Many people believe that if you’re going to be successful in your chosen career it is likely to happen in the springtime of life — in other words, during your youth.
We hear about creative geniuses such as Mozart who began composing symphonies when he was still a child. More recently, we’ve seen child stars nominated for Academy Awards and dot-com millionaires who are still in their early twenties.
But what if you have grown older without achieving the career success you want?
Perhaps your best is still to come.
An article in the July, 2006 issue of Wired Magazine reported on research by University of Chicago economist David Galenson which the magazine said could provide “hope for legions of late bloomers everywhere.” Gallenson found that while some geniuses create their best work in their youth, others achieve their greatest success in later life.
As Wired reported, “Geniuses like Auguste Rodin, Mark Twain, and Alfred Hitchcock proceed by a lifetime of trial and error and thus do their important work much later in their careers.” Galenson found late bloomers achieve success in virtually every field from architecture to music to business.
Even acting. At the age of 87, Gloria Stuart was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the movie Titanic.
But what if you want to achieve success in any entirely new career?
One of the questions we hear most often from people who dream of a new career is “am I too old to get started?” Here are two recent letters we received:
Dear Tag and Catherine,
I have been considering a career change and after assessing my talents I think I would make a great personal shopper. I love to shop and buy unique items. I love the hunt for the item and then buying it at a bargain price. What is the best way to “break into the field?” I will have to keep my current job until I can achieve my current income or at least a good percentage of my current income. I am 51 years old and wonder if that is too old to begin this career. – Mary
Dear Tag and Catherine,
I am a 28 year old single mom with two small children. I want to pursue a career in acting but have been told that because of my age and because I have children I will not succeed. I have no acting experience. I was in two school plays as a child but that’s all. My dream career as a teen was acting but life took me in a different direction. I feel I waited too long but I’m still holding on to the possibility. Is there still hope for me? – Laronda
To both of these career changers, and most others who dream of starting a new career but wonder if it is too late, the answer is the same. With few exceptions, it is not too late to pursue your dreams.
There are many examples of career changers who have gone on to achieve great success. One example we love because of how old she was when she started her dream career is Anna Mary Robertson Moses. She taught herself to paint when she was in her seventies. Known as “Grandma” Moses, she became one of the most famous folk artists of the 20th century.
Certainly people will hire a 51 year old personal shopper. In fact, many clients are likely to be around your age because personal shoppers are in great demand by the busy baby boomer generation.
Likewise, 28 is definitely not too late to begin an acting career. Fred Thompson was in his forties and working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. when he was cast in a movie. That launched an acting career that has included numerous television and movie roles. In 2002, he joined the cast of the hit TV show Law & Order a few months before finishing up a term as a U.S. Senator.
While few people will have the opportunity to star in a hit TV show or get elected as a senator (and even fewer will do both!), it is possible to achieve career dreams at almost any age.
What matters much more than your age is your ability to do the job and your ability to sell yourself to the people who can hire you.
You can start taking small steps towards your dreams. For example, you can start a personal shopping business part-time while keeping your day job. Likewise, you can start acting in your own city rather than trying to move your family to Hollywood.
For further inspiration for anyone over 40 who is wondering if it’s too late for a new career, a good book to check out is It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now, by Barbara Sher. Career-changers of all ages will also find lots of inspiration in our book Dream Careers, which we are sending to both letter writers.