Inspiring stories of those who achieved their dreams later in life
As we age, it can feel like a clock is ticking. A “scarcity mindset” with regard to time can take hold. And still, the message in our culture is that ‘youth is king’ and ‘forty is over the hill’. I’ve had this feeling. I’ve had the idea ‘what I’m doing is not an expression of who I am!?’ This is not the career for me! I wish I could...and a whole list of ideas and potential regrets comes to mind.
The need for novelty is human. Change is necessary to keep us invigorated. The average person changes careers at age 391. Being 40 and having these thoughts, it appears I’m in good company.
However, there are countless examples of household names who’ve turned their lives around later in life. They’ve set out to find the success they’ve dreamt of. They’ve changed their whole lives, to better suit their purpose. Proving that it’s not too late to achieve your dreams, to change your trajectory.
These are ten powerful ways to turn it all around.
Know What You Know and Bank On It
Regardless of how you feel about retail giant Wal-Mart, the story of Sam Walton is one to learn from. Walton started at J.C. Penney’s and was told by his boss that he was not cut out for retail and threatened to fire him. His books and clerical skills were a mess.
His saving grace?
Walton instinctively knew what he knew. The books weren’t as important as making sure the customer was happy! He instinctively knew this truth is what mattered to the success of a business.
Walton was drafted into the army during World War II. After the war, he invested his own money and secured a twenty thousand dollar loan for a retail store. Walton banked on knowing what he knows, even though his previous boss told him he wasn’t cut out for it. Before long, he had the best variety store of its kind in Newport, Arkansas.
Smooth sailing, right?
Not so much.
Seeing his success, his landlord refused the renewal of the lease and took over the store, giving it to his son!
Walton didn’t give up. He found a new location (this time insisting on a 99-year lease), in Benton, Arkansas. He called it Walton’s Five & Dime. In ten years, he had grown to 15 variety stores. He was putting in the hours, but still just wasn’t seeing the profits. That’s when Walton implemented a new business strategy. He’d cut prices so low as to undercut his competition12.
Knowing that he’d have to continue to open more locations, he approached the company that he franchised many of the stores from to ask for an investment. They firmly said, no. Consequently, Walton mortgaged his house and borrowed all the money he could to finance the first Wal-Mart. He was 42 years old! He put it all on the line because he knew, what he knew.
This is powerful stuff, here. There are things that you know, ideas you have that other folk do not. You could change the world with your idea.
Why did Walton do this?
In the most simple terms, his first Commandment: Commit to your Business.
We know the rest of the story about Wal-Mart. But it all starts by believing and knowing what you know to your core. And Walton did this even though he was 42.
Indulge Your Passions Without Fear
Success, right!? End of Story!?
This is only the start. And often, when some level of stability is reached in our careers, we may be fearful about doing anything to threaten this.
Though Wang achieved a great deal of success in writing about fashion, what she really wanted was to create it. She decided to open her bridal boutique13. Largely, this came from the fact that she had to make her wedding dress! She was unhappy with the lack of fashion involved in wedding dresses. Now she is widely known for this impact on the fashion industry.
Wang admits to not knowing anything about wedding dresses in the beginning. But she approached her passion fearlessly.
Wang loves fashion, but writing about it didn’t allow her to fully express her passion. The fearless passion for creating the fashion eventually came to bring her, her most fulfilling success. And she did not make this evolution until she was 40!
Do what you love and it has the power to define your life.
Don’t Ever Stop Fighting For Your Passion
Harland “Colonel” Sanders was 62 when he first franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken. His success came as the result of a long life journey.
Sander’s father died young, leaving his mother to work and he to take care of his three younger siblings. He left school after sixth grade. His mother remarried and he did not get along with his new stepfather. At 13, he set out on his own.
For 28 years, he had an unsettling amount of jobs, ranging from a lawyer to a streetcar operator. Sanders was characterized as temperamental, short-tempered, exemplified by his getting into a fistfight with his client in the courtroom3.
Sander’s personal life was also…difficult. His troubles holding a position caused his wife and mother of three children to leave him. His oldest son passed away from complications due to a routine procedure, a tonsillectomy. These events led Sanders to suffer depression for much of his adult life.
He began running a gas station, cooking food for travelers passing through on the highway nearby. During this period, he developed his recipe for fried chicken, the now-famous KFC recipe. For the first time, the Colonel was experiencing some success. But alas, a new highway was built nearby that cut off visibility and traffic to this location. This would wipe out his business.
Sanders hit the road selling his recipe to various restaurants and franchises for royalties of 4 cents on every piece of chicken sold. The tides were turning for Sanders. By the age of 74, he had over 600 outlets serving his secret recipe chicken. He sold the Kentucky Fried Chicken, yet continued to work for them.
The Colonel was known for his constant fighting with KFC. They sued each other back and forth, several times. Sanders even started a new restaurant he called “Colonel Sander’s Dinner House”, in which Kentucky Fried Chicken sued him over the use of the word “colonel”. He publicly complained about the direction and quality of the food, referring to the gravy as wallpaper paste!
