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Why Late Bloomers Like Oprah Actually See Massive Success
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AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger
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It's no secret that resilience and grit are critical in regards to both career success and overall career satisfaction. That's why, even if you're off to a late start — perhaps because you've spent more time studying for higher degrees, because you've had to work your way up from the bottom of the totem pole or because you've been rejected time and time again — you can still be wildly successful, whatever that looks like to you.

In fact, many of the most universally successful individuals out there got famously late starts. Late bloomer Oprah, for example, now boasts a net worth of $2.5 billion.

"Getting pushed around by life forces you to deal, basically," writes Ephrat Livni for Quartz in "Why Late Bloomers Are Happier and More Successful." 

"[Those] who aren’t stars in youth and who don’t land the plum jobs early on have to cast about for direction and meaning. When they find their way, they’ve already trained in the mental habits of managing difficulty and reframing expectations. The early achievers, by contrast, find later in life that not everything can go right. They take this hard because they have little practice managing struggle."

Likewise, in his piece for The New York Times, "Wealthy, Successful and Miserable," Charles Duhigg writes that when he thinks of people who are actually happy with their careers, he's been reminded of his former classmates who had to grapple for jobs at first, but who aren't burnt out now. 

"I knew of one person who had become a prominent venture capitalist; another friend had started a retail empire that expanded to five states; yet another was selling goods all over the world; there were some who had become investors running their own funds — and many of them had something in common: They tended to be the also-rans of the class, the ones who failed to get the jobs they wanted when they graduated," he writes. "They had been passed over by McKinsey & Company and Google, Goldman Sachs and Apple, the big venture-capital firms and prestigious investment houses. Instead, they were forced to scramble for work — and thus to grapple, earlier in their careers, with the trade-offs that life inevitably demands. These late bloomers seemed to have learned the lessons about workplace meaning preached by people like Barry Schwartz. It wasn’t that their workplaces were enlightened or (as far as I could tell) that [school] had taught them anything special. Rather, they had learned from their own setbacks. And often they wound up richer, more powerful and more content than everyone else."

To inspire you to keeping forging forward, here are five famous late bloomers who've made it big, even despite the odds against them.

1. Oprah

Oprah didn't start hosting her own television shows until she was well into her late 20s.

Before hosting her own program, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," in Chicago from 1986 to 2011, Oprah was a local television host on the 'People Are Talking,' show at a Baltimore, Maryland station, where she worked there in the late 70s with her co-host, Richard Sher, who earned significantly more than her. She left the job because she wasn't treated or paid fairly, then followed her instincts and moved to Chicago in 1984, where she ended up hosting "A.M. Chicago." There, she got her shot at proving herself, and went on to host her own television show that's made her famous.

2. Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh didn’t start painting until he was in his late 20s.  It was in the last decade of his life that he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of which he did in the last two years of his life. Now, he's arguably one of the most famous (if not the most famous) painter across the world. 

3. Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln ran for Senate when he was 45 and again when he was 49, losing both times. It wasn't until he turned 51 that he became the president of the United States.

He once famously said of being a late bloomer: “I am slow to learn and slow to forget what I’ve learned. My mind is like a piece of steel, very hard to scratch anything on it and almost impossible after you get it there to rub it out.”

4. J.K. Rowling

In 1993, at 28 years old, J.K. Rowling had already endured a short-lived marriage, a miscarriage and single motherhood. She was jobless, divorced and penniless with a dependent child. In a commencement speech she gave for a Harvard Unversity, she said, despite having to sign up for government-assisted welfare and going through bouts of depression through it all, she thought to herself "I still had an old typewriter and a big idea."

By 1995, she finished her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” but was rejected by all 12 major publishers at the time. It wasn't accepted until a year later by a small publishing house, Bloomsbury, which gave her a very small £1500 advance, publishing just 1,000 copies, 500 of which went to libraries. It took a few more years before the Harry Potter actually made it big, and J.K. Rowling became known as one of the biggest authors in history.

5. Walt Disney

Walt Disney was famously fired from an early job because, perhaps shockingly, he wasn't quite imaginative enough. In 1919, he lost his job at the Kansas City Star newspaper because his editor felt that he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas," according to The Wisdom of Oz.

Later down the line, he drove Laugh-O-Gra into bankruptcy shortly after acquiring it. And it was until he and his brother moved to Hollywood to begin the Disney Brothers' Studio, where Mickey Mouse and Disneyland came to fruition. The rest is history. 

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram at @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.

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