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I Didn’t Make My First Million Until 50, and Let Me Tell You Something: It’s Better When You Wait

"After all, moving 'up and up and up' from Day One can leave you with nowhere fun to go."

By fizkes/Shutterstock
By fizkes/Shutterstock

“All I do in my career is move up and up and up. It’s like every time I walk into the office, I get promoted.”

We were at dinner with our friend’s new girlfriend, a dewy-faced, 29-year-old Conde Nast worker.

Shaking her head “no” to the server’s offer of bread, she added, “I’ll probably be publisher in the next couple of years.”

I remember thinking (as I smeared butter on a second sourdough roll, thank you), I’m ten years older than this young thing and have never in my life moved “up and up and up.” I’m so behind!

That was more than a decade ago. For years, my “feeling behind” only got worse.

I’m sure I’m not alone, especially lately.

It’s easy to feel behind when you scroll Instagram and see teenage influencers raking in billions from lip gloss, or overhear 20-something tech kids in line at Starbucks, talking about their Tesla collections and early retirements.

But, having had my biggest and best year ever be my 50th, I’ve stopped feeling bad about being a slowpoke — which I am in every way:

Born five days late, moved out of my parents’ house at 26, married at 37, had kids at never, tried yoga in 2017, found my career groove at around 48, and earned my first million dollars from my online copywriting business within a year at … well, I’ve already spoiled it: 50.

Now, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Here’s why it pays to be a late bloomer in your career.

You know who you are

When your work, your art, or the intersection of both, takes a while to fall into place, you’re less susceptible to defining yourself by your popularity or income.

Sure, we’re all human, and if someone boos us in the comments or tells us we’re not worth the price, it can still sting at any age.

But over time, you build up resilience, perspective, and more trust that ups and downs aren’t a reflection of your worth as a human.

Passion is honed, not found

Sure, some lucky folks stumble quickly on work that lights them up; work they’d do all day, even for free.

I’m not one of them. My whole career has been a search for that thing that feels like I’m tapping my talent.

It’s only after nearly three decades of different jobs, clients, and projects — some that paid peanuts, some that paid Beluga caviar — that I’m doing work I’m happily obsessed with.

If my early writing, in TV promos, or my later work, for online-business clients, had scored me fame, fortune, or both, I never would have discovered what I love doing most — writing my own personal musings and stories in emails to my newsletter list — or, how that could earn a great living.

If you succeed early, you might be inclined to lock yourself into that first style or pathway without considering, “Do I love this? Is this what I really want to keep doing?”

But because I took my time, I’m clear: This is the kind of work I passionately love to do. Worth the wait.

You’re ‘failure-proof’

No, this doesn’t mean you can’t fail.

It means you’ve weathered failures. You know that you lived through them and will if it happens again.

I’ve certainly lived through my share.

Hearing that a comedy icon suggested “maybe another writer” when he looked at your scripts? Lived through it.

Getting the axe from a longtime, six-figure client who was my bread and butter? Lived through it.

Having a big promotion flop (while everyone else promoting the same thing was celebrating a ginormous payday)? Lived through it.

I know not everything I do in the future will be a home run, and when it isn’t, it won’t mean that I’m a talentless loser, or that I’ve lost my mojo. I can’t promise that I won’t be bummed, but I’ll get over it, learn from it, and probably work it into a signature talk. (Failure stories are gold in a keynote.)

You get to take creative risks

Consider the young artist whose first solo show of abstract paintings is a huge hit. One of her paintings nets half a million at auction. For her next show, she feels the pull to paint a figurative series, but her dealer says, “All our collectors are begging for one of your abstracts. It’s what you’re known for, please stay in your lane.”

Of course, a good dealer wouldn’t say that. But the collectors might, with their wallets.

When you already have an audience who want you to do that one thing, you’re locked in. Who wants to be stuck in one lane?

You know that it keeps getting better (and so do you)

With all society’s persistent attitudes and corny birthday-card language about being “past one’s prime” or “over the hill” it’s awfully nice to have proof that you can keep improving yourself, honing your talents, and celebrating new milestones as time goes on.

I can think of few things sorrier than that uncle who talks every Thanksgiving about the goal he scored in the last second of the game, that won his high school team the national championship … 50 years ago.

Do you want to be looking back on your life’s greatest achievement? Or would you rather know that it’s ahead of you?

I know which I’d pick.

So if you feel behind and panicked about “catching up,” remember: The joy is in the detours, and the rush is in your head.

After all, moving “up and up and up” from Day One can leave you with nowhere fun to go.

Originally published on Business Insider.

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