Zia Hassan

What We Can Learn From Opsimaths

It’s easy to think when you look at the news and other media, that early achievement is expected because of how celebrated it is. Build a successful business in high school and no doubt that a local paper will write about you. Graduate from high school and go immediately to work for Google, and you’re a genius.

But what if this isn’t you? What if you graduate college or high school just as directionless as you were when you started? Considering that nearly half of the current generation (Generation Z) has zero idea of what they want to do with their lives when they “grow up,” it’s pretty clear that this sort of direction and success so early is a rarity.

Since the pre-frontal cortex that is responsible for high level planning and decision making doesn’t fully develop until around age 25, most folks feel as if they don’t have a direction, or even worse, that they are worthless to society because they never found and executed on their passion. This is a horrible though pattern that can creep along with a person their entire lives.

An opsimath, on the other hand, is a fancy term for a “late bloomer.” Someone who takes up painting late in life for instance, or starts a baking business after years of being a financial advisor. But even the term “late bloomer” is demeaning, because who is to say that these folks are “late” with their skills? If they’re successful, it seems to that that they’re _right on time._An opsimath doesn’t have to be famous as a result of their skills, either. It’s the development of a new skill, “later in life,” that qualifies one as an opsimath.

What we can learn from an opsimath is that it’s important to stay curious, not just for our own well being but for our usefulness in the world. We need to stop thinking that because we haven’t achieved our big thing yet, that it won’t ever happen or that each year it becomes more and more of a distant dream.

One small shift that teachers and parents can do in this regard is to stop recommending careers for their kids. Instead of saying, “oh you’re great arguing, you should be a lawyer,” you might say “oh, that’s a great argument. How can you refine it?”

In that move, we take the focus off of an end goal and put the focus on the here and now, the present moment, the skill that is being developed. It’s enough to stop there, and it’s something that all children can experience.

In other words, don’t aspire to be someone someday; aspire to do something right now.