When Creative Success Comes Later in Life
Some have struggled for years in jobs, others have followed a quiet creative life and many have tenaciously held on to their entrepreneurial spirit. Yet success found them later in life. When you have dreams of something beyond your present experience, patience is your biggest friend.
Here are some examples:
• Anna Mary Robertson "Grandma" Moses was in her 70s when she began painting scenes of her rural life in upstate New York. This self-taught artist, mother and widow became one of the most famous American folk artists of the 20th century and continued painting in her 90s.
• Louise Nevelson was in her 50s when she sold her work to three New York City museums and now her art can be seen internationally in over eighty public collections. Shortly before her 60th birthday, she became President of the Artist's Equity New York chapter which was the first of many art leadership positions she would attain.
• When she was just months shy of her 50th birthday, Julia Child collaborated on her first French cooking book, a two-volume set titled Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Soon after, she promoted her book on television and that catapulted her overnight sensation in the culinary world.
• Colonel Sanders of finger lickin good chicken fame, had a difficult start in life but early on realized he had a creative cooking talent. However it was not until he was in his 60s that he started KFC and became a millionaire.
• Up until the age of 40, devoutly religious Anton Bruckner, composed music solely for the Catholic Church. Then a meeting with Wagner turned his life around and he began to compose symphonies of epic proportion. He was working on his great Symphony No. 9 when he died at 72.
• Elliot Carter has received media attention at age 100. A review from The New York Times music critic was in praise of his latest, centenarian work, Interventions, describing it as "lucidly textured, wonderfully inventive, even impish. This was the work of a living master in full command."
• Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her family's life in the 1870s and 1880s in the acclaimed The Little House on the Prairie series of books for children. She published her first book at the age of 65.
• Harry Bernstein was in his 90s when he decided to write his memoirs after his wife of 67 years died. His book titled The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers and continued writing with the recently published book The Dream.
• Louis Kahn, a Russian immigrant, was an important architect of the 20th century. He created his first important piece of architecture, the Yale University Art Gallery, when he was in his 50s and continued to design notable academic buildings.
• As jobless architect during the Depression, Alfred Mosher Butts invented Scrabble which became the most popular word game in the world. He did not realize success of the game until his early 50s when Macy’s Chairman placed a large order and promoted it.
• Charles Darwin was 50 years old when he published his complete theory of evolution in On the Origin of Species which sold out the first day it was released and subsequently had six editions. He continued to write for at least 10 more years (eg. The Descent of Man).
• André Kertész was born in Hungary and after years in France photographing artists, he immigrated to the US. Now remembered as an eminent photojournalist, his career vacillated until, at the age of 70, he had a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art and subsequently in galleries all over the world.
This is a short list of many people in a variety of creative venues who pursued their passion and realized success at age 50 and beyond. Their achievements took many paths, twists and turns, and surely moments of self doubt. Coming from a broad range of socioeconomic backgrounds, (for example, Charles Darwin never had to earn a living while Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up with few resources) their privileged status was not a common thread. But I believe that these late bloomers all share an exceptional ability to persevere, a brilliant talent that would not lay quiet, a set of good genes and a stable environment. They have enriched our lives as a result of their determination and unwavering spirit and they challenge those who believe that old age is simply a negative consequence of living.
Henry David Thoreau: I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.