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Old and In the Way — of Success!

OK, so your life so far hasn't been so hot. This doesn't mean that you won't ever achieve the success we predicted for you in kindergarten.

Remember? You were the Bobby Fischer of Candyland. As everyone who watched you crush your opponents and send them running to the school nurse for kiddy Prozac, instantly grokked: this is a kid who is going somewhere. Unfortunately, we now know that the somewhere you were going was a little south of nowhere.

That was then. This is now. And now, you still have that bright, shining supernova of a future awaiting you, right around the corner.

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Alas, at your age, there may not be that much supernova left by the time you finally round that corner and start living up to your potential. But don't fret. It is possible to finally find the success that has evaded you, even when you're in your dotage. I know this is true, because I read a recent Abby Ellin column in The New York Times.

“Find Success, Well Past the Age of Wunderkind” is the name of article and, let me tell you, it is inspirational to the max. Ellin is full of late-in-life stories of average folks who have clearly found the gold in their golden years. Like Lucille Gang Shulklapper, who retired from her job as a teacher in her late 50s and published her first book of poetry when she was 60. Now 80, Shulklapper has four poetry books under her belt and is publishing her first children's book, “Stuck in Bed, Fred.”

But wait, you object – when it comes to creative writing, you're no Shulklapper. Perhaps. For me, the creativity you demonstrate in creating bogus charges for your expense reports could not be equaled by the authors of “Game of Thrones” or “Harry Potter” working together. I also happen to think that your collected expense reports would be a big hit with poetry lovers, especially fanciers of the ancient art of haiku:

Lost receipt for costly dinner/With client who wasn't there/Sadness.

Just because everyone thinks you're a total failure, you can still turn it around. According to Karl A. Pillemer, a professor of Gerontology at Cornell University, “There are simply too many examples of people who bloom late, and it's the most extraordinary time of their life.”

The trick of making a late bloomer out of an early flopper is to pick an endeavor that doesn't require fluid intelligence, which is how psychologists categorize the ability to solve problems. That type of intelligence “usually declines after a person reaches the late 20s.” What you want to leverage is crystallized intelligence, or general knowledge, which actually “tends to grow over a lifetime.”

Or maybe not. Even though the 20s are but a distant dot in the rear view mirror of your life, your fluid intelligence is your best attribute, and, if you doubt it, ask any of the folks at the bar of the Kit Kat Klub, who watch with amazement as you hammer back gallons of fluid every night. On the other hand, your general knowledge has been shrinking since you started your job. It's why you keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again. If you doubt it, ask your manager.

One piece of good news in all of this inspirational palaver is the fact that the achievements in your senior years do not have to be strictly artistic. You don't have to write poems like Shulklapper or paint like Grandma Moses. You can also redeem your misspent youth by exhibiting your physical prowess.

No, I'm not talking about your ability to spend 80 percent of every weekend on the couch; though if sloth were an Olympic event, you'd be snoring through that “Married at First Sight” marathon with a gold medal around your neck. Diana Nyad swam from Cuba to Florida at 64. And Jurgen Schmidt, a retiree in Huntington Beach, California, and a Senior Masters swimmer, “recently starred in a three-minute video for Speedo.”

Listen – three seconds of you in a Speedo would be more than enough for your friends, coworkers and managers to agree that you are a late bloomer who is truly experiencing a “late-life renaissance.” If they don't agree, keep playing the video until they cry “Uncle!” and run for kiddy Prozac.

It may not be the success we saw for you in kindergarten, but it's something.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com

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