Photo left to right: Lucas Warren, Iqbal Masih, Sonita Alizadeh, Naomi Wantanabe, Bob Ross, Desmond Meade, Diana Nyad, Bhagwati Agrawal, Masako Wakamiya, Keith, Wright. 

Too often, people get discouraged from achieving success because of their age, inexperience, or situation. But, that belief is simply not true. From personal change to world change, one years old to after death, sudden fortune to slow increments, people can find success at any age, location, and circumstance. Below is a list of people who have done just that.

 

 

  • Age 3: Austrian-born Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart first took up the harpsichord when he was just 3 years old and started composing at five. 

 

 

  • Age 5: At 5 years old, Sophie Cruz, the daughter of two undocumented immigrants, gave the Pope a letter about immigration which influenced the Pope to discuss the issue in a meeting with Congress the following day. 

 

 

 

 

  • Age 9: At 9-years-old, Asean Johnson gave a speech at the 3-day March for Education Justice in May 2013 to challenge the Chicago Board of Education on school closings around the city. The year prior, 54 public schools were closed in the city and Asean, a student at Marcus Garvey Elementary, knew that he and his classmates could also see their school doors closed. To prevent this, he began campaigning and calling out local politicians, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

One of Bana Alabed’s tweets in 2016 when she was 7-years-old. 


  • Age 11: Iqbal Masih was a young Pakistani boy who was forced into bonded labor at age 4 in which he worked 14 hours a day for 1 rupee ($0.01). After two attempts of escape and finally being freed, Iqbal became an activist against bonded child labor. In 1994 at age 11, he received the Reebok Human Rights Award. Sadly, Iqbal became a martyr for his cause when he was murdered at age 12.

  • Age 12: In 2013, Melati (12) and Isabel (10) Wijsen, sisters from Indonesia launched Bye Bye Plastic Bags to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution. In 2018, they organized Bali’s Biggest Clean-up, with 20,000 people collecting 65 tons of waste; they also helped get 350 local businesses to commit to eliminating the use of everyday plastic products like cups and straws within the next two years.

  • Age 13: Nadia Sparkes started setting off for Junior High an hour early each day to pick up litter. She has since been bullied for this, nicknaming her “Trash Girl” and had to get authorities involved when classmates punched her. Despite this, Nadia continues on and received a personal gratitude letter from the Prime Minister of the U.K, Theresa May.

  • Age 14: At 14, Easton LaChappelle made his first robotic hand using LEGO and fishing wire in his bedroom for the 2011 Colorado State Science Fair. He now runs his robotics startup, Unlimited Tomorrow that uses 3D printing technology to turn his prototype into an affordable and practical device.

  • Age 15: Louis Braille became blind at the age of three and found that the current books for the blind were difficult to read. So, in 1829 he invented braille, the system for visually impaired reading that is still used widely in the world. 

  • Age 16: Inspired by the urge to alleviate the plastic pollution in Istanbul, Turkey, Elif Bilgin began her project of inventing a method to make bioplastic out of banana peels. She worked on this project for 2 years and conducted 12 experiments, 10 of which failed. After getting successful results from her experiments, she became a winner of the Google Science Fair at age 16. 

  • Age 17: Malala Yousafzai became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate at 17 for her humanitarian efforts. She captured the world’s attention after being shot by the Taliban in Pakistan on her way to school because she was an advocate for women pursuing education. She then founded her organization, The Malala Fund, to help all girls have access to education.

  • Age 18: Paige Hunter tied more than 40 uplifting notes to Sunderland’s Wearmouth Bridge to help people facing a mental health crisis, which has helped save six lives.
     
  • Age 19: Born in the Western part of Kenya, Evans Wandogo designed a solar lantern, MwangaBora (meaning “good light’), which is made from 50% recycled material and now widely distributed in Kenya and Malawi.

Evans Wandogo is carrying his Solar-Powered LED Lamps.

  • Age 20: Sonita Alizadeh was born in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime but grew up as an undocumented refugee in Iran where she escaped becoming a child bride twice. In 2014, she gained international attention when she rapped the song “Daughters for Sale”. In 2016, the documentary film, “Sonita” came out on Netflix when she was 20.

  • Age 21: In South Korea, Chanhoo Park and Hyunsung Kim cofounded Geekble, a media startup that produces new media content on science and technology to bridge the gap between geeks and the world. With revenue from workshops and branded content, Geekble is building its own “maker space” for geeks to experiment. 

  • Age 22: Elected in 2011, Alex B. Morse is the youngest mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts and the youngest openly gay mayor to be elected.

