are more seasoned because they’re like, “I don’t get scared anymore.” But are there areas where you are going scared? You did talk about how this is a new book for you to write, a new genre. Would you say that’s a little bit where you’re going scared right now?
Rich: Oh, absolutely it is. I mean, here I sit three weeks before the release of the book. I really don’t know for sure how well the book is gonna be received. It’s a different market for me. I’m hoping to reach parents primarily. That’s a big audience, parents, but they don’t know me particularly well. The Forbes audience knows me. Business audiences know me. Technology audiences might know me. So, it’s a different audience. I hope it resonates, but it could be a big belly flop. It could be laughed out of the stadium. You know, who really knows? But for sure, every day I get up and some days I think this book is gonna really do well and it’s gonna touch people’s hearts and start the national conversation that I’m hoping to start, and that’ll all be validated by really high sales figures in the marketplace.
And then other days that I get up and I go, “Well, what am I doing here?” Do I have any really real credibility here beyond my own personal story which may or may not be relatable to people? And the research that I’ve done where I’ve stood on the shoulders of the giants in neuroscience and psychology and tried to distill down what they’ve taught us into a book and into this theme of late blooming. So, we’ll see how that all plays out. But you can bet that I’m scared right now, but I’m moving forward anyway.
Jessica: I have to say, when I asked him to reflect on his life and the various pots that he’s planted himself in, that running story is going to stay with me. This idea that we can be pulled instead of the constant push, and that we can encourage our children to be pulled as well—that is going to stay with me. I hope that you join this conversation around patience in a world obsessed with early achievement.
You can go find Rich Karlgaard at his website, you can go pop over to Amazon to purchase his book, Late Bloomers. And guys thank you so much for all the reviews that you have given me. We have over 700 ratings on this podcast. And what that does is it helps other people find these conversations. All of these podcasts are free for you, and currently, they are not sponsored. We just partner with the company that I run, Noonday Collection. If they have moved you or touched you in any way, if there has been one episode that has stuck with you, would you hop on over and leave a review. It’s super easy, you just head on over to your podcast app, click on “leave a review” and “ratings,” and I would just super, super appreciate that.
Our wonderful music for the show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time. Let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.