Some artists do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. And some are consistently creating great work but just haven’t been in the right place at the right time.
The entertainment business is extremely tough, and not always for everyone. For every “success,” an artist will probably come face-to-face with 5, 30, or 100 “failures.” The ability to come back from that is not a natural trait. Often the rejection and lowered expectations of being an artist lead to career changes or, at a minimum, self-doubt.
But let’s look at this from another profession… Scientists (especially those who are looking to discover a breakthrough in medicine), don’t think to themselves “Well, I had a couple of small promising moments over the past couple years but… I haven’t found a conclusion yet so I’m going to stop.” The scientist knows that there is an answer to her problem. She knows that mathematically, logically, and statistically, her bast chance of success is to work as hard as she can, learn from her mistakes (and successes), and continue to raise awareness about her work (so that she can continue to receive funding for her larger goals). The artist needs to focus on her career with the mental mindset of the scientist.The artist need to focus on her career with the mental mindset of the scientist. Click To Tweet
Here’s a list of some artists (and one scientist) who prove that the myth of “overnight success” doesn’t happen without years of trial and error, highs and lows, and failures and successes. So read, be inspired, and (most importantly) don’t stop moving forward.
This brilliantly influential director produced many films starting at age 25, but “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” and “The Birds”— his heaviest hitters— were all between his 54th and 63rd birthdays.
We of course know him as Han Solo and Indiana Jones but he didn’t get cast in Star Wars until he was 35. Until then, he had some small bites here and there but became a carpenter to help take care of his family. He was hired to build some custom cabinets in George Lucas’ and, from that, came a supporting role in Lucas’ American Graffiti. The rest, you already know.
After years as a frustrated poet and years living in a monastery, Leonard Cohen moved to the States to become a folk music singer-songwriter. His first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” was released when he was 33. “Hallelujah” was released when he was 50. And he released his 13th studio album, “Popular Problems,” a day after his 80th birthday.
Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh only sold a handful of paintings during his lifetime and only started painting when he was in his late 20’s. Out of thousands of stunning works of art, all of his most famous, the ones that the general public recognizes as a “Van Gogh” like Starry Night, were all painted within his last 2 years while he lived (voluntarily) at a mental institution in France.
The beautiful tenor of Andrea Bocelli was not discovered until he was 36, after working as a lawyer and performing at piano bars in his free time.
An actor whose voice and style is now known worldwide, spent the majority of his acting career performing off-Broadway in New York (successfully, I should add). But it wasn’t until he was 52, that he got cast in his first major Hollywood role in Glory (1989) that catapulted him to International fame.
The American Civil War (presumably) meant everyone had more urgent things to do than neurotically compare one another’s life progress, but no one really knew he wrote at all until he was 30. Mostly, Twain wrote short humor and travel pieces until he published Tom Sawyer at age 41. and Huckleberry Finn at 49.
The childhood icon aliased by Theodore Geisel had his first book rejected an estimated 23 to 43 times before a chance encounter with a college friend led to his first book, “And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” being published. Dr. Seuss was 33 years old at the time and his most famous work, “The Cat in the Hat,” wasn’t published until 2 decades later.
As the most successful author in recent history tells it, she failed at lots of things in her life until the idea for “The Philosopher’s Stone” came to her, in full, one day in her daily commute. She was 35 years old and, for the next 3 years, this divorced, single mom, on government assistance wrote the book that would change young adult literature forever. She was 38 when “The Philosopher’s Stone” was published.
Philip Glass has created a name for himself in the modern music scene with his repetitive patterns of compositions. He created his own performance group and retained all creative rights, which has brought him great success. But he was still driving a cab in his late 40’s. “I stopped applying for grants 35 years ago because I never got anything,” he told the Fader. “And it was fine. I just made a living a different way. You know, I’m independent. Take it away from me. Try. You’re not going to do it. I’m too old a dog to get a chain around at this point. “
Winner of 10 Grammy Awards, Bonnie Raitt didn’t receive commercial recognition until she released her 10th album, Nick of Time, when she was 40 years old. She has since been listed as Number 50 in Rolling Stones Top 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
I referenced scientists and here’s one that everyone can grasp, even if they don’t know the science world: the guy who discovered penicillin… by accident. A university career began when he was 20, which led to a career as a research physician, but then was halted by his time served in World War I. In the war, he saw many deaths from bacterial infections and set out to find a cure. It wasn’t until Fleming was 47 that he returned from a vacation to find one of his controlled colonies of staphylococci has been swarmed – and killed – by a fungus, penicillin. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1045 at age 64.