14 Late Bloomers Show Us Why The Wait Is Worth It

How about that Tavi, huh? Over the last five years, she's flourished as a part-time style icon, writer, publisher, editor-in-chief, Millennial poster child, budding actress, web celeb, and full-time student. All this and she's only 17! Totally depressing, right?
We know you're probably sitting there, shame-spiraling while eating lunch at your desk, wondering if you're a has-been before you hit 35. But, hold on to hope. In reality, most human beings don't come into their own until their 20s are a fading memory (wildly talented, mega-famous ones included)! Just because you haven't found your bliss yet doesn't mean you never will.
Advertisement
As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his New Yorker piece "Late Bloomers" (required reading, by the way), "On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure." Sounds a little dire, but the takeaway from Gladwell's piece is solid: All that time you're spending not being an amazing success may very well be practice for becoming a shining star later on. While prodigies are rising and flaming out, you're honing your craft, seriously considering your path, experimenting with different outcomes, and working out what will make you successful.
But don't take our (or Gladwell's) word for it. Some of your own favorite, gifted talents flourished only after years of struggle, aimlessness, or disappointment. If we can't convince all you potential late bloomers to keep up the good fight, maybe their words and stories will.
1 of 13
Who: Marina Abramović, performance artist
Late-Bloomer Moment: Performed Seven Easy Pieces at 59
Still Going Strong At: 66

Now we all know that Abramovic spent decades chasing the edge of performance art — but even she says it wasn't actually until she teamed up with collaborator Ulay at the age of 30 that she felt she began to peak. Also, since her amazing stands at The Guggenheim for Seven Easy Pieces and MoMA during her "The Artist Is Present" retrospective, Marina Abramovic has transitioned over from art-world fame to general pop-culture recognition.

Abramovic, however, is doing more than showing up in Interview magazine and Jay Z videos: The 66-year-old is doing the best work of her life with more support than ever.

Thing is, though, she's been able to manage this new international fame without so much as a hiccup. Why? As she told The Star, it's really no big deal to her. “People ask me how I feel to become a star," she said. "That is not an issue. Maybe if I were younger when all this happened, it would have been different. But because success came so difficultly and so slowly for me, it is not a problem. I like to believe that I am completely immune to all of that.”

Basically, when mainstream fame came looking for her, she was prepped for chaos, because she'd been living in it for decades.

Photo: AGF s.r.l./Rex/Rex USA
2 of 13
Who: Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer
Late-Bloomer Moment: Opened legendary punk clothing store Sex at 36
Still Going Strong At: 72

We often think of Vivienne Westwood as part of the punk generation. In actuality, though, she was in her mid-30s when she opened up her shop, Sex, with Sex Pistols' Svengali Malcolm Mclaren — quite a bit older than Johnny Rotten's crowd. She also came late to design, only launching her first runway show at age 41.

To hear her tell it, those decades were well-spent. “I keep using this word — invest," she said when talking about maturity and creativity to Interview. "The way you think about and understand your experiences. You can change your mind quite radically, of course, but I expect the older you get, the less you change your mind, because your way of seeing things is more solid. Solid in a good sense, meaning that everything keeps connecting, and when you make a point, it’s got the basis of all that experience.”

For Westwood, a complete aesthetic vision and the ability to execute new work within it took decades to cultivate — not very punk, we guess, but very successful.

Photo: Rex/Rex USA
3 of 13
Who: Kerry Washington, actress, Scandal, Django Unchained
Late-Bloomer Moment: Landed lead in Scandal at 35
Still Going Strong At: 36

Okay, okay — we know what you're thinking. At age 36, Kerry Washington is no one's idea of old. Still, she completely skipped the oh-so-important-for-Hollywood ingenue stage, landing in front of Scandal audiences as an almost-fully formed talent. Yeah, she had The Last King of Scotland and Save the Last Dance on her way to success — but it took time, timing, and patience to land a role like Olivia Pope.

