11 Inspiring Women Who Found Success Later In Life

11 Inspiring Women Who Found Success Later In Life

Some of the most successful women of our time didn’t “make it” until their 20s were long gone.

From LinkedIn’s incessant job updates to the deceptive beauty of Instagram, it can feel like everyone is achieving more than us sometimes. But (derh) there isn’t one perfect formula—or even just one definition—of what it means to be “successful.”

The only universal truth about success is that you have to keep working hard until you eventually find your personal version of it. Some of the most impressive women of our time didn’t find career “success” until later in life, and many of them failed spectacularly throughout their journey.

So instead of beating yourself up for not being where you want to be, read about these 11 women who succeeded later in life. Hey, if they can do it…


Before Oprah started hosting a television show that ran for 25 seasons and was literally named after her, she was fired from her job reporting the evening news for Baltimore’s WJZ-TV.

Apparently, a Baltimore TV producer told Winfrey she was “unfit for television news” because she showed so much emotional investment in the stories she reported on. Now she’s a billionaire.

Vera Wang

OK, so it’s not 100 percent accurate to say that Vera Wang found success later in life. I mean, she became Vogue’s senior fashion editor at the age of 23 and she was a competitive figure skater before that.

Still, it’s pretty amazing that Wang is one of the biggest names in fashion even though she was 40 when she started her career as an actual fashion designer.

Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch was 51 when she started playing Glee’s Sue Sylvester, and although the role wasn’t her first, it’s definitely the one that secured her place as a big deal in Hollywood.

Lynch played some memorable roles in Best in Show and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, too, but she didn’t get those jobs until she was already in her 40s.

J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling reportedly came up with the idea for everyone’s favorite book series when she was 25, but it wasn’t until Rowling turned 32 that Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone was published. And that only happened after Rowling’s book had been rejected 12 times.

What’s more, Rowling didn’t even start writing the Harry Potterseries until she’d hit rock bottom. Rowling was a recently-divorced, recently-fired, depressed single mother living off welfare when she finally started penning Harry Potter.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington started performing when she was still in school, and she went on to earn a degree in performance studies from Georgetown University.

But despite the fact that her film debut happened all the way back in 2000, Washington didn’t became a household name until she landed her role as Scandal’s Olivia Pope in 2012.

Dame Judi Dench

Judi Dench played almost every leading female Shakespeare role during her 30 years at the Royal Shakespeare Company, but she didn’t manage to star in a leading theater role until she was 34.

Even more inspiring, Dench didn’t grace screens in the United States until her 60s, when she played James Bond’s boss in the 1995 film GoldenEye.

Kathryn Bigelow

Although she directed a few small action films before working on The Hurt Locker, Bigelow didn’t solidify her place as an iconic American director until the war flick won an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2008.

Bigelow was 57 years old at the time.

Viola Davis

Viola Davis has been working hard since before her Juilliard days, but she didn’t really start to get noticed until her 40s. Davis earned the attention of audiences everywhere when she landed a role alongside Meryl Streep in Doubtat the age of 43.

Six years later, Davis’ role in the ABC hit series How To Get Away With Murder enabled her to became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

Kathryn Joosten

Kathryn Joosten is perhaps the perfect example of a dramatic midlife transition gone right. After divorcing her husband in her 40s, Joosten moved to California to pursue her childhood dream of becoming an actress.

Since then, Joosten has landed roles in Family Matters, The West Wing, and Desperate Housewives.

Toni Morrison

Before Toni Morrison became a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, she was a single mom working as an editor for Random House.

Morrison’s own first novel, The Bluest Eye, didn’t get published until the author was 40 years old.

Kathy Bates

Although she’s an incredibly well-known and respected actress nowadays, Kathy Bates didn’t land her “break-out” role until she was 43 years old.

The 1990 film adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery was career-transforming for Bates, who received an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her role as sadistic super-fan, Annie Wilkes.

Looking for more motivation and career inspiration? Join us at the Girlboss Rally this summer for IRL advice and conversation with like-minded women. Register now at girlbossrally.com.