  • Age 23: Joshua Wong Chi-Fung founded Scholarism, a Hong Kong pro-democracy activist group. He first gained notoriety for his role in the 2014 Hong Kong “Umbrella Movement” protest. He also played a major role in persuading US politicians to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act during the 2019 Hong Kong protests. 

  • Age 25: Nadia Murad won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for helping women and children who are victims of abuse and human trafficking. Born in Kojo, Iraq her village was attacked by the Islamic State. Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. After three months she managed to flee.

  • Age 26: Tong Duong is the cofounder of Homage, a healthcare technology startup based in Singapore that connects the elderly with professional caregivers. Homage was recognized on Singapore National Day Rally 2017 by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for giving “seniors and their families peace of mind by providing on-demand caregiving services.”

  • Age 27: Sarah Blakely failed the LSAT exam twice for law school. She then failed her audition for a job at Disney World to be Goofy and later took a job selling fax machines door-to-door. A few years later, at 27, Blakely invented a makeshift undergarment to wear for an event. That later turned into her billion-dollar business, Spanx

  • Age 28: Komal Ahmad founded Copia, a food redistribution company that matches a business that has leftover food and matches with non-profits that can accept the food that day. In 2019, she was listed in Forbes 30 under 30.

Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to the media after being released from Lai Chi Kok Correctional Institute in Hong Kong on Jun 17, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence)

  • Age 30: Franklin Ramón Chang Díaz is a Costa Rican American who was the first Latin American immigrant NASA Astronaut selected in 1980 to go into space. When he arrived in the United States in 1968, he had only $50.00 in his pocket and didn’t speak English.

  • Age 31: Naomi Watanabe is a Japanese actress, comedian, fashion designer, and body-positivity advocate that challenges long-held stereotypes about Japanese women . With 8.9 million followers, she is Japan’s most followed Instagram account and started her own fashion line, Punyus, that is catered towards plus-size women. In 2018, Naomi was on Time Magazine’s list of 25 most influential people on the internet and a brand ambassador for makeup brand Shu Uemura in 2019.

  • Age 32: J. K Rowling was jobless, single parent, and living off of welfare. She was writing Harry Potter at cafes and was contemplating suicide. After twelve rejections, a small publishing company made a deal to print 500 copies of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” at the age of 32. It is now one of the top ten best selling books of all time. 

  • Age 33: Richard Appiah Akoto, a Ghanaian teacher at Betenase Municipal Assembly Junior High School, had a social media post go viral after people saw he was teaching computer tech classes without a computer – and drawing the entire Microsoft Word interface in chalk every day. From that viral post, many donors like Microsoft gave computers, software, and textbooks to the school. 

  • Age 37: Robert Allen Dickey (R. A Dickey) had limited success as a baseball pitcher for a decade until he learned how to throw a knuckleball. In 2012, Dickey was selected to his first All-Star Game, won the Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award, and became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award.

  • Age 38: Stan Lee created his first hit comic title, “The Fantastic Four,” after working for Marvel for around twenty years. In the next few years, he created the legendary Marvel Universe, whose characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men became American cultural icons.

R.A Dickey is throwing a knuckleball pitch.

  • Age 40: Zach Galifianakis moved to New York City after failing his last college class by one point. Zach got his start in stand-up comedy at the back of a hamburger joint in Times Square and performed in coffee shops and universities. It wasn’t until he was 40 years old he got his first big break in the “Hangover”  movie (2009).

  • Age 41: Bob Ross spent twenty years in the US Air Force. “I was the guy who makes you scrub the latrine, the guy who screams at you for being late to work. The job requires you to be a mean, tough person. And I was fed up with it. I promised myself that if I ever got away from it, it wasn’t going to be that way anymore.” So, upon retiring he taught himself to paint and became everyone’s favorite painting teacher on PBS at the age of 41.

  • Age 42: Actor Alan Rickman first had a career in graphic design, but at the age of 26, Rickman decided to become an actor and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His talents weren’t recognized until starring in “Die Hard’ in 1988 when he was 42 years old. His fame skyrocketed when he portrayed Severus Snape in the first movie of the Harry Potter Series in 2001 when he was 55. 

  • Age 44: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s (PNB) Kaori Nakamura danced her last performance at McCaw Hall in 2014 at the age of 44 and was PNB’s oldest principal dancer. 

  • Age 46: Samuel L. Jackson did not get a starring role in a major film until Spike Lee’s movie, Jungle Fever in 1991. He has since been in Blockbuster movies like The Avengers, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, Snake on a Plane, and many more.