Regardless, Washington feels that she's not even fully bloomed yet. "I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential," she said. "And I think also that, unlike a pianist or a flutist, an actor has an instrument that is constantly changing." It took effort and (frankly) aging until Washington could find the right opportunity to match her talents. Apparently, she's ready to wait and work toward something even bigger.

Photo: Rex/Rex USA
Advertisement
4 of 13
Who: David Sedaris, author, Me Talk Pretty One Day, Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls
Late-Bloomer Moment: Made his National Public Radio debut at 44
Still Going Strong At: 56

There's a lovely, light world-weariness to David Sedaris' writing that — yes — had to be thumped into him through years of failure, toiling at odd jobs, and working as a Christmas elf at Macy's. Matter of fact, he first gained recognition in his mid-30s for his memoirs about a stint as one of Santa's helpers — memoirs digested from diaries he'd been keeping since his early 20s.

Even though it took 15 years of wandering in the wilderness before Ira Glass discovered him at an open-mic night, Sedaris wouldn't have it any other way. After all, it took him all that time to get even halfway decent at his craft. “I look back at things I wrote then, and I’m so embarrassed," he told The Progressive. "The writing seems so blocky and choppy to me, and I wouldn’t have wanted success any sooner because the writing was even worse.” God, yes. That would have been more humiliating than part-timing as a Christmas elf.

Photo: Karl Schoendorfer/Rex USA
5 of 13
Who: Helen Mirren, actress, The Queen, Gosford Park, Red
Late-Bloomer Moment: Cast in Prime Suspect at 45
Still Going Strong At: 67

Helen Mirren — ahem, sorry — Dame Helen Mirren is peaking in her late 60s, an age when most actresses struggle to find roles. Oddly, though, she wasn't exactly A-list from her 20s all through to her early 40s. Sure, there was Excalibur and Caligula, but, honestly, the less said of them, the better.

Mirren didn't really have the chance to display her full range of skills until her turn as Jane Tennison in 1991's Prime Suspect at age 45. There, she was able to show off the rare combination of maturity, acting chops, and middle-aged sex appeal that's become her trademark.

"There are the privileged few who just seem to waft through life without having to ever meet any adversity or difficulty, which is really annoying,” she said about prodigies and other effortless leading lights. “The rest of us, we have to struggle and fight. We get knocked back and we have to come forward again. Sometimes you have to do stuff you’re not familiar with or think you’ll fail horribly at. You just have to jump in at the deep end.” All that jumping helped her snag an Oscar at 61.

By the by, Mirren's also a late-bloomer at marriage, too, wedding director Taylor Hackford in 1997 at age 52.

Photo: Stewart Cook/Rex/Rex USA
6 of 13
Who: Rick Owens, fashion designer
Late-Bloomer Moment: Debuted at New York Fashion Week at 41
Still Going Strong At: 51

At age 51, Rick Owens is a fully matured talent. But, it actually took a while for him to get off the ground. Granted, he founded his namesake line almost 20 years ago. It wasn't until the early aughts, however, that he moved from moderately successful cult status to straight-up mainstream recognition (like Vivienne Westwood, he first sent his designs down a runway at age 41).

Tracing his career, it's easy to pick out numerous reasons for his late rise — it took some time before trends caught up with his particular aesthetic, he wasn't particularly good with self-promotion, and he was more dedicated to his work than his fame. And yet, it was exactly those qualities that, in the long run, made his cult appeal catch on in a big way.

Being a perfectionist, however, Owens finds yet another reason for his midlife ascendance. "You can't convincingly get abstract until you really know the fundamentals," Owens told The New Yorker. "It's the same thing with pattern-making. You can't start distorting things unless you kind of know what you're doing." For someone as detail-oriented as Owens, knowing what you're doing can take a little while.

