Never Give Up: These 5 Success Stories From Late Bloomers Prove That Perseverance Pays Off
Their stories are impressive, they’re all well and good, but not every person can find success on his or her first venture, like many of the world’s most notable figures. Every entrepreneur won’t be Alexis Ohanian, the former Reddit CEO who cofounded one of the world’s most popular sites as a senior at the University of Virginia. Every actress won’t be Jennifer Lawrence and very few designers, for that matter, will create their best pieces early.
This is not to suggest that there’s anything wrong with that, either. History has proven that no man or woman is bound to the current pace at which he or she is progressing.
If a squint is taken down the road, they might not look like they’re on the direct path to success. But neither were Mary Kay Ash and Ray Kroc, people who were well over 40 years of age before starting their ventures — Mary Kay cosmetics and McDonald’s, respectively — proving that it’s truly never too late to find success.
There are more contemporary examples, too, who have done the same. Whether they failed miserably, worked a job that was so far from what they wanted to actually do or just, flat out, weren’t working at all, these are the 10 figures who have found great success after many detours.
Nick Woodman – Entrepreneur
At the age of 38, Nick Woodman is one of the youngest people to feature on Forbes annual list of billionaires, having generated his riches at the helm of GoPro, the ever-popular company that makes wearable cameras. Before starting a company that has doubled its revenue every year since he founded it; however, Woodman had already failed in entrepreneurship twice before.
By the time Woodman was ready to see if the third time really is the charm, he had moved back in with his parents and had to start the journey with GoPro while traveling around in an old style Volkswagen van, where he built his first prototype and wrote his first patent.
Speaking of that journey, Woodman wrote, “as an entrepreneur, it's this dark forest you're going through and, you know, there's scary things in there and you just plow ahead and you come out the other side, and all your friends are there and everybody's cheering having a great time because you're achieving your goals. It feels really good.”
Jon Hamm – Actor
Jon Hamm’s story is almost too ironic, not just because he stared failure in the face before going on to win a Golden Globe in 2008, but because of the way it happened. Hamm, who graduated from the University of Missouri with a major in English, was once a client of the ever-prestigious William Morris Agency, at a time during which he had the least prestigious record of all.
In fact, “no record” might be more accurate of a description. Working as a waiter to make ends meet, Hamm did not land a single acting role for three years before being dropped by William Morris.
He’d set a deadline for him to quit, realizing that he could live with himself if he tried acting for a number of years and failed, but a spot in NBC’s drama “Providence” came calling in 2000. It was the beginning of a journey that landed him in one of the greatest contemporary roles in television: Don Draper of AMC’s hit show “Mad Men.”
Brandon Stanton – Photographer
Let’s just run down the list here. Graduate from the University of Georgia, check. Bond trader in Chicago’s buzzing finance sector. Okay. Lost job. Whoops. Heads to New York alone with seemingly no intention of working in an office, i.e. a “real job,” ever again. Right, this has all the makings of an insane story, one that’s bound for drastic failure, except…
“I would not have moved to New York — with nothing but two suitcases, not knowing anybody — if I did not believe I was onto something that was a really good idea.
I was making projections about Humans of New York, back when I had zero followers, that made all my friends and family roll their eyes. I'd throw out these huge numbers: “One day a million people are gonna be looking at this, trust me,” Stanton told Beckett Mufson in October.
It’s actually a bit funny to consider that a man whose job was all about numbers could make so wrong of a prediction. Humans of New York actually has 1.5 million fans on Facebook in addition to being, you know, one of the hottest blogs on the Internet.
Vera Wang – Designer
One for the shifters and changers; Vera could have really gone in a number of directions. After being featured in Sports Illustrated’s January 1968, Wang failed to land a spot on the Olympic figure skating team and went on to work for Vogue magazine.
There, Wang became the senior fashion editor within a year, holding that position for 15 years until 1987 when it was time for the magazine to appoint a new editor-in-chief. She was passed up for the job, which eventually went to Anna Wintour.
At that point, Wang left journalism and joined Ralph Lauren, designing accessories for the brand. It was the start of a career in fashion that had her designing for her own brand at the age of 40. Now at the age of 64, she is the celebrity designer of note for weddings and award ceremonies, the likes of which the all-too-typical red carpet question was made: Who are you wearing?
J.K. Rowling – Writer
Long before she had written a story so magical that it gathered millions of children under its spell, somehow convincing them to read a series of 500-page long books, things weren’t looking too good for J.K. Rowling.
She worked at Amnesty International in London, and later as an English teacher in Porto before moving in with her sister in Edinburgh when she found herself jobless and separated from her husband. Rowling was flat on her face. In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me,” Rowling said during this TED Talk in 2010.
“Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
That big idea was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” the first of many books that would later hit the big screens as part of an overall series that captured the imagination of many a child (and adult) for over a decade.
Bonus: Nola Ochs
Seventy-seven years after taking her first college course in 1930, Nola Ochs became the oldest college graduate in history, earning a degree from Fort Hays State University in Kansas at the age of 96.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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