Today is my birthday and I am thirty-eight years old. That seems somewhat impossible to me, and yet here I am sitting in an ergonomically correct chair and adding fiber pills to my grocery list, so it must be true. It’s been twenty-years since I graduated high school and a little more than that since my first international trip. I wonder what my 18-year old self would think of the person I’ve become, of missed opportunities, great successes and moments of incredible luck. Looking back though isn’t what interests me, looking forward is, into what truly is a new season of my life.
How an individual defines success is a very personal thing and there is no yardstick against which to measure. For some success is starring in a major motion picture and for others it’s happily raising their children; neither is wrong, just different. Lest you think though that it is too late in your own life to find success, you’re wrong. It’s never too late and here are some folks who didn’t see their version of success until later in life.
Anthony Bourdain is the man many of us love and wish we could be; especially if we’re involved in either the food or travel worlds. And while many would say he was successful throughout his life, particularly as the Executive Chef of Les Halles in New York, it wasn’t until his 40s when his stratospheric rise began. He was 44 when he published his first book, Kitchen Confidential. It was another 5 years until he got his own TV show traveling the world and experiencing it through his taste buds. He wasn’t well traveled before his book and his odyssey over the last decade or so has indeed been one of self-discovery and defining his own personal success. But it all began when he was 44, not 24 or even 34.
Looking at the biography of Vera Wang, fashion designer to the stars, it’s hard to find a time in her life when she wasn’t successful at some level. Whether it was her early dominance in the figure skating world, or later during her fashion career at both Vogue and Ralph Lauren. Her breakout moment though didn’t come until she was 40 when she opened her first design salon featuring her now iconic bridal gowns. Since then she of course has become a household name, a rarity in the fashion world.
We know him as the white suit wearing southern gentleman sharing his delicious fried chicken in a bucket, but it took Harland Sanders a long time to see such success. For years Sanders worked a variety of odd jobs, bouncing around like a confused ball. It wasn’t until he was 40 when he opened up his small restaurant in a gas station and he was 62 when he first franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken. Even after selling the company, the Colonel continued on as a company spokesman and saw his tiny restaurant grow into the multinational company that it is today.
I’ve always loved Julia Child, even before the somewhat sappy biopic celebrating her life was released a few years ago. She was funny and smart, approachable yet respected. These are all hard qualities to maintain in one person and she did it with ease. It’s easy to imagine the first TV chef laboring since childhood in a kitchen, but it wasn’t until she and her husband moved to France that her culinary life began in earnest. Child was 36 when she enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu cooking school and she was 49 when her epic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking was first published. Even then she wasn’t an immediate success; it was a chance TV appearance two years later that truly began Child’s multi-media empire in earnest.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
This American writer holds a special place in the hearts of millions, including myself, thanks to her honest books about real American life in the 19th century. While always a writer, Wilder set aside her career ambitions to raise a family, even though she did publish the occasional article. It wasn’t until she was 64 when, at the urging of her daughter, Wilder wrote and released the first in a long series of semi-autobiographical books known as the Little House Series. While a successful career, it was an oddly short one; Wilder’s last book was published when she was 76 after just 13 years of life as a professional writer.
So if you’re like me and the progression of the calendar can at times be disheartening, don’t give up. Some of the most notable, important and successful people we know and love today weren’t fabulous 20-somethings or even stunning 30-year olds. Instead they saw their own versions of success a little later in life, when they were ready to figuratively assemble the divergent pieces of their lives.
What they all shared though was the same fierce desire to succeed and they all worked tirelessly and without praise for the opportunity to shape their lives in an image they cast, and not one cast for them. So no matter what your own personal version of success is, go out there and work for it, fight for it and maybe you too will be added to this list.