I have to tell you something. I’m 31. I know that’s, like, a senior citizen in entertainment years. Especially for a woman.
Instead of being the next prodigy, I spent my twenties searching, figuring out who I wanted to be…I mean, who I really wanted to be.
I shaved my head and moved to South America, where I had a novio named Pablo. I worked at a hotel and had to wear business suits with pantyhose every day. I had Santa Claus as my immediate neighbor those few winter months when I worked at a mall kiosk. I wrote some novels. I acted in a McDonald’s commercial.
And it’s okay that I did those things. It’s okay that I stumbled along for a little while, not always knowing. We don’t all immediately know what to do, or who to be. We’re not all bound to be 23-year-old millionaires. Success means different things to different people. Some of us have to experience life first.
Along the way, you finally piece it together—you figure it out.
But, by the same paradoxical token, it feels like you’ve blinked and hit 30. You’ve earned a little back pain, got some crow’s feet, sprouted a few facial hairs that don’t qualify as peach fuzz. However, none of those things mean it’s too late…
The following well-known women—directors, actresses, writers, chefs, designers—”made it” in their thirties and forties, or even later. So if your twenties isn’t the decade of your big success, you’re still in good company.
Kathryn Bigelow started off as a student of painting, dabbled in real estate, and then entered the graduate film program at Columbia to study theory and criticism. She co-directed her first feature film, The Loveless, at the age of 31. Three films later, at the age of 40, she directed the commercially successful cult classic film Point Break. Her 2008 film, The Hurt Locker, made her the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director.
Kristen Wiig would have gotten a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Arizona—but she dropped out and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting instead. Through her twenties, she performed comedy with the Groundlings and worked a vast array of odd jobs. Finally, at the age of 32, she was cast in SNL. She has since starred in and written a series of comedic films, including the Oscar-nominated film Bridesmaids.
Lucille Ball was nicknamed “Queen of the B’s” for her numerous roles in B-movies throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In 1951, when she was 40 years old, she and then-husband Desi Arnaz created the iconic television series, I Love Lucy. She went on to receive 13 Emmy nominations (four wins) and become the first woman to head a production company (Desilu, which is now Paramount). And of course, over 60 years later, we still love Lucy.
Vera Wang grew up figure skating competitively, but failed to make the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 19. In her early twenties, she worked as a Vogue fashion editor, but was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. She left the magazine to work as a design director for Ralph Lauren. Well over a decade later, when she was nearly 41, she opened her first bridal boutique.
A founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade, Amy Poehler was working on her comedy chops in her late twenties. She did sketch and improv shows throughout Chicago, and eventually moved to New York where, at the age of 31, she was cast in SNL. Several comedic film roles followed, as well as her hit TV show, Parks and Recreation.
Julia Child worked as a copywriter, and then as an OSS typist and researcher during WWII. She and her husband (also a government employee), were assigned to multiple international work stations—most notably, Paris. When she was 36, she began taking cooking classes at Paris’s famous Le Cordon Bleu. It wasn’t until she was 49 that her best-selling cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, was published.
In her twenties, Callie Khourie worked as an actress, waitress, and lecturer, studied Lee Strasberg technique, and worked in commercial and music video production. When she was 35 years old, her first screenplay, Thelma & Louise, won her the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, along with a number of other awards and recognitions. She’s now the creator behind ABC’s hit television show, Nashville.
Jenna Fischer originally intended to be a pre-law history major, but ended up with a B.A. in theatre. When she moved to Los Angeles to become an actress, it took her three years just to get her first speaking role in a TV show. Her mockumentary, Lollilove, which she independently wrote, directed, and starred in, groomed her to audition for The Office. She landed the career-changing role of Pam Beesly when she was 31.
Laura Ingalls Wilder
She didn’t graduate high school, but her locally recognized expertise in poultry farming was the means by which she became a columnist for the Missouri Rouralist. For decades, she wrote magazine articles to generate income. During the Great Depression, at the prompting of her daughter (also a famous writer), she decided to broaden her writing in hopes of earning an extra income. The Little House on the Prairie books were the result. She was 65 when the first in the series was published.
Kathy Bates was 22 when she moved to New York City to pursue acting. She spent several years doing small film roles and guest spots on television. At age 35, she was nominated for a Tony award for her role in the play ‘night Mother. But it wasn’t until she was 42 years old that she rose to fame playing a psychotic fan in the classic film Misery. The role earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress.