The twenties are known as a time of upheaval – university, grad school, first home, first car, marriage and maybe even children. It is as much a time for exploration as it is for self-definition. However, when we compare ourselves to our peers in their twenties (Facebook makes it much easier to do this by the way), we often can’t help but feel lost and lacking (or slacking).
While some people enter their mid-twenties with a sense of maturity and accomplishment, others undergo a quarter-life crisis as they reflect upon their past decades of youth.
Fortunately, some of the richest and most successful women in history did not hit their stride until later in life. For some, a termination from their jobs propelled them into their future careers (see Oprah and Steve Jobs). For others, their job at 25 had little bearing, if any, on their future success. So to you who may be 25 or older, there is hope after all! No flaw is fatal, and all of the experiences you have gone through have contributed and will contribute to make you who you were always meant to be.
The following is a glimpse into what these successful women were doing when they were 25.
When Oprah was in her mid-twenties, she was worried about managing her love life with a guy named “Bubba” and she also found herself without a job. She hopped from one Baltimore news station to the next, and was fired from the 6 p.m. news slot at Baltimore’s WJZ-TV in 1977 at age 23. “I was removed from the 6 pm. news exactly April 1, 1977,” Winfrey says. “The general manager called me upstairs, and I thought it was an April Fool’s joke when they told me, ‘We have bigger plans for you; we’re going to put you on the morning cut-ins where you can shine all by yourself.’ In the 1970s, the morning cut-ins involved reading headlines for a few minutes each hour early in the morning — a job where she was virtually invisible.
She was also reprimanded for getting too emotionally invested in stories. “I once went back the next day after covering a family that had been burned out and brought them some of my blankets and stuff,” Winfrey says. “And the assistant news director at the time told me how wrong that was and that if I did that again and they found out about it, I could be fired, because I was involving myself in other people’s stories. Which is true, you’re there to cover the story, not get involved in it, but …” Obviously this “tragic flaw” ended up being what propelled her to be one of the most influential women of our time.
Winfrey was recruited to co-host WJZ’s local talk show “People Are Talking,” which premiered in August 14, 1978 at age 24. Winfrey spoke to the Baltimore Sun in 2011 about her arrival in Baltimore, saying: “I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life… It shook me to my very core, and I didn’t even know at the time that I was being shaken.”
Winfrey left Baltimore knowing that she no did not want to do television news. It is no secret that she eventually become a talk show host, having her own synidicated show by age 30.
In a letter written to her younger self, she says, “Even then you understood that success was a process and that moving with the flow of life and not against it would be your greatest achievement.”
Beyonce had been making waves long before she turned 25, successful as a member of the girl-group Destiny’s Child. By the time Beyonce reached her mid-twenties, her career, unlike many her age, had taken off and was in full-throttle. She had released a debut album (“Dangerously in Love”) which sold 11 million copies, and on her twenty-fifth birthday, she fittingly released her second solo album, “B-Day”. With 118 million album sales under her belt, and having the title of one of the best-selling artists of all time (and highest earning Black musician in history), the sky is the limit for Bey.
The age of 25 was bittersweet for the writer of the popular Harry Potter series. At 25, J.K. Rowling’s mother, Anne, died of multiple sclerosis. She had