We praise young women (and men, for that matter) when they are wildly successful at a young age because for most people, life doesn’t happen like that. Yet, when you are 26 and reading stories of women your age earning seven-figure salaries, you can begin to feel downhearted about your career prospects. Maybe you aren’t as smart or talented as other people; maybe you won’t ever find great success.
That’s why it’s important to temper those stories of dazzling wunderkinds with stories about diligent women who found great success later in life. You shouldn’t wait until middle age to strive for greatness, but you also shouldn’t lose faith that you’ll ever be a resounding success. Here are a few women you can look up to as you continue to work hard in your career:
Today, Vera Wang is a fashion brand recognizable to even the most unstylish among us, and her place in the fashion hall of fame is not long coming. You might be surprised to learn, therefore, that Vera Wang didn’t even entertain the idea of entering the fashion industry until her 40s. Before then, she was a competitive figure skater, a journalist and a middle manager. Like Wang, you shouldn’t be afraid to change your career because the change might lead to success.
To those devoted to film, Kathryn Bigelow is recognizable for her noteworthy directorial contributions: “Point Break,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Zero Dark Thirty” among them. However, Bigelow didn’t earn her place amongst the Spielbergs and Coppolas until her late 50s, when she finally won an Academy Award for her efforts. Though she is often called the best female director in Hollywood, she rejects this title, claiming that people should be judged for the quality of their work, period — not the quality of their work considering their gender.
The devil herself, Anna Wintour, did not wake up one day as the editor-in-chief of Vogue. Rather, in her late 20s, she started her career as the editor of a small-time erotic women’s magazine called Viva and strategically worked her way up from there. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant your role is now; if you are hardworking (and a little cutthroat), you can get where you want to go.
Often, the people who lead the country are led themselves by people behind the scenes. Huma Abedin has been managing those in and around the White House for years, first as an intern and most recently as Hillary Clinton’s “secret weapon.” Still, Abedin didn’t become revered in politics until her late 30s — which is much earlier than other major movers-and-shakers but much later than the age where most women hope to catch their stride. You might consider applying for internships in your industry to gain valuable insights early in your career.
Julia Child isn’t just a home cook; she is one of the most influential public figures in the culinary industry of the last century or more. Despite only learning how to cook in her late 30s, Child produced a cookbook and cooking series that revolutionized how people approached the kitchen. Before discovering cooking, Child had dreams of becoming a novelist — which goes to show that you might try investing in your hobbies as much as you put into your career.
Dame Judi Dench
Judi Dench has always been an actress, but she didn’t reach international stardom until her 60s, when she took the role of James Bond’s boss in 1995’s “Goldeneye.” Before then, she was almost exclusively committed to roles within the Royal Shakespeare Company. Dench’s career trajectory shows that taking time to hone your craft is beneficial; you might even enroll in some online business courses to add some knowledge and skill to your repertoire.
Though Jo Rowling was only 32 when her little book about an orphaned wizard was finally accepted by a publishing house, she had accumulated more life experience than many women in their 40s. A single mom whose mother recently passed and who was barely living off state benefits, Rowling pushed through more than 12 rejections before finding a publisher for what would soon become the biggest and most profitable book franchise in history, selling well over 500 million copies worldwide. The lesson here is: Believe in yourself, even if it seems like no one else does.