Inspirational Stories of Success After 40
January 17, 2007 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for stories of inspirational people (names, URLs or in-thread) who overcame adversities to become successful after the age of 40. They could have become wildly successful, or perhaps just financially independent and can be famous or not-famous, perhaps even yourself or a relative. I've gone through an arduous career change and am starting my own business in my late 30s from basically nothing. I realize I'm still quite young, but it is so easy to feel late to the game when so many of my peers are established and successful. I'm really needing some inspiration right now. Thank you very much in advance for your answers.
posted by PigAlien to Work & Money (24 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe the struggles of artists are less applicable to your situation, but Cesaria Evora had a rough childhood, actually gave up singing for a time to support her family, and found international acclaim in her late forties.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:50 PM on January 17, 2007

Paul Gauguin worked in a bank until his late 30s, moved to Tahiti at 43, and became a great artist.
posted by Jeanne at 3:51 PM on January 17, 2007

Grandma Moses started painting in her late '70s.

There's also a book called Late Bloomers that might interest you.

Good luck with your venture.
posted by Work to Live at 3:54 PM on January 17, 2007

Danny Aiello got his start in film/TV at age 40.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:55 PM on January 17, 2007

You might want to check out this previous AskMe.
posted by trip and a half at 4:00 PM on January 17, 2007

Heh, oops. That's my comment. here's the thread.
posted by trip and a half at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2007

AskMe gave me a lot of confidence when I asked this question.
posted by b33j at 4:15 PM on January 17, 2007

Thanks for this thread, PigAlien...(and everyone who commented so far)...

I'm in a similar "boat"... I'm 33, with no degree, lost a good corporate job and basically restarting everything.

If nothing else..its good to know I'm not the only one. :)
posted by jmnugent at 4:49 PM on January 17, 2007

On the one hand, it is pretty hard to find oneself in a situation nobody else has ever experienced.

On the other hand, if that was, in fact, the case why would that be bad? Wouldn't that be so rare as to be a real hallmark?

I'm just asking: why the great need for social proof that you are not blazing new trails? I mean this most seriously. What if you were? Would you quit what you're doing? What would you do in that case?
posted by trinity8-director at 5:00 PM on January 17, 2007

Joan Birman (.pdf link) got her Ph.D. at 41 and became a leader in the field of low-dimensional topology.
posted by escabeche at 5:06 PM on January 17, 2007

My mother went back to university when in her 40s, with five young children to deal with, and got a bachelor's and then a master's degree. She's doing very well now!
posted by Paragon at 5:22 PM on January 17, 2007

Danny Trejo turned his life around when he was 41, and went on to a successful career as a character actor. I'm sure you'll recognize his face when you see it.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:31 PM on January 17, 2007

Raymond Chandler didn't publish anything till he was 45, and his first novel came out when he was 51.
posted by zadcat at 6:24 PM on January 17, 2007

Response by poster: Ha! Trip and a half, my goodness, my spirit must have escaped my body at some point and posted under another name! LOL Thanks for pointing out that thread. I searched for several different keywords, but didn't think of 'late achievers'! LOL Well, there's the diversity of language for you.

That book, work to live, looks quite interesting. I think I'll check it out of the library. Thank you!

You're welcome, jmnugent, I was kinda hoping I might find some people in a similar situation. You have a few less years on me, but I was the same age as you when I first changed careers.

Paragon, that story is very inspiring because my best friend is a divorced single mother with 4 kids living in poverty on $10/hr and I keep trying to get her to go to college so she can escape the trap. She used to make $50,000/yr, but due to offshoring in manufacturing was laid off. She had worked herself up to management with a high school diploma, but now it seems impossible to get back into a similar position. I'm trying to get her to realize she can get her tuition paid for through grants and get student loans to pay the bills, but I don't think she believes it. She's extremely bright and hard working, but also very insecure.

escabeche, I was looking for anything but leaders in low-dimensional topology. way off the mark! LOL just kidding :) i thought it was pretty cool, in fact!

trinity8-director, this question isn't about blazing new trails or old, but rather about negative self-talk and discouragement. I'm trying to do something I've never done before, from scratch, and I have no idea how I'm going to do it. Building a successful business takes some people decades of hard work and they still fail. I'm trying to find examples that I can keep with me to inspire me in those times when I feel like I've taken on something much bigger than I can handle.