  • Age 49: Julia Child took to the kitchen at age 36 after falling in love with French cuisine. However, it wasn’t until she was 49 that her “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook was published, followed by a subsequent further three decades as a US TV star. Before, she worked at and advertising department and then an intelligence agency.

Susan Boyle appearing on Britain’s Got Talent, April 2009 (Photo: Getty)

  • Age 50: Lucy Bolden and her sister launched Eden Good, a plant-based cooking show, but didn’t fully pursue it until after she lost her job in the retail industry. After five years of vegan cooking demonstrations and other lifestyle-related ventures, they hit the jackpot when Whole Foods Market put their products on its shelves.

  • Age 51: Desmond Meade was formerly homeless and incarcerated. He then became president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and led the charge to adopt a constitutional amendment historic victory in 2018 with the successful passage of Amendment 4, a grassroots citizen’s initiative which restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions. Amendment 4 represented the single largest expansion of voting rights in the United States in half a century.

  • Age 52: Abraham Lincoln failed in business, had a nervous breakdown, lost the elections for the U.S Senate twice, and lost in his nomination for Vice President before becoming The President of the United States. 

  • Age 53: Jenny Doan and her husband lost most of their savings in the 2008 financial crisis and their Retirement funds, so their son suggested making quilt tutorials on Youtube. Since then, they started Missouri Star Quilt Co., a multimillion-dollar fabric retailer, have 135+ million views on Youtube, and revived her entire town’s economy.

  • Age 57: After being laid off, Gerry Fioriglio founded Family Caregivers Network in Pensylvania with only herself as an employee. Ten years later, the company has 70 employees, who provide home care, community education, caregiver support groups in a five-county area.

  • Age 58: Captain Cat Burton came out as transgender at 58 years old and is advocating for more training for doctors so that they are better able to deal with people who are transitioning, especially older people.

Inday Espina-Varona standing in front of Press Freedom Awards 2018 sign. (Photo: Espina-Varona’s Facebook profile)

  • Age 60: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second female justice in United States history- nominated in 1993 at the age of 60. She continues to serve on the Supreme Court and influence key decisions furthering the rights of women and has been on the Forbes list of “100 Most Powerful Women.”

  • Age 61: Journalist Laurie Ahern, became an advocate for children with disabilities held in abusive institutions, fighting torture, training activists and changing lives in 36 countries. Laurie is the President of Disability Rights International, conducts human rights investigations, is the co-author of “Torture, not Treatment,” and was the 2015 Purpose Prize Winner at age 61.

  • Age 63: David Campbell, CEO of All Hands Volunteers, created this nonprofit in 2004 at 63 years old. They have sent over 28,000 volunteers from 77 countries to disaster sites in nine global locations, from Thailand and Haiti to post-tsunami Japan and Superstorm Sandy-battered New York City. A third of the volunteers are 60+ years old. 

  • Age 65: Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder published her first book in 1932, which turned into the “Little House on the Prairies” series, a very popular children’s book in the U.S.

  • Age 66: Kathryn Joosten left her job as a nurse after she got married, but got a divorce in her 40s and struggles to make enough for her two children. She moved in with her son to pursue her acting career at the age of 56. It was a slow start, but she eventually won her first Emmy at 66 years old

  • Age 67: After breaking her own cycle of incarceration by getting a job and quitting drugs, Susan Burton started an informal shelter for women recently released from jail. That turned into A New Way of Life Reentry Project in 2000. It now offers legal aid, job training, and other services, and runs five transitional residences that have served 600 women and their children. In 2018 she was chosen by the National Women’s History Project as one of its honorees for Women’s History Month in the United States.

  • Age 69: Carol Wheeler moved to Mexico after her husband died and never had a single day of Spanish language education up until that point. She then became fluent.

Susan Burton posing in front of prison cells.

  • Age 72: Sybil Sage was a writer for primetime TV in the early 70s, like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Maude,” and “The Bob Newhart Show.” After she wasn’t getting hired anymore, she turned her vase design hobby into a career. She’s made vases for people including Carl Reiner, Stephen Colbert, and Lily Tomlin.

  • Age 73: In 2017, Daniel Day (aka Dapper Dan), launched a fashion line with Gucci. After making clothes for gangs in Harlem then introducing high fashion to hip-hop in the ’80s, he had to shut down his store for the illegal use of logos. Dapper Dan worked underground for decades until he finally gained the notoriety he deserved when Gucci partnered with him to create a men’s clothing line. They also made the first luxury house fashion store in Harlem.

