I would begin by apologizing for a soft question. Reading the FAQ, I have tried to formulate my question precisely in the last paragraph and you may skip the following paragraph where I make subjective observations, which I think may be relevant and any comments would be more than helpful. By formal education I mean registering in an academic department in a university as a grad/Phd Student.
Subjective belief: I feel I am personally not upto the mark of high-quality physics students. I need to learn a lot more, and do a lot more problems to be any good. I've noticed that Physics particularly is a very selective field dominated by hard-working and primarily young people who accomplish a lot at an early age (olympiads/contests, early phd's from very good places, etc). Even among this bunch a lot get filtered out and wouldn't get faculty positions. Theoretical Physicists tend to be outliers in a field almost entirely composed of outliers. And to learn from such a community, I feel an academic environment is essential, and not just reading books in isolation. So I beleive academia is the only legitimate environment that functions to produce sane physicists who know their field. However, if one has been set-back for some reason but carries the self-beleif that he can be smart enough to do it, would ageing be a parameter. I read a statement in Kleppner's undergrad mechancis book that "by finishing all this at the age of 26, Newton set the trend which follows today, that great advances are made by young physicists". I haven't found a counterexample so I would trust academic departments have the same criterion.
Q: Do people who missed out all the action in their 13-20 ages miss out on having a good career? What are the possible reasons to take a hiatus of "self-study" for a 22-year old so that he may be a good candiate for a respectable physics career (Phd/postdoc etc) later.