Last week, we looked at why the old way of working isn’t working anymore and why you should quit the 9 to 5. The reality is that however much people will nod and agree and fantasise about leaving the 9 to 5 themselves, the vast majority of people will never take that step (unless or until they’re eventually forced to do so by a redundancy, for example). One common response that I’ll hear from people is that it’s too late to abandon a career where they have built up credibility, status and benefits to move into something as uncertain as working for yourself.
In a way, this one is the opposite of another common excuse, “I’ll do it when…”. The sad thing is that if we had started to make a change when we first had that thought – probably, as we realise now that we look back, at what was actually a pretty young age – then we would already be happily settled in that new career.
The truth is that it’s never too late to change career; it’s never too late to start a business. Take a look of these examples for some inspiration and reassurance!
Famous examples of late career transitions
Here are some of my favourite celebrity career changes away from the conventional path and out into the entrepreneurial world:
Julia Child worked first in advertising for a home furnishings company and then in government intelligence. She wrote her first cookbook and launched her career as a celebrity chef when she was 50.
Vera Wang was a figure skater and then journalist (albeit in fashion), opening her own bridal boutique after having been frustrated with the limited options available for bridalwear for her own wedding; she was 40.
John Grisham practised criminal law for ten years before writing his first novel, A Time to Kill, after having been inspired by a real court case involving the rape of a young girl. Grisham was 49.
Andrea Bocelli, the now famous tenor, was visually impaired from birth and became blind at the age of 12. His parents wanted him to become an attorney and he studied law and became a court-appointed defence attorney. He got his first lucky break as a singer aged 34.
Reid Hoffman – okay, not such a famous name, but he co-founded LinkedIn! – started his career with the aim of becoming a professor. His career took several twists and turns as he joined Apple, moved on to Fujitsu and then aged 41 started LinkedIn and took it public.
Jimmy Wales – again, I wasn’t familiar with the name, but he set up Wikipedia – started out on conventional path of studying finance before going on to work in financial services. He didn’t feel satisfied and took advantage of the possibilities that the internet offered to create the world’s largest open content encyclopaedia.
Sara Blakely went door to door selling office supplies for seven years before coming up with the idea for Spanx, quitting her sales job at 30 to run her company full time.
Robin Chase – the founder of Zipcar – took time off work to be with her children in her early forties, during which time she came up with the idea for the car-sharing company.
Jeff Bezos worked in computer science and in various financial firms before launching Amazon aged 31.
Harland, or rather Colonel, Sanders spent most of his career working as a lawyer, a gas station operator and railroad worker and was 62 years old when he franchised KFC, selling the company for two million dollars a little over a decade later.
…shall I go on?
But, okay, you might say, these people are all famous, lucky and totally unlike you, right? Well, even if that were true, let me give you some other examples, straight out of my book. Here is a small selection taken from the 50 stories I’ve collected, to illustrate why a lot of your excuses are just that: excuses.
“It’s too late because… I’m already in my thirties / forties / fifties!”
Kristyn Caetano found herself in her early forties with a horrendous commute to a miserable job with nowhere really to go in her career in public health. She quit her job, worked with a business coach to choose and focus on an effective model, and now combines her healing work with practical business-building strategies to help spiritual entrepreneurs.
John Zimmer created a blog about public speaking aged 47 while he started to do speaking gigs alongside his job in corporate commercial litigation and environmental law. After managing the two in parallel for a few years, he eventually took the leap aged 53 and is now pursuing a full-time career as a speaker and presentation skills expert.
“It’s too late because… I’m pregnant!”
Ruth Kudzi started thinking about starting up on her own during maternity leave after having her first daughter, and built her business while pregnant, working full time and dealing with a toddler!
Christina Lister realised that she couldn’t find any roles that combined the flexibility that she wanted for her children with the professional challenge that she was after at work, and so she started her freelancing career with just months to go until her second round of maternity leave.
“It’s too late because… I have children, and a mortgage, and…”
Wayne Cullum left his teaching career to start an arts centre with a three-year-old in tow, and in the middle of a major build project at home. Giving up the financial stability was a challenge but he secured the funding he needed and got support from his local community.
Lucy Lucas took her time when leaving her finance career, spending all of four years paying off her debts, cutting down on her spending habits, and saving money so that she would have a buffer when she finally left. She also transitioned gradually, moving first into a freelance capacity as she explored the things she was passionate about and then trained as a yoga teacher.
So, you see, you can believe what you want to believe as to what’s possible and impossible, but there will always be examples to prove you wrong. As my friend (I wish!) Gandalf would say: all you have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to you. Or, rather, all you have to do is decide what you choose to believe in – that “it’s too late” and you’re stuck where you are forever, or that it’s never too late and you can overcome any challenges – and how you want to live your life.
Get your copy of my latest book Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5: Stories from people who’ve done it (and how you can too), you can find it directly on Amazon in Kindle or paperback format!
Thanks for providing so many great examples! Anyone can do it ?
Yes, absolutely! Even with six kids 🙂 Thanks Jenn!
A lot of featured start up stories are millennials in tech, so it’s nice to be reminded that there’s successful start ups later in life. I have two children, and I quit my stable job as client services director to start up my own ecommerce store, I’m 39. It’s been a tough journey, but I feel like I’m finally truly going for it, and hopefully setting a good example to my children in doing so.
I love this Lea, thanks for sharing. There’s definitely a big trend towards young people starting businesses straight out of school but there are also massive opportunities for other generations and in fact we’re better placed with our additional expertise and experience. Congratulations on setting up your e-commerce store! It is hard work but I’m so glad you’re seeing that it’s worth it, for you and for your family.