Thank you everyone so far for helping out :) Those are some great examples.
posted by PigAlien at 6:32 PM on January 17, 2007

Julia Child didn't even start learning to cook until she was 37.
posted by lemuria at 7:01 PM on January 17, 2007

Nancy Pelosi.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:11 PM on January 17, 2007

You won't find this on the net anywhere, but Mrs. Doohickie always wanted to be a teacher. A well-meaning but clueless high school guidance counselor pointed her toward retail management with the knowledge that the local job market for teachers was poor. She never finished her four year degree, and we got married, had a couple kids, and she was a full-time mom for most of that time.

Jobs outside the home for her included (as I mentioned) retail management (which she was good at, but loathed), a stint as a Pampered Chef "Kitchen Consultant", then she decided to do something totally different.

She went to community college, learned sign language and became an interpreter for the deaf at a public middle school. Enter carpal tunnel surgery, and her ability to talk with her hands was at an end.

She went back to college and finished her bachelors degree in history and education at age 42 and has begun the field she wanted to study when she was in high school. Her own career as a high school history teacher is just begining, but so far, a year and a half in, she loves it. And more importantly, she's making a difference.

She is looking into starting her masters in military history later this year. While she wants to spend several more years in the classroom, she is hoping to move into cirriculum development. She is probably more effective as a teacher having lived life and raised two sons of her own before trying to teach other people's kids. If she had gone into education from the start, she might not have been half the teacher she is today.
posted by Doohickie at 8:29 PM on January 17, 2007

Louise Bourgeois.
posted by cushie at 9:14 PM on January 17, 2007

Amy Clampitt.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:15 AM on January 18, 2007

I saw this woman give a talk last week: Micheline Beaulieu. Completely inspirational. Did her PhD as a mature student, starting at 45, and now, less than 20 years later, is the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor1 at the University of Sheffield. That's a meteoric rise. To get to PVC you'd expect someone to have done post-doc, lectureship, senior lectureship, reader, professor, dean, then PVC - that much progression in less than 20 years is unheard of.

1UK unis have a handful of pro-vice chancellors, and one vice-chancellor, who's the head.
posted by handee at 1:42 AM on January 18, 2007

You might enjoy Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life, which doesn't address only those who overcame adversity after 40, but there's certainly some in there (including a gentleman who decided to become a lawyer in his 70s!).

(Specifically, note that it's not a self-help book, it's a collection of people's stories, some inspirational and others just interesting.)
posted by mendel at 8:52 AM on January 18, 2007

Response by poster: Hey Doohickie! That's great news about Mrs. Doohickie! Good luck to her!

Mendel, I will take a look at that book. Thanks for the recommendation :)

George W. Bush! I think you win the thread, matteo! OMGROFLACK
posted by PigAlien at 9:23 AM on January 18, 2007

Wallace Stevens:

Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main output came at a fairly advanced age. Many of his canonical works were written well after he turned fifty. According to the literary critic Harold Bloom, no Western writer since Sophocles has had such a late flowering of artistic genius. The Auroras of Autumn was not published until after his seventieth year. His first major publication ("Phases" in the November 1914 edition of Poetry Magazine) was written at the age of thirty-five
posted by wannabehippie at 12:11 PM on January 18, 2007

Rodney Dangerfield was a used car salesman into his 40's after a brief stint doing stand-up as a teenager.
posted by Four Flavors at 1:22 PM on January 18, 2007

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