Can child prodigies keep the spotlight?

Have you ever heard the names Tara Lipinski, John Nunn, Sarah Chang, Joey Alexander, or even Gabby Douglas? All of these people are child prodigies. Every once in a while, we see stories of children accomplishing great success in their lives at such a young age, but then their stories seem to fade. According to the New York Times, most child prodigies do not grow into adult geniuses because they are pushed so hard as children and burn out by the time they reach adulthood. Do child prodigies reach their peak as children and become average adults? Or do they continue to be successful later in life?

A child prodigy is often someone who is under the age of 10 who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult. Tara Lipinski, John Nunn, and Sarah Chang are examples of child prodigies who have used their childhood fame to leverage their careers later in life.

Tara Lipinski was a child prodigy and a world renowned figure skater in the 90s. Lipinski was the youngest to win a gold medal in World Figure Skating at the Olympics and was the first person to land a triple loop jump combination at only 14 years old. Even though she does not strictly fit the definition of a “child prodigy,” she still accomplished these tremendous feats at a very young age. She began figure skating at six years old and won title after title around the U.S., quickly becoming an American icon. During her figure skating career, Lipinski suffered from a torn hip cartilage, which worsened until she had surgery in 2000. Lipinski said about her injury, “It’s a huge shock when you are sitting in bed and you can’t get up to get out.” She retired from competitive figure skating shortly after her Olympic win and has appeared in television shows, movies, and even authored books before becoming a sports commentator for NBC.

John Nunn, now 62 years old, is an English Chess Grandmaster. He is a three-time world champion in chess problem solving. At 12 years old, he won the the British Under 14-Championship, and has since won more than 20 other chess competitions. At 15, he became Oxford’s youngest graduate and has since shifted gears from chess competition to writing his 28 books about chess strategies. 

Sarah Chang was a violin prodigy by the time she was four years old. At only five years old, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Juilliard School. When she was 10, she recorded her first album and soon reached the Billboard charts. Being a child prodigy, Chang had to sacrifice many normalities of childhood.

“It was a sore point at the time,” Chang said. “I had to go play for Queen Elizabeth and at that age, I thought prom was more important. When you look back on it later, it isn’t that big a deal.” Chang has played at Carnegie Hall, received eight awards, including the Avery Fisher, the Nanpa, the Hollywood Bowls Hall of Fame, and more. She also has released over 20 albums, and is still performing around the world, even though she has not released a song since 2011. 

These child prodigies, whether their field is sports, music, or academics, all seem to have peaked as children; however, they are still successful adults. The foundation they establish as an expert early in life allows them to reapply themselves in other arenas. Child prodigies can teach us all how to start life fresh at every new chapter.

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