If Success Hasn’t Come Yet, Remember the Late Bloomers

LBDear Reader,

You might have noticed how the media tends to favor those who are young and powerful, and shies away from those who are older. If you need proof, just look at the majority of magazines. You don’t even need to read the magazine. Simply look at the covers. Who are you more likely to see: an established, hard-working legend with wrinkles and gray hair, or a fresh and young new talent with a beach-ready body?

I know it is tempting to believe that, if you are young and have not accomplished your goals, you will never accomplish anything. It is even more tempting to believe that, if you are “older” (read: over 27) and have been working at your projects for a while with no commercial/critical success, that you definitely will never accomplish anything. I do believe that these thoughts are normal, especially when situated in societies that place youth above wisdom. However, I also believe that these thoughts can be damaging to a career if it makes a person think, “What’s the point?” and then, consequently, drives them to give up on what they have worked so hard for. In order to prevent that, it is important to remember that age is not (always) the most critical factor for a career. You can still have a career when you are “older.” In fact, when you are older may be the time when you experience the most success and reap the most commercial rewards for your ideas. To prove it, here is a list of people who found success after thirty.

1.) Leonard Cohen. Before becoming the musician that many of his fans know him as, he was a published poet and author. When he realized that writing novels was not earning him a living, he decided that perhaps it would be more worthwhile to try the singer-songwriter route. His debut CD came out when he was 33 years old, which is definitely considered “older” in an industry that tends to be dominated by younger voices. He has now been in the music business for almost 50 years and continues to release new music and go on solo tours across the world.

2.) Andrea Bocelli: Another member of the music industry, Bocelli lost his sight at the age of twelve. Considering that he is a multi-instrumentalist, this could have been devastating. However, he continued to move in the direction of music. While he had minor success at the age of 14 when he won the Margherita d’Oro award, he eventually went to law school and became a lawyer. Though he continued to pursue music, it was not until the age of 34 when he was discovered. Keep in mind that he was singing opera. Due to his “old” age, he was told by many professionals that he was far too old to have a career in opera. He went on to become a Golden Globe winner, World Music Awards winner, Emmy Award nominee, Academy Award nominee, and a World Record Holder, the last of which occurred when three separate albums of his were on the top three positions of the US Classical albums chart. His album Sacred Arias also became the biggest-selling classical album in history by a solo artist. At the time of this writing, he still holds this record.

3.) Morgan Freeman. It is hard not to know his name. If you have not seen (or heard of) him in any movies, television shows, or advertisements, you may not have watched any media since 1964. That is where he is credited with his first work, playing Dr. Roy Bingham on Another World. He then went on to film and played “man on street” in The Pawnbroker (1964), “man at party” in A Man Called Adam (1966), and a grand central commuter in Where Were You When the Lights Went Out (1968). Keep in mind, at this point, he was in his thirties, playing roles in films that weren’t exactly the main star. His first movie role that had an actual name was in 1971’s Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow!, when he was 34. If none of these films sound familiar, that’s because he really didn’t receive fame until he was nominated for an Academy Award in the 1987 film Street Smart. He was 50 years old. Since then, he has won the Cecil B. DeMille Award, has been nominated for 5 Oscars (winning for Million Dollar Baby), nominated for 5 Golden Globes, nominated for 13 Image Awards (of which he won 7), and has been featured in 68 movie and television productions. At the time of writing, he has seven films that are slated to come out in 2014 alone.

4.) Martha Stewart: Her name is universally known and associated with cooking, crafts, parties, and for making just about every party hostess feel like a total failure in comparison. However, it wasn’t until the age of 35 that she even started her own catering company. While this led to some success, it pales in comparison to the success she would receive when, at the age of 41, she released her first book Entertaining (1982). In the same decade, she released seven other books and began to appear on Larry King Live, David Letterman, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She did not stop there, of course, and went on to create her own show, magazine, media and merchandising company, and became known as a domestic goddess.

5.) Don DeLillo: Though he may not be a household name the way that Stephen King is, he is very well-known and well-respected in the literary community. What’s interesting about his story is that, until he was 28 years old, he didn’t even consider becoming a novelist. He told interviewers that, in his mid-twenties, he quit many of his jobs “just to quit”, citing that he “lacked ambition” and “didn’t have a sense of what it takes to be a serious writer.” At the age of 35, he published his first novel. Since then, he has earned a Guggenheim Fellowship award, an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters award, a National Book Award win and nomination, a PEN/Faulkner Award win and nomination, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination.

6.) George Eliot: You’ve most likely recognized her name as the author of Middlemarch, but it wasn’t until around thirty that she made the decision to become a writer. It wasn’t until forty years of age that she published her first novel. Her most famous work (Middlemarch) was not published until she was 52 years old.

7.) Charles Bukowski: Though he published his first short-story at the age of 24, he soon grew frustrated with publishing and vowed to quit writing. He then spent the next ten years working odd jobs (such as working in a pickle factory) before he started writing poetry at the age of 35. His first poetry collection was published when he was forty. As he continued to write poetry, he also worked at the post office. It was not until he was 49 when he was given the chance to give up his job in order to work full time. His first novel, suitably entitled Post Office, was published when he was 51. In his lifetime, he went on to publish sixty books, many of them poetry and short-story collections. He was and still is a highly-regarded writer.

