For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.
— John Greenleaf Whittier
It has been said that the greatest collection of untapped human potential is the graveyard. Far too many people think they have to achieve success in their 20s or 30s. If they don’t find it by then, they give up, drifting through the rest of their lives in a dead-end career, or floating from one job to another. They merely wait for death to claim them. Death actually claims them the day they quit dreaming, and embrace “reality.” It just takes decades for their bodies to catch up.
The following people said poppycock to that nonsense. They didn’t achieve the greatness for which they are known until later in life. Some changed careers. Some had almost given up when opportunity knocked. Others decided to try something new. But only one in this list was younger than age 40.
Claude Monet became a serious painter at age 39 to cope with his grief following the death of his wife, founding the artistic style known as Impressionism.
Bob Ross started his TV show, The Joy of Painting, at age 41, after retiring from the U.S. Air Force.
Stephanie Kwolek, a career chemist at DuPont (that in itself a remarkable achievement for a woman in the 1950s and 1960s) invented Kevlar at age 43.
Kazuo Ohno performed his first dance recital at age 43. He went on to develop the dance form known as Butoh.
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the first great Marvel characters, the Fantastic Four, at ages 43 and 44 respectively. Just prior to that, Lee had considered leaving the comics business.
Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale, his first James Bond novel, at age 44.
F. Murray Abraham had decided to abandon acting, when he landed the role of Antonio Salieri in Amadeus, at age 45. For that performance, he won the Academy Award and the Golden Globe.
K.T. Oslin released her first album, 80s Ladies, at age 47, which included a single that won two Grammy awards.
Patrick Stewart was an unknown Shakespearean stage actor until he won the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation at age 47.
Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty, her only book but a classic, at age 51. That was while she was in frail health. She died five months after Black Beauty was published.
Raymond Chandler wrote the first Phillip Marlowe novel, The Big Sleep, at age 51, after being fired from his job as an oil company executive.
Ronald Reagan first entered politics at age 55, as the Governor of California. We all know what he did at age 69.
Ian McKellen was a highly regarded and awarded actor, but virtually unknown outside serious film and theatre circles. Then, in almost the same year, he landed his two greatest roles, Magneto in X-Men and Gandalf in Lord of the Rings, at age 60.
Joshua Millner won an Olympic gold medal in 1908 for Free Rifle Shooting at 1000 Yards, at age 61.
Sydney Greenstreet became a film actor at age 62, as Kasper Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.
Harland Sanders founded Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 62.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote Little House in the Big Woods, the first of the series, at age 64.
John Glenn returned to space at age 77 aboard shuttle Discovery in October, 1998, making him the oldest man to ever go into space. His previous space flight was in 1962, as the first American to orbit the Earth in Mercury flight Friendship 7.
Anna Robertson “Grandma” Moses began painting at age 78 when arthritis forced her to abandon embroidery.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades at age 79. She worked with the foundation until her death at age 103.
Yuichiro Miura reached the summit of Mt. Everest at age 80. It was his third climb. On each climb, he set the record for the oldest man to reach the summit.
Christopher Lee, already a famous actor but also a gifted operatic bass, cut his first heavy metal album, the highly acclaimed Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross, at age 88. It was not his last, either.
So, what is stopping you? You are never too old to pursue your passions or try something new.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
— Dylan Thomas