Bertie Gladwin was 91 when he graduated with distinction with a Masters degree in military intelligence. Having left school at 14, Gladwin started his studies after retiring in the 1980s to keep his mind active and has since completed three degrees.
The tech world is obsessed by the wunderkind, the boy genius who discovers a new way to delight, engage and amaze, and becomes richer than Scrooge McDuck before they turn 26. It can make anyone old bloke in their late thirties (or early forties) feel a little worried about her own chances of ever becoming wealthy enough to buy a small country. Luckily there is still time. History is filled with more spectacularly successful late starters than wunderkinds.
Henry Ford, beacon of twentieth century industrialism, was 45 when the Model T Ford was launched to great publicity in Detroit. He had been trying to launch a successful automobile business since his late thirties and many of his early ventures turned sour.
Geoffrey Rush, academy award winner and nimby spokesman, had a successful Australian theatre and film career before he won an Oscar at 45 for his performance in Shine. Since then he has become one of the most celebrated Australian film and TV actors of his generation.
Celebrated American poet Sharon Olds was 38 when she won the first of many awards. Earlier this year she won became the first female US winner of the prestigious TS Elliot award for her collection Stag’s Leap. Critics note that her style has been consistent since she winning her first award in 1980. Olds herself speaks about how poetry is hard work.
Sigmund Freud, creator of the great incestual romance Psychoanalysis, was 43 when The Interpretation of Dreams was punished in 1899, and didn’t receive popular acclaim for at least 10 years, until the International Association of Psychoanalysts was established, and America became interested in his ideas. Prior to “discovering” psychoanalysis Freud had had a troubled career and was unable to secure the recognition he felt he deserved, both academically and in his medical career. After a late start, he became one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century.
Steve Jobs, who needs no introduction, was a college drop-out, an LSD fan, and a hippie who had spent parts of his twenties travelling around India. He was also dismissed as CEO of Apple in 1985 after the company had performed poorly and didn’t return until 1997 when he was in his early forties. The rest as they say is history.
Ray Croc was 52 and a multi-mixer milkshake machine salesman when he joined the McDonald brothers as a franchise agent. In the next 20 years he built McDonalds into one of the most successful fast food chains in the world. Prior to his joining McDonalds Croc had been a paper cup salesman, pianist, jazz musician, band member, radio DJ, and restaurant employee who worked for room and board to learn the business.
All these late life bloomers are a lesson in never giving up, and always keeping the dream alive. Success is often proceeded by many failures, and many lessons some learnt painfully. The important thing is to start today. Warren Buffet commented in an interview with Jay-Z that he had an advantage with investing because he started early – at seven years old! Being young is a great advantage. Starting is an even better one.
As I reflect on turning 41, I am looking forward not back, forward to the next adventure, the next lesson, and continually learning. What are you looking forward to?
Note: The featured image is of Kimani Maruge, a Kenyan man who decided to learn how to read in his eighties. He didn’t have the opportunity in his youth and was a very enthusiastic student.