But there’s nothing about success that requires youth. In fact, inexperience might even work against you in some cases (ahem, Elizabeth Holmes). And the idea that you should give up if you haven’t found success by a certain point, is a little shortsighted. The premise of this blog is that it’s totally okay to not know exactly what you want to do with your life by the time you graduate high school; the other side of that coin is that not all success comes right away.
To illustrate that point, I looked up a few stories of people who found success in the second or even third act of their lives. The first story that caught my attention was about Peter Mark Roget, probably an unfamiliar name until you pair it with the word “thesaurus.” Roget’s Thesaurus was a staple of college student bookshelves before the internet, and it is the product of a hobby turned late-in-life career. Roget struggled with depression throughout his life and, as a way of managing his depression, liked to make lists. In particular, he liked to make and organize lists of words. After retiring at age 61 from his first career as a doctor, he devoted the last 30 years of his life to this thesaurus. Roget’s thesaurus was first published in 1852 when he was 73 years old, and it has been continuously in print ever since.
Another story that I was more familiar with is Martha Stewart’s evolution into the business mogul she is today. Stewart dabbled in modeling while in college and then spent some time working on Wall Street before starting her own catering business. When her husband’s company hired her to cater one of their events, she met the head of a publishing group who suggested that Martha write a cookbook. That first book, Entertaining, launched Stewart’s career, eventually growing into a magazine, a television show, and her own housewares line. Today, the name Martha Stewart is synonymous with high quality and good taste, but none of that happened until Stewart was in her 40s.
Both Stewart and Roget found sensational success in the second half of their lives. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t doing anything before that - they had jobs and they were good at them. But the thing that would make them internationally celebrated took a little longer to develop. For both of them, their success was a product of the years they had each spent developing their skills and knowledge in that field. And it was only after that period of development that they were able to achieve such success.
As a culture, we tend to highlight the prodigies more than the diligent craftsmen, the hares instead of the tortoises. But there are people who find success in every decade of life. Ultimately, it’s not about when you succeed or even whether you receive acclaim at all. The important thing is that you do the work you care about as well as you can. The one thing that wunderkinds and late bloomers (and middle-bloomers for that matter) have in common is that they work hard to produce something extraordinary, which is something everyone can do.