Samuel Smiles, Seth Curry, and Aritz Aduriz, a brotherhood of opsimaths

The most important thing to understand about Smiles is that he worked for his whole life. When he wasn’t in the office, he was pursuing his education or writing articles. This doesn’t mean he was succeeding. Often he was simply reading and learning for the sake of it. The successful books he published were the eventual result of decades of accreted labour. He studied because he wanted to. For a long time, the returns were zero.

Samuel Smiles: late bloomer with a side hustle. Part I, Henry Oliver. The Common Reader

That last sentence though, a pile driver – “For a long time, the returns were zero.” Writer Samuel Smiles was a model of persistence. He is what Henry Oliver calls an opsimath, or a late bloomer. (You know a word is good when the spellchecker redlines it). Smiles persisted with his dream project – a biography of the father of railroads George Stephenson. Smiles persevered with the book despite discouragement from Stephenson’s son, and day jobs sapping his writing time. The George Stephenson project began for Smiles in 1849. It was finally published in 1857.

Failure and rejection be damned. A side hustle is for life — and the sheer hell of it. He was a walking writer. And he began to benefit from his accumulated experiences. One trait of late bloomers is their ability to turn their experiences, however incoherent, however seemingly irrelevant, to their advantage as they persist in their interests.

Samuel Smiles: late bloomer with a side hustle. Part II, Henry Oliver. The Common Reader

Samuel Smiles’ determined path reminds me of Brooklyn Nets guard Seth Curry, who went undrafted and didn’t sign his first guaranteed contract until age twenty five. And the “exceptional case” Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz. An athletic polymath who found success at the top level of Spanish football during the latter stages of his career. Scoring 66% percent of his career first division goals after age thirty and then retiring at thirty nine.


Read Henry Oliver’s full profiles on Samuel Smiles here: pt.1, pt.2.

And do subscribe to The Common Reader. It’s one of the brightest lights on the internet.

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