How old is too old to do something new? If you want to launch a business, become a great leader, change careers, or just do something different with your life, at what point is it just too late to be successful? Short answer: Never.
In case you need a little inspiration to show you that it can be done no matter what age you’ve reached, here are 14 amazing people who never saw real success until well after age 40. (Know anyone I missed? Email me and maybe we’ll write about them next time.)
1. Martha Stewart
Stewart had worked on Wall Street and owned a Connecticut catering firm, but her real success came after age 41 with the publication of her first book, Entertaining, and the launch of Martha Stewart Living seven years later. (Of course, she weathered some pitfalls later, before rebounding once more.)
2. Joy Behar
Known today as a former co-host on The View, Behar was a high school English teacher who didn’t launch her show business career until after age 40.
3. Vera Wang
Wang was first known as an accomplished figure skater and a fashion editor before deciding before her 1989 wedding, at age 40, that she wanted to be a designer. She commissioned her own wedding dress for $10,000 and opened her first bridal boutique the following year.
4. Tim and Nina Zagat
This husband and wife team had each turned 42 before they gave up their legal careers to write their first restaurant guides. Their eponymous company is part of Google now.
5. Robin Chase
The founder and former CEO of Zipcar had left her 40th birthday in the rearview mirror and was taking time off from work to be with her children when she and a friend, Antje Danielson, came up with the idea for the car-sharing company in 2000.
6. Harland Sanders
Sanders was “a failure who got fired from a dozen jobs before starting his restaurant, and then failed at that when he went out of business and found himself broke at the age of 65,” according to one account. But then things worked out when he sold the first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise in 1952.
7. Rodney Dangerfield
The late, great comedic actor was best known for his roles in 1980s movies like Caddyshack and Back to School, but he was 46 before he got his first big break—on the Ed Sullivan Show.
8. Duncan Hines
At age 55, he wrote his first food and hotel guides (including one that mentioned Sanders Court and Caf, the original restaurant owned by Harlan Sanders, above). At age 73, he licensed the right to use his name to the company that developed Duncan Hines cake mixes; unfortunately he died six years later.
9. Charles Darwin
He was 50 years old before he published On the Origin of the Species in 1859, the book that espoused the theory for which he best known today. (The Darwin Awards came much later.)
10. Samuel Jackson
Jackson was 46 years old (and in recovery from addiction to cocaine and heroin) before he starred alongside John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
11. Donald Fisher
At age 41, after a series of entrepreneurial ventures, Fisher and his wife Doris Fisher founded The Gap. It’s now a $16 billion a year company with more than 3,200 locations worldwide.
12. Ray Kroc
Kroc had passed his 50th birthday before he bought the first McDonald’s in 1961, which he ultimately expanded into a worldwide conglomerate.
13. Sam Walton
Although he’d owned a small chain of discount stores, Walton opened the first true Wal-Mart in 1962, when he was 44.
14. Julia Child
Her first cookbook was published when she was 39; she made her television debut in The French Chef at age 51.
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