Being a late bloomer can cause many varieties of strife and angst in a young person’s life. Whether you were brace-face, lanky, nerdy, awkward, or anything in-between, the cruelties of childhood and puberty can be vast and oppressive. Outliers are picked on. Then you learn to pick on yourself.
It’s in an animal’s nature to spot outliers and nudge them toward normalcy. Kids use teasing, bullying, emotional and physical pain to achieve this. If I might get mathematical on yo’ ass: late bloomers, oddballs, and wall flowers are too many standard deviations from the mean for the average kid’s comfort. That’s what socialization is: teaching each other what the mean actions and beliefs in your society are, poking and prodding the strange individual when they stray too closely to the tail ends of society’s bell curve.
Considered as an evolutionary imperative, this makes sense: The person in the bush who loved lions instead of fearing them would be checked for the sake of theirs and the lives of the many. The person with a deformity may be carrying a genetic mutation that would be detrimental to successful procreation. So, by whatever means necessary and acceptable, those outliers are ostracized. They fix their behavior (if they can help it), or they live life in eternal search of in-group acceptance.
Like so many other of our psychological and physiological evolutionary compulsions though, we’re poorly adapted to the modern world. The stress response to giving an important presentation is the same that would occur if you were being chased by that same lion. This fact alone causes physical damage to our systems as the result of prolonged exposure to cortisol and other stress hormones. Similarly, that children in the classroom might attack Janet because of the blue birthmark on her face shows an overly-aggressive response, more suited to the life and death situations faced by our ancestors eons ago.
BUT I DIGRESS. There is life after being a late bloomer. That life can be more awesome than you might think. In fact, I’ve come to think of my late 20’s as a sort of real life ‘Revenge of the nerds.’ The geeks are winning, and the unique are praised. Not so, for those who peaked at 15 or don’t create waves.
You’re hot… But you’re not cocky about it, because someone might still make fun of you for it.
You’re funny. Many of the best comedians say they got their chops defending themselves from school bullies. I can’t say this is the case for me personally- there’s something in the waters of SF that polished *my* funny bone. I will say though, that my brand of self-deprecating humor smacks of the disarming objectivity I was forced to develop as a bullied and teased child.
You’re interesting. When you don’t quite fit in, what makes you unique can be thrown into sharp relief. When you own and hone that, you grow up to be, say, Reggie Watts. Awesome.
You’ve got work ethic coming out the wazoo. It’s not that the always- classically-attractive-or-average-enough-not-to-garner-ill-attention are lazy. It’s just that studies have shown that attractive people are treated better as a rule. If no one’s doing you any favors because of your beautiful visage, you might just learn to work twice as hard to get half as far.
You’re selective. Once you finally get used to the idea of being you, your tolerance for those who don’t get it or don’t like it plummets. You may not have a huge number of really close friends, but the ones you do have are everything you need. And stellar.
You’re an empath. My childhood experiences saw me becoming a fairly emotional person. I did, and still do, feel a lot of feelings. All the feelings, really. If there’s a feeling to be felt, I’m feeling it. The odds that you’re feeling something I’ve never felt… Well, they’re slim to none.
What’d I miss?