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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

Ina Garten's Proof That It’s Never Too Late to Change Careers

Ina Garten and husband
Mark Davis/Staff/Getty Images

No matter where you are in life, making a career change is scary—when you’re 10 years deep into a field you don’t love and are looking for a change, when you’ve changed careers twice already and don’t want to make the same mistake, when you’re hitting 50 and are worried you’re too old to switch gears.

What if I told you you’re not alone, and that even some of the most successful people were in your position once?

Watching the Food Network, you’d never know that Ina Garten—a.k.a., the Barefoot Contessa—wasn’t always poised to become the food extraordinaire she is today. But it actually took her until later in life to discover her passion and drive for cooking.

Now, one note: This story isn’t new, but it’s new to me and inspired me so much that I felt compelled to share it with you!

So with no further ado, here’s the inspirational tale:

Ina and her husband Jeffrey got married before Ina could finish college. So, with some free time on her hands, Ina started teaching herself how to cook while her husband was away at work.

Later, when the duo moved to DC, Ina started taking some business courses and got a job in the White House during the Ford and Carter administrations. She started out as low-level government aide, but climbed the ranks and ultimately became a budget analyst working on nuclear energy policy.

Though she found her role intellectually stimulating, Ina said in a New York Times interview that her Washington job “wasn’t me at all.” She was much more interested in the brunch and dinner parties she planned and hosted every weekend.

Ina was 30 when she officially decided to change the direction her career was headed. While reading The New York Times one day, she came across an ad for a small grocery store for sale named Barefoot Contessa in Westhampton, New York, and according to Ina, “it just clicked.” Using money she’d collected from refurbishing homes on the side, she made an on-the-spot offer to buy the store:

“To say that I knew nothing about what I was getting myself into was an understatement. I’d never run a business before, never even had employees working for me,” Ina recalled, but despite her lack of any real business or retail experience, the store thrived under her leadership.

After running the business for 18 years, she was ready for another change, so she sold the store and started working on a cookbook. Her first publication, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, turned her into a best-selling author at age 51. Its sales landed her more book deals, and eventually her own Food Network show—and the rest is history.

Why am I telling you this story? Because Ina Garten didn’t become Ina Garten until she turned 51. There’s this myth out there that whatever you’re doing now is what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. But that’s simply not true.

If you want to change careers—do it! It won’t be easy, and at times it won’t be fun, but it’ll be worth it. Because there’s nothing better than spending the workweek doing what you want to do.

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