Ten of history’s greatest “Late Bloomers” : people who found their purpose and went for awe-inspiring success in the second innings of life

Rohan Paul
Sep 3, 2016 · 11 min read

“I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. … If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” Excerpt from Steve Jobs’ now historical commencement address to Stanford University’s batch of 2005 .

We live in a world, where I feel, a disproportionate emphasis is placed on early success and fame in life, causing panic if our 30th or 40th birthday rolls around and our greatest aspirations seem far out of reach.

After all, if you haven’t found your “calling” by, say, age 30, it’s pretty much game over, right? If you were going to make it, you’d have made it by now.

Well … maybe not. After all …

A surprising number of great men and women of history didn’t step onto the world stage until well into the second half of their lives. Some had bounced back after misspent youths and disastrous failures, some others just were not “lucky” enough to have found out what they would love to do early in life, and still for millions of others, even if they found their “calling” early in life, they did not have the courage to follow their heart, rather diverting to a safer career path, stable life.

From one of America’s most celebrated nostalgic painter and folk-artist, who started her painting career in her late seventies, to the railroad fireman who found a “fried chicken” recipe at age 40, which will storm over the fast-food world creating a multi-billion dollar global company, here are 10 inspiring stories of history’s most famous “late bloomers”.

1. McDonald’s and Ray Kroc

McDonalds was started by Ray Kroc, when most people his age were retiring. Ray Kroc was 52 years old in 1954. He was a milk shake machine salesman. One day he happened on a hamburger stand in San Bernandino, California and instead of selling the McDonald brothers his machine, he bought their business. After 6 years, by 1960, Kroc had more than 200 McDonald franchises in the U.S., but he still barely earned a profit. He started to prosper when he started the Franchise Realty Corporation which bought up property and leased it to franchisees. With the profits from real estate, Kroc started advertising to support the franchises, and expanded in the 1970’s across the globe. The rest is history, creating one of the greatest global conglomerate of our industrial age.

2. Soichiro Honda — Founder of the Honda Motor Company

At 15, without any formal education, Honda left home and headed to Tokyo to look for work. He obtained an apprenticeship at a garage in 1922, and after some hesitation over his employment, he stayed for six years, working as a car mechanic before returning home to start his own auto repair business in 1928 at the age of 22.

In 1940s, he created the motorbike by attaching a small engine to a bicycle. This success led him to designing a small motorcycle. He was 42 years old when he formed the Honda Motor Company in 1948, and within 10 years of starting Honda, he was the leading motorcycle manufacturer in the world. By 1988, at the age of 82, he and his company already entered in the world’s Automobile Hall of Fame.

3. Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling

Today many people know her as the woman who created Harry Potter. But, what most people don’t know is what she went through prior to reaching stardom.

By 1993, at the age of 28, after a very short-lived marriage, a miscarriage, and then becoming a single mother, she was a failure by all common standards. She was jobless, divorced, penniless, and with a dependent child. She suffered through bouts of depression, eventually signing up for government-assisted welfare.

However, at that bottom-most point, to quote her own words — she thought to herself “I still had an old typewriter and a big idea”. (This speech by Rowling at Harvard University Commencement event, personally for me, has been the emotional refuge, that I go back to again and again).

In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” but all 12 major publishers rejected the Harry Potter script. A year later a small publishing house, Bloomsbury, accepted it and extended a very small £1500 advance. In 1997, when she was 32, the book was published with only 1000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. And after that, over the following years, a truly fairy tale saga unfolded in front of our very eyes. Harry Potter captured a permanent place in the heart and imagination of billions and making her a billionaire in the so called “real” world.

4. Colonial Sanders and KFC

Harlan David 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. In his early years, he drove around in a Cadillac with his face painted on the side before anybody knew who he was, pleading with the owners of run-down diners to use his recipe and give him a nickel commission on each chicken. He slept in the back of the car and made handshake deals. His first marriage was a difficult one, so he divorced his wife after 39 years.

He was 65 years old when he started Kentucky Fried Chicken. In his youth, Sanders worked many different jobs from farming to steamboat pilot, to insurance salesman. When he turned 40 years old, he started a service station and sold chicken dinners to his patrons. Over a number of years developing the way he pressure-fried the chicken. As the demand for his special chicken grew, he opened a restaurant. As fate would have it, a major interstate was built, which diverted traffic away from the road his restaurant was on. So, at age 65, the restaurant was bankrupt. Now retired from his jobs, he cashed his first ever Social Security check and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was born. He was so confident in his ability to fry chicken that he used the last money he had in the world and invested it in his restaurant. Less than 10 years later, Sanders had more than 600 Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in the U.S. and Canada.

Today, more than 12 million people eat at KFC each day in 109 countries. There are more than more than 20,000 restaurants locations worldwide. His face continues adorning buckets of chicken.

5. Grandma Moses

Anna Mary Robertson Moses, one of the most celebrated name in American fine arts and folk arts, and she didn’t even pick up a brush until she was well into her late seventh decade.

Grandma Moses was originally a big fan of embroidery, but once her arthritis grew too painful for her to hold a needle, she decided to give painting a try in the mid-1930s.

She was 76 when she cranked out her first canvas, and she lived another 25 years as a painter. Her works have been shown and sold in the United States and abroad and have been marketed on greeting cards and other merchandise. Moses’ paintings are among the collections of many museums. The Sugaring Off was sold for US$1.2 million in 2006.

