Big Names That Found Career Success Later in Life

variety-of-employees.jpgIf you are climbing the corporate ladder but feel that you've reached a plateau, don't freak out. It's entirely normal to question whether you are on the right career path at different points in your working life.

Take comfort knowing that some of the most successful (and creative) people in their field didn't achieve their level of success until later in life. They know what it means to struggle and experience setbacks—and how hard work and perseverance can pay off in the long run.

The Literary Giant

You would be hard pressed to come across someone who hadn't heard of author J.K. Rowling and her magical creation, Harry Potter. But you may not know her rags-to- riches story.

In 1990, Joanne Rowling was a 25-year-old single mother living in Scotland, scraping by on government benefits. While taking a train ride, Rowling had a brainstorm and began work on what would become the first of seven Harry Potter novels. A dozen publishers rejected the book, but the 13th one said yes. In 1997, when Rowling was 32, the first edition of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” landed in bookstores. Awards followed, as did a lucrative American publishing contract. Flash forward to the present day, and J.K is one of the richest women in Britain, the biggest-selling living author on the planet, and an example of how sheer grit and determination can pay off in the most unexpected of ways.

The Talk Show Queen

You know you've made it big when someone only needs to utter your first name and everyone knows exactly who they mean.

Oprah Winfrey, born in 1954 into abject poverty in a house with no running water or electricity in Mississippi, faced big odds from an early age. But with the help of an uncle, she began to thrive in high school. After college she entered the world of broadcast journalism – only to be fired from the first television anchor job she landed. But that didn’t stop her. She worked at stations in Nashville and Baltimore before moving to Chicago in 1983 and taking over a struggling local talk show. Three years later, the show was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the rest, as they say, is history. Three decades later, Oprah is worth a staggering $3 billion dollars and has built an empire from the ashes of her disadvantaged start in life.

The Creative Genius

Walt Disney’s name is synonymous with creativity, imagination and entrepreneurship. His cartoons, TV shows, films and theme parks have played a part in almost all of our childhoods.

But did you know this titan of entertainment was fired from an early job he held as a newspaper editor? His employer said Disney “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Disney had at least one good idea—making short cartoon films—and he went into business for himself in 1921 at the age of 20. But it wasn’t until he created Mickey Mouse in 1929 that he found artistic—and commercial—success. Eight years later, Disney broke new ground with “Snow White,” the first feature-length animated film. Today, the company’s films, TV shows and theme parks dominate the world of entertainment. But as Disney himself was fond of saying, it all began with a mouse.

Feeling inspired yet? These big names all offer their own valuable lessons to those aspiring for more in their professional lives.

Nick Murphy

Nick Murphy is a former NFL player, a seasoned Jobs Expert and the CEO of Mid-America Careers and Job Spot, Inc. His insights have been featured by Fox Business, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal,,, Business Insider, and many regional outlets. His ideas and concepts are sought for keynotes at leading conferences, national webinars and have been featured in’s HR Genius series.