11 Famous People Who Found Their True Calling After 50
Feeling sad about not having achieved all you’d like to so far? Here are the stories of 11 famous people who only found their calling over the age of 50.
The end of the old year and beginning of the new is a good time for introspection. For many people, introspection can bring feelings of a lack of accomplishment, as you remember the new year’s resolutions from last year that you failed to keep and perhaps some frustrated hopes you had had of what the year would bring. If you’ve been feeling dissatisfied with your life and wondering what there is left for you to do, take heart from these famous people who didn’t find their calling and defining moment until after 50.
Although we remember Winston Churchill as the inspirational war leader, until the Second World War he was more infamous than famous. Derided as a misogynist and troublemaker in the British House of Commons, Churchill was well-known and admired for his energy, but not much respected. That all changed when Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister at the age of 66, and proceeded to lead Britain through ‘her darkest hour’, arguably saving the free world and leaving us with a rich legacy of quotes, too.
Peter Roget was 73 when he turned his obsession with making word lists into the first Roget’s Thesaurus. Writers everywhere agree that his old-age invention changed the world (or earth, universe or globe, if you’d prefer a synonym). Roget’s Thesaurus has never been out of print since it was first published, and thesaurus websites jostle for the top position on every list of websites that writers need.
Here’s an entry from a very long time ago. The Roman Emperor Claudius wasted most of his younger years drinking, gambling and studying. Although he entered Roman political life at the age of 46 as co-consul, he was not successful enough for anyone to think that he would be installed as the next emperor, after the assassination of Caligula. Claudius was 50 years old when he became the surprise choice for Emperor – an age even more impressive in Ancient Rome than it is today – and proved a strong ruler, completing the conquest of Britain and consolidating his power.
Opinion may be divided about the Hare Krishna movement, but everyone can be impressed by the achievement of its founder. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had lived and worked as a chemist and scholar of Sanskrit in Calcutta for decades before he came to New York City, aged 69, and started a new religious movement that attracted thousands of followers. Maybe you should add ‘start a new religion’ to your bucket list.
Ronald Reagan is one of the most famous and well-known examples of a second-act career change which really changed the world. Already well known as an actor, he was elected President of the United States when he was 55. Reagan proceeded to transform America’s economy with what came to be dubbed ‘Reaganomics’. Sometimes the second act really is the best.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life had been full and productive before she published her first book at the age of 65. She was a hard-working teacher, wife and mother before beginning to write the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ books that became famous. In an interesting role reversal, it was her journalist daughter Rose Wilder Lane who convinced her to begin writing.
Another writer who got going late is Frank McCourt, also after spending his entire working life as a teacher. Frank only began writing at the age of 65, but it became clear that this was his calling. Frank McCourt won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Books Critics Circle Award for ‘Angela’s Ashes’.
Conventional wisdom insists that 50 is too old to begin an acting career, but sometimes conventional wisdom is wrong. Kathryn Joosten had been a nurse for years, but she moved in with her adult son in LA so that she could pursue her acting dreams. Astonishingly, she succeeded, landing her first big break at the age of 60 and going on to win two Emmy awards.
Colonal H Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is one of the most famous second-act successes. He’d tried his hand at one job after another before the building of a new interstate highway took traffic away from the service station where he worked selling food. With business drying up, Sanders spent the next couple of years trying to market his secret recipe for fried chicken. He was 62 when someone finally agreed to finance his new business.
Fauja Singh (104), retired from competitive running at the age of 102, but what’s astonishing is that he only took up competitive running when he was 89 years old. Apart from a brief stint of amateur running as a young man in India, Singh did not run at all until he was 83, after a series of tragedies including witnessing the death of his son in a construction accident. Singh has broken several world records for his age group, and his effortless running makes it all the harder to believe that he didn’t begin until way past the age of retirement for most runners.
Although Belva Plain was a writer for many years, writing short articles for various women’s magazines, it was decades before she took the leap to full-length novels, publishing her first at the age of 59. She made up for lost time after that, demonstrating that she had found her real calling by producing over 20 novels until she was 84.