Photo: Rex USA
7 of 13
Who: Debbie Harry, singer, Blondie
Late-Bloomer Moment: Topped the U.S. charts with "Heart of Glass" at 34
Still Going Strong At: 68

What? Debbie Harry was a late-bloomer? Yep. Unlike a lot of women in rock, Harry spent her 20s jumping from scene to scene and band to band before landing in Blondie. Even after the group's 1976 debut album — recorded when Harry was 30 — it took another few years until Blondie experienced mainstream success.

Yes, a lot of this had to do with Harry taking some time to find the style and scene that was right for her (she was a folk rocker at one point). But it was as much a question of Harry and the other members of Blondie rounding out as artists. As she told Big Issue, "At the beginning I would go out onstage and expect the audience to respond. But gradually, I figured out that I had to make it happen myself. There are a few instant prodigies, and they’re wonderful, but the rest of us have to practice, practice, practice to get good." You hear that, folks? Practice!

Photo: Martyn Goddard/Rex/Rex USA
8 of 13
Who: Martha Stewart, housekeeping publishing and media tycoon
Late-Bloomer Moment: Launched Martha Stewart Living magazine at 49
Still Going Strong At: 71

Martha Stewart was a moderately successful model and Barnard student when she married her ex-husband at age 20, finished up her degree, and settled into being a Connecticut housewife. It was only a chance opportunity to cater a launch event for her ex-husband's publishing firm that brought her to the attention of the company's editors. The unexpected opportunity led to a book deal, which led to more books, which led to morning-show fame, which led to a magazine, which led to branded products, which led to a TV show, which led to an entire channel, which led to...well, you get the picture.

Stewart wasn't looking to launch a multimedia empire when she catered that one dinner, but she was certainly ready for it when the chance presented itself. How? Well, in giving a bit of career advice to the young readers of Seventeen, she said, “Broaden yourself. You don't have to focus when you're 20. I think the broader you are, the better it is. Later you can focus on your real interests and ideas. The ultimate goal is to be interesting and useful...If you're successful on top of that, then you're way ahead of everybody.”

So, keep working on yourself (and those various craft projects). Once you're fully developed, you'll be all set to pounce on whatever opportunities come your way.

Photo: MediaPunch Inc/Rex USA
Advertisement
9 of 13
Who: J.K. Rowling, author, the Harry Potter books
Late-Bloomer Moment: Topped the New York Times best seller list with Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone at 34
Still Going Strong At: 47

J.K. Rowling is the richest author in history, bar none. At 30, however, the "Harry Potter" author was a divorced, clinically-depressed-career washout, and mother of two living on public assistance. According to her, though, it took hitting this low to focus on what she was truly good at — crafting the fantasy stories she'd been playing with since her teens.

"I feel I really became myself here in that everything was stripped away," she said about her time living in Leith just outside of Edinburgh. "I had made such a mess of things, but that was all, that was freeing, so I just thought, 'Well, I want to write, so I'll write the book and what, what is the worst that can happen, it gets turned down by every publisher in Britain, big deal.'"

Remember J.K. Rowling the next time you fall on your face. Your rock bottom might very well be a launching pad.

Photo: Mike Lawn/Rex USA
10 of 13
Who: James Murphy, musician, LCD Soundsystem, founder, DFA records
Big Late-Bloomer Moment: Released his first album at 35
Still Going Strong At: 43

During LCD Soundsystem's round of raucous, sold-out farewell concerts at MSG in 2011, leader and DFA records founder James Murphy was 41 — two decades older than many of the screaming fans in his audience. And it's not like LCD was even that old itself (it only started up 10 years prior, publishing its first record in 2005). Before that, it was DJ gigs, failed attempts at sitcom writing (he was almost hired for Seinfeld), and a lot of staring at the walls.