  • Age 74: Charles Fletcher began volunteering at an equine therapy center when he retired and later founded his own program, SpiritHorse International. It provides free help to children with autism, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, attention deficit disorder, Down syndrome, and traumatic brain injury. His organization was a finalist in the 2012 Encore Prize Awards.

  • Age 75: Terry Lauerman went viral on social media in 2019 for volunteering and napping with the cats at his local shelter, Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary. After Safe Haven’s photos of Terry taking cat naps went viral, the organization received more than $20,000 in donations in just two days.

  • Age 76: Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela became politically active at age 24 and was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, political leader, and philanthropist who became President of South Africa in 1994. He was the country’s first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.

  • Age 78: Anna Mary Robertson Moses started painting at 78 after her husband died. In 1939 a collector saw her paintings in the window of the local pharmacy and bought them all. Soon after, Hallmark purchased the rights to reproduce her paintings on greeting cards and the name Grandma Moses became known across the country. 

  • Age 79: Dona Onete didn’t release her first album until she was 72, but the singer from Para, Brazil is using her talent to help break down barriers and empower women all over the world. All her song titles are about the Amazon history and phenomena with the water and the rainforest. The 79-year-old performed at the Womadelaide dance, music and arts festival.

Dapper Dan at his atelier in Harlem with his new collection. (Photo: Complex Original)

  • Age 81: John Allen signed up for the United States Powerlifting Association state championship at 81 years old and lifted 231 pounds.

  • Age 82: 82-year-old Masako Wakamiya of Japan learned to write code in early 2017, after retiring as a bank clerk. Since then, she has gone on to develop a free iOS game, Hinadan, specifically geared toward an older, Japanese audience. The app has garnered nearly 5 stars on the Apple App Store, and roughly 53,000 downloads worldwide.

  • Age 85: Emmanuelle Riva was nominated for the 2012 Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in “Amour.” She is the oldest nominated person for this title.
     
  • Age 87: Helen Ruth Elam, better known as Baddie Winkle, became a social media influencer at age 85. She has millions of followers and views on Instagram and Twitter, where she posts photos and videos of herself, often with suggestive clothing and peculiar prints, or little clothing. In 2015, Grit Creative Group used her as the face of their website launch campaign at 87 years old.

Baddie Winkle posing for her Instagram. (Photo: @baddiewinkle Instagram)

  • Age 90: 90-year-old Priscilla Sitienei has been attending Leaders Vision Preparatory School in her village of Ndalat, Kenya, for the past five years to learn how to read and write.

  • Age 91: Ruth Westheimer, better known as Dr. Ruth, is an American sex therapist, media personality, author, radio, television talk show host, and Holocaust survivor. Her media career began in 1980 with the radio show Sexually Speaking and at 91 years old, has a documentary about her life, Ask Dr. Ruth, that premiered in 2019.

  • Age 92: Gladys Burrill was officially named the oldest female marathon finisher for the 2010 Honolulu Marathon. The first marathon she ever ran was at the age of 86. 

  • Age 93: In 2018, 93-year-old Ham Sung-chan got to reunite with his brother during three days of family reunions in North Korea.

  • Age 94: In 2017, Amy Craton finally finished her bachelor’s degree 50 years after she started. She put her degree on hold to go to work and raise her children after she got a divorce.

  • Age 95: Starting his last solo trip across Europe at age 95, Keith Wright may be the world’s oldest backpacker. After his wife died, he left from Burleigh Heads in Queensland, Australia and started solo traveling at age 85 in 2002.

  • Age 97: John Goodenough became the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize when he won the Chemistry category with two colleagues for the development of lithium-ion batteries.

 

  • Age 100: Teiichi Igarashi climbed Mt. Fuji again at age 100. In 1987, the retired lumberjack became the first centenarian to step foot on the mountain’s 12,385-foot peak.

South Korean Ham Sung-chan (right) hugs his North Korean brother Ham Dong Chan. (Photo: AFP)

Posthumous Success

  • While other artists in Vincent Van Gogh’s social circle admired his work, most of the public had no knowledge of him until years after his death when his sister-in-law introduced his work to the world.

 

  • Gregory C. Coleman created the Amen break, a four-bar drum solo that has become the most sampled loop in music history. Apart from sales of the original recording, Coleman never received any royalties from the widespread use of the sample and did not receive the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.

 

  • Henrietta Lacks’ cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. She was not publicly recognized for her contribution until around 25 years after her death with a pair of articles in the Detroit Free Press and Rolling Stone. There is now a book, documentary, annual conferences, etc. dedicated to her.

Henrietta Lacks posing for the camera.