6. Kathryn Joosten An Unemployed Nurse Became an Emmy Award Winning Actress at 56

In 1995, Kathryn Joosten moved in with a family member in Los Angeles because she wanted to make it in Hollywood. Like most girls following the same hopeless dream, she had no agent, no contacts and close to nothing on her resume. A very classic story of a struggling actor or actress in the beginning of their movie career. But unlike most girls, however, Joosten was 56. The family member was her son.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Joosten had a promising career as a nurse in Chicago, which she left after marriage. Following her 1980 divorce, Joosten found herself to be a 40-something single mother with two kids and three jobs, struggling to make ends meet. So, she did the sensible thing and decided to drop everything to become an actress. Joosten started auditioning for parts and … nothing happened. For several years. In the meantime, she supported her family by hanging wallpaper and painting houses, among other gigs. In 1992, she was finally cast by Disney. Over the following years, Kathryn Joosten has won two Emmys for her role in Desperate Housewives, and it’s all because of her unstoppable perseverance.

7. Julia Child the famous author of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”

Julia Child was 49 years old when her 1st cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published. At 51 years old she gained television fame cooking show, which premiered in 1963. At the age of 69, she became co-founder of the American Institute of Wine and Food to help advance the knowledge of food and wine through restaurants. In 1984, at the age of 72, she completed the series of 6 videotapes about “The Way to Cook”. By the end of 1965, The French Chef was carried by 96 PBS stations. Sales of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” were picking up speed — 200,000 copies sold. In 1966, she won an Emmy. Time put her on the cover in a feature article on American food — “Everyone’s in the Kitchen.”

In recent years, Hollywood movies were made based on her life.

8. Takichiro Mori - You don’t have to start early to become the richest man in the world

Mori was an economics professor until he left academia at age 55 to become a real estate investor in 1959. Mori had recently inherited a couple of buildings from his father, and he jumped headfirst into Tokyo’s real estate scene.

Mori started his second career by investing in the Minato ward where he spent his childhood, and within a matter of years he was presiding over Japan’s real estate boom.

When Mori died in 1993, he was Forbes’ two-time reigning world’s richest man with a net worth of around $13 billion. He was something of a Japanese precursor to Warren Buffett, though. Mori never seemed totally comfortable with the fame and fortune his second career won him. He dressed traditionally, abstained from alcohol, and lived a fairly modest life.

9. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada - the founder of ISKCON

The founder of the Hare Krishna movement to the western world was 69 years old before he started the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

In his native India, Prabhupada had been a chemist and a Sanskrit scholar in Calcutta, but in 1965, at the age of 69, he came to New York City with just fifty bucks, a pair of cymbals (a small musical instrument), and a desire to spread the teachings of Lord Krishna. His trip was not sponsored by any religious organisation, nor was he met upon arrival by a group of loyal followers.

Prabhupada got off to a modest start by sitting on a sidewalk in the East Village and chanting, but by the time of his death in 1977 he “emerged as a major figure of the Western counterculture, initiating thousands of young Americans.

In the twelve years from his arrival in New York until his final days, he: circled the globe fourteen times on lecture tours, initiated thousands disciples, founded the religious colony New Vrindavan in West Virginia, authored more than eighty books, watched ISKCON grow to a confederation of more than 550 centres, including 60 farm communities, some aiming for self-sufficiency, 50 schools and other activities around the world.

10. Winston Churchill

Churchill should be the greatest light of hope to every politician who’s ever ended up with a case full of unopened champagne on election result night. Failed high school three times, he spent his entire adult life as a political failure, losing every bid for public office … until he finally became England’s prime minister at the ripe old age of 62.

The above are only the few examples, that were most prominent in my mind, but there are countless stories like this to inspire us

Fred Astaire, (one of the most celebrated, American dancer, singer, actor, choreographer and television presenter, spanning a career of 76 years, named the fifth Greatest Male Star of Old Hollywood by the American Film Institute), famously if somewhat apocryphally described after an early screen test: “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little”;

Walt Disney was sacked from an early job for not having any good ideas.

Elizabeth Jolley didn’t publish her first novel until nearly 60 (and Mary Wesley not until 70, nor Henry Miller until 44, nor Raymond Chandler until 51, nor Edith Wharton until 43).

Albert Einstein, feared by his parents to be intellectually backward after he didn’t speak until the age of four or read until he was seven — he dropped out of high school, and almost failed to get into a technical college. Was not given a teaching staff position after graduation anywhere. The young man escaped unemployment by taking a menial job as a clerk at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. And even there he failed to make much of an impression; in 1904, his supervisor rejected Einstein’s request for a promotion, arguing that he lacked the qualifications to advance from a third class patent clerk to a second class patent clerk. During the same period, his personal life seemed headed toward shame and failure. In early 1902, Einstein’s then girlfriend Mileva Maric gave birth to a daughter named Lieserl out of wedlock. Einstein’s German-Jewish family disapproved of his relationship with Mileva, a Serbian Christian, so the unwed couple decided to put Lieserl up for adoption; to this day, historians don’t know what became of the girl. Einstein seemingly lost course of his own life through 1904. And then June-1905 happened, after his years and years of research and thinking he finally found it — published On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” ( i.e. “Special Theory of Relativity” ) in a 23-page paper — and with that the physics syllabus and human knowledge about Universe and nature was changed for ever on this planet.

Turning a dream into a reality takes time, as well as effort, but most of all, we have to learn, how to have faith and mountain of patience during those long journey.

Rohan Paul

Written by

Ex International Financial Analyst turned Full stack Software Engineer (JavaScript, React, Redux Mongo, Node, React-Native). https://github.com/rohan-paul

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