Murphy, though, sees the upside of only finding personal and commercial success in his mid-30s. “The world telling you, ‘you’re good,’ before you figure out that the world doesn’t really care and whatever happens is just funny, really limits your enjoyment," he said. "I feel like failing pretty consistently through my 20s set me up to be a much happier person later in life.” You hear that? All those mistakes you're making now may help you appreciate your success later on and learn to be happy no matter what happens.

James Murphy: Photo: Brin Rasic/Rex/Rex USA
11 of 13
Who: John Slattery and John Hamm, actors, Mad Men
Big Late-Bloomer Moment: Cast in Mad Men at 44 and 36, respectively
Still Going Strong At: 50 and 42

We don't really need to point out how Mad Men's Jon Hamm and John Slattery had to age like fine Scotches until they landed the roles of their respective careers. We mean, can you remember anything about Jon Hamm before 2007? It's understandable that you can't, seeing as he was a high-school teacher until 1995 (The Office's Ellie Kemper was one of his students.).

Whatever the case, both Slattery and Hamm are actually happy they had to wait for their trains to come in, otherwise — they say — it could have been real ugly.

“I think I would have handled it [success] as most young people handle anything," Slattery told the Telegraph. "Not as well as you do when you get a little experience, and you get a little older. I probably would have done something stupid. I did stupid things when I wasn’t famous.”

Hamm is right there along with him. "I think if you find crazy success at a very young age, then it can be quite dangerous," he says. "The road to celebrity is littered with people who got too much too soon and weren't equipped to handle it."

So, next time you're bemoaning the fact that you're still leagues away from your dreams, ask yourself this: Would you rather be the Jon Hamm of your profession or the Lindsay Lohan? Suddenly, blooming late is looking pretty attractive, yes?

Photo: Snap Stills/Rex/Rex USA
12 of 13
Who: Ang Lee, director, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, Life of Pi
Big Late-Bloomer Moment: Released his first English-language film, Sense and Sensibility, at 41
Still Going Strong At: 58

One of our favorite late bloomers is also one of the more soft-spoken. Ang Lee took a long, long time to work his way through his education, ultimately graduating from NYU film school with wunderkind director Spike Lee. But after that, he spent six years unemployed before getting a chance to direct his first film at age 37. It took another two movies (and four years) before his Eat Drink Man Woman finally earned him broad recognition.

Lee acknowledges that it took awhile for him to come out of his shell. "I was really shy and quiet," he told the late Roger Ebert of his youth, "I didn't speak English, I had very few friends, I couldn't express myself, but things just kept coming into me. It took all my life to spill it out. You know, I was a very docile, tranquil kid, never a rebel or anything. But then I was turning upside-down. Some of it didn't come out until I was 45 or 50." Indeed, Lee roped down his first Oscar at the age of 51 for Brokeback Mountain.

Photo: Rex/Rex USA
13 of 13
Who: Christina Hendricks, actress, Mad Men, Drive
Big Late-Bloomer Moment: Cast in Mad Men at 32
Still Going Strong At: 37

Another Mad Men cast member and, yes, another actress who skipped ingenue fame, Christina Hendricks developed a thick skin through repeated castings, failed pilots, and lots and lots of grunt-level day work. Hard going, yes, but how else would she have developed the gravity to play Joan Harris, a woman who succeeds despite (and perhaps because of) the low expectations of the people around her?

More than that, though, being turned down hundreds of times for hundreds of roles helped Hendricks develop coping skills that we should all aspire to have. "I’ve been to a million auditions and have been rejected a million times," she told Flare. "It’s something that I’m used to. You’re either right for it, or you’re not right for it. You could leave thinking you had the best audition in the world, and they say you don’t look like the person I imagined. It has nothing to do with your talent. Someone could have just broken up with a redhead the other day and not want to hire me."

Indeed, we should all remember that rejection isn't a judgment on who you are as a person or even a sign that you'll never achieve your goals. It just means it's time to dust yourself off, square your shoulders, and try again. After all, you're never going anywhere if you wait for someone else's permission to succeed.

Photo: Rex USA
Advertisement