8.) Colonel Harland Sanders: You may not recognize his name, but if you have ever eaten at KFC, you’ve probably seen his face. He is the founder of the restaurant. His face is also on the logo. In his early life, he went into the US Army, became a fireman, a blacksmith’s helper, a cleaner of train ash pans, a lawyer, a railroad laborer, a seller of life insurance, a founder of a ferry boat company, a secretary for the Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, Indiana, a lamp manufacturer, a tire salesman, and the runner of a service station. What does this have to do with a chicken restaurant? Absolutely nothing. It wasn’t until 1935 when he became a Kentucky Colonel after running (another) service station for five years. He achieved some acclaim with his service station and even went on to run a motel, but both the restaurant and motel were destroyed in a fire. Though he rebuilt the motel, he soon had to close it. He then became an assistant manager for a cafeteria. Finally, the first franchise for Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in 1952. Sanders was 62 at the time. However, three years later, the restaurant failed. Not one to give up, Sanders continued on with the franchise, eventually selling it for $2 million when he was 74. At the time of writing, KFC is the second largest restaurant chain in the world.

9.) Anna Mary Robertson Moses: If this name is not familiar to you, try Grandma Moses. (Technically, due to an honorary doctorate degree from Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art, she is Dr. Grandma Moses.) Her nickname indicates that she was older when she started her profession, and indeed she was. After birthing ten children and working on a family farm, she retired at the age of 66. Though she often used embroidery to create pictures for her family, it was not until she was 75 that she switched to painting (the main influence being that arthritis made embroidery too painful). When she was 78, her paintings caught the eye of art collector Louis J. Caldor, who then decided to include three of her paintings in the Museum of Modern Art in New York the next year. Her reputation continued to grow and she was soon on to her own exhibitions, many of which were flooded with eager fans. At the age of 89, she was awarded a Women’s National Press Club trophy by President Harry S. Truman for outstanding accomplishment in art. In 1960, at the age of 100, she became a LIFE magazine cover girl. She lived to be 101 and produced 1600 paintings in her lifetime. In 2006, her 1943 painting “Sugaring Off” sold for $1.2 million, a far cry from the $3 she originally priced her works for.

10.)  Vincent van Gogh: It’s hard to become more of a late bloomer than this. Though he made drawings in his childhood, it wasn’t until he was around 27 that he got into painting. While this may sound young, keep in mind that he only lived until 37. In those ten years, he produced roughly 2,100 works. Despite being so prolific, he did not make his money by painting. His first exhibition came when he was 32. He painted some of his most well-recognized works during the final two years of his life. Constantly broke and suffering from mental illness for the majority of his life, it is believed by many (though not officially confirmed) that he shot himself. The wound that resulted from the shot was what ultimately killed him. Why is he considered a late bloomer on this list? He only sold one painting during his lifetime. It was sold in 1890, in the final year of his life, for 400 Francs. Back then, that would be the rough equivalent of $80 (around $1,600 today). Besides being considered one of the greatest artists in history, his paintings today can be sold for millions of dollars. In 2013, his painting Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $82 million dollars, making it the most expensive piece of art ever sold through a public auction.

So for those out there who do not think that success is ever going to come your way, continue working and be patient. It may not happen the way you think it will, and it may not even be something that you experience in your lifetime, but you could very well be on the road to greatness.



*Photo Courtesy of carlasosenko.com.


16 Responses to If Success Hasn’t Come Yet, Remember the Late Bloomers

  1. Great post. This makes me feel a little better. I happen to be a bit of a late bloomer myself. Our society is very hung up on age–the youngest and brightest is usually equated with being the best. Thanks for posting this.

  2. I agree – once in a while someone like Zuckerman for example comes along but a large portion of people obtain a dream later rather than sooner. A great post to show you’re never too old to accomplish your dreams – if you don’t give up.

  3. Inspiring and encouraging – thank you. I didn’t really start writing until I turned 40; I sometimes regret that, but I just didn’t feel ready for it when I was younger. One of my favourite authors, Robert Westall didn’t publish his first novel until he was in his early 40s, and went on to have a successful writing career. It’s important to remember such stories, especially in our youth-obsessed culture.

    • Much better to be a more experienced writer who is ready for the challenge than a younger writer who isn’t. Great point.

  4. Current society does place a heavy emphasis on young success stories and ignores the accomplished who needed to take time and work hard. There’s enough people out there that they can cherry pick the finest looking and ignore the rest though.

    • It’s true that those who are young (and good looking) get the most coverage, but artists who put in the work and are dedicated to their craft can still make it (or so I will keep believing).

  5. This is fantastic. Thank you. IMO the hardest thing about becoming an artist of any type (art, music, writing, whatever) is actually deciding to do it. This is really encouraging.

  6. Love it. Tells me there’s hope for me yet 😉

    Missed this post mainly because I don’t often open my emails nowadays. I just saw the notification. Wish I could be notified through my Reader page…

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