This would continue until the end.
Harland Sanders never stopped fighting for his vision. If something was wrong or out of place, he called it out. He never stopped fighting. He lived to be 90 years old, fighting the whole way. KFC is now one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Colonel Sanders was buried in his iconic white suit.
Don’t ever stop fighting for what you want.
Be Crazy About What You Want
Ray Kroc is credited with the success of the mega-fast food chain, McDonalds. He bought his first McDonalds at age 52. He was known for his intense, focused and obsessive business style.
At an early age, Kroc had a desire to serve. He wanted to serve in World War I but was 15. And so, he lied about his age so that he could go overseas with the Red Cross. A born salesman, Kroc had many jobs all displaying his ability to connect with people. As a milkshake machine salesman, he sold a machine to the McDonald’s brothers. He became obsessed with the idea that their business could be uber-successful if placed all throughout the country. The brothers had already started this process. However, the process was conducted with far less fervor than would be by Kroc. When the McDonalds’ franchising agent stepped away due to health issues, Kroc was there to help4.
Kroc was a known workaholic. He worked obsessively to expand the McDonald’s restaurant to the rest of the country. His first and second wife left him due to his obsession. Inside the business, he indoctrinated discipline and codes of conduct, standardizing the way the work was done. This simplified the process of expansion. He mortgaged and nearly lost his home to keep the business afloat, early on.
Kroc was insatiable about building the business. His first wife once asked him when it would be enough. He responded: Honestly, probably never.
Kroc also had his issues personally, but his craze about the business he built could not be denied. Without Kroc’s devotion to the business, the Golden Arches would not be as recognizable as they are today.
Be crazy about what you’re building.
Ride the Wave Humbly, But Do Ride the Wave
Taikichiro Mori was an economics professor at what is now Yokohama University. He also served as the Dean for his last five years. He was 51 when he started a real estate company, using two apartment buildings inherited from his father. Mori used the inheritance and completely redeveloped the Toronoman area. This part of town was left devastated by a 1923 earthquake and US bombs during World War II. Due to his background in economics, he believed that land prices were to grow in price exponentially5.
Grow they certainly did. In the end, his company owned 83 buildings in Tokyo’s downtown. In 1992, Mori was named the richest man on earth. Mori understood that he was simply in a position to take advantage of the trajectory of the economy.
Though he became very rich, he remained humble. Mori is quoted as saying “I guess I am called the world’s richest man, but that doesn’t necessarily do anything for me. I just got to be that because land prices in Tokyo shot up.“15
Mori was modest when recognized on the world stage. He was able to take what his father had built, infuse it with the tools that he already had in his knowledge of economics, and ride the wave of rising land prices in Japan. Though Mori passed away soon after, his family remains among the richest in the world.
It’s important to understand that success in our ventures is sometimes dependent on us riding the wave, the momentum of the moment. When this happens, ride the wave! But stay humble in doing so as Mori did with the Mori Building Company.
(And this wave may not come until you’re in your fifties, as it did for Mori.)
Be a Passionate Problem Solver
Donald Fisher was forty when he purchased a Sacramento Hotel. Spending his life renovating hotels, he was ready to own and run his own.
Also in the hotel space, Fisher rented retail space to the Levi jean company. He went shopping for some jeans. He wore a size 31 waist (an uncommon size) and couldn’t get the jeans to fit. They would not allow him to return the jeans! He suggested to the manager that they stock and display all different sizes of jeans for customers to look at and try on. Unlike today, this was simply not done at the time. This spawned the idea for a “Wall of Levi’s” where the jeans would be displayed in the Levi retail space6.
The manager began to see that the idea of the display was working. Fisher asked him to be a partner in a new clothing/retail venture but was turned down. Fisher also noted that other retailers did not display or offer their jeans to be tried on. And so partnering with his wife, he raised $63,000 in 1969 to open their first retail store “The Generation Gap”. They displayed and sold Levi’s jeans, records and tapes. Eventually, they were known simply as “The Gap”.
In 1972, they began making their own brand of jeans. They were the first retailer to have the store name the same as the label on their jeans. This is another common practice in retail today.
By 1973 The Gap went public, changing the face of the retail clothing store for generations to come. Fisher and his wife went on to acquire The Banana Republic and begin Old Navy, two other significant retail stores that maintain popularity today.
If Fisher wouldn’t have set out to end his frustration with buying jeans, he may have never started The Gap. Lesson learned, be a passionate problem solver.
Persevere Over Your Person
Samuel L. Jackson was in the acting business long before he ever “made it big”. His father left his mother when he was very young and died of alcoholism shortly thereafter. Jackson became interested in acting while in college in his 20’s. After graduation, he moved to Harlem to pursue stage acting. He performed in several plays and in the ’80s had several small parts in movies7.
Behind the scenes, Jackson was dealing with his own demons. In 1991, he was admitted to rehab for alcoholism and cocaine addiction. Upon his release, Jackson secured a role in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, as Gator Purify. The serendipitous opportunity was presented to him to play the role of a cocaine addict. His performance earned him a “Best Supporting Actor” award from the Cannes Film Festival as well as the New York Film Critic Award. At 41, Jackson was finally on the map16.
After becoming sober in 91, Jackson’s career took off. He was 41 years old.
Jackson did not believe that he had a problem with addiction. But after going to a bachelor party, he passed out in the kitchen while heating crack cocaine on the stove. His wife and daughter discovered him and begged him to go to rehab.
At the end of the day, whatever causes us to need to break out from where we are is really inside of us. In Jackson’s case, it was his addiction to substance abuse. In this triumph, he was able to persevere over his person.
Be Your Weird, Authentic Self
Theodore Seuss Geisel had found success throughout his life. He was a visual artist, known for drawing advertisements for various retailers. He also wrote using an eccentric sense of humor9.
Several incidents in Geisel’s life had large impacts on how he would conduct himself. When he was young, his family was often shamed due to their German heritage and the events of World War II. One incident causing him to fear public speaking for the rest of his life occurred when he was to be given a medal in boy scouts. This medal was to be given by Theodore Roosevelt. Instead of receiving the medal, he was quickly ushered off stage due to his being German.
During prohibition, his father, a brewer, was forced to shut down the family’s brewery. In college, Geisel worked his way up to the position of editor in chief of the college paper, the Jack-O-Lantern. He was caught drinking and the position was taken from him (it was still prohibition). He then began submitting his writings and drawings under the name “Seuss”.
After college, Geisel went to Oxford to study. He did not fit in nor do well. And so, he returned.
While working as an advertiser, Geisel would occasionally get free-lance work in the Saturday Evening Post. He signed his work as “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss”, eventually shortening it to Dr. Seuss. After 27 rejections, he published his first children’s book, “To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street”, in 1937. Interestingly enough, Seuss’s wife wrote several children’s books during this time, published by Disney and Golden Books.
Seuss’s (Geisel) seminol book, “The Cat in the Hat” was published in 1957 permanently casting him as the eccentric children’s author. Later in his career, Seuss would publish the “Lorax”, receiving some backlash for his voicing his concerns for environmentalism. Also, in the 80’s he published “The Butter Battle Book”, open opposition to the nuclear buildup happening due to the Cold War.
Even though not accepted by the president publicly, failure to fit in at Oxford, the success of his wife in the industry, and the constant rejection, Seuss remained his eccentric, weird and quirky self. This is how he will be remembered in the halls of history.
Be your weird, authentic self…Even if you’re over the hill.
When “The” Opportunity Comes, Take It
Alan Rickman was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at age 26! Before this (and after) he was a graphic designer. The acting was something he did on the side, for fun. He was successful in his career. Though, his dream was to be a full time actor10.
For years Rickman was a stage actor, making money but really just doing it as a side-hustle. And then, at 42 he had the opportunity to play the villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Rickman’s initial reaction was to decline. He read the script and didn’t find anything immediately redeeming.
Later Rickman commented that the film was revolutionary in the way that it represented some of the minority characters. Also, his agent and friends told him that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
And so, he took it. The result changed his life.
In Rickman’s performance, he outlined the quintessential villain for future action movies. He became widely known for this role as well as his role as Snape in the Harry Potter films.
If Rickman would have gone with his initial gut instinct and declined the Hand Gruber role, staying in his comfort zone, he would have never had the opportunity to change his life as he did. But, when ‘the’ opportunity came, he took it…
Blaze Your Path
Bea Arthur began her adulthood by joining the Marines. She was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve in 1943. After World War II, she was honorably discharged and went on to intern as a lab technician.
But she opted out of this career, and instead took a seemingly out of left field turn towards acting. But to her, it was her lifelong dream and she pursued it. She studied and went on to have a good career acting on the stage. Yet, it wasn’t until age 49 she began in television17.
In the 70’s she was known for her lead role in Maude. The role featured her personal politics and named her as a voice for the women’s liberation movement at the time. The television show brought to light societal issues from menopause to mental health. Arthur was known for her passionate voice for these and other issues.
In 1985, at the age of 63, Arthur was cast as Dorothy in the Golden Girls. The Emmy winning show was nominated six out of the seven years it aired and was Arthur’s biggest hit of her career.
The issue that was most important to Arthur was that of LGBTQ rights. She left $300,000 to the Ali Forney Center which opened the Bea Arthur Residence, a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth.
In her work and life, Arthur always spoke up and engaged her audience with her beliefs. Later, she was a voice for the issues and concerns she was most passionate about. From the decision to act, believing her family wouldn’t support her, to the opening of the shelter of her namesake, Arthur blazed her path with the change that she wanted to see in the world.
It’s never too late to start after your dreams, to change your life. The thoughts that drive us to believe this, that’s the real culprit. That’s the thing that holds us back,
It’s not too late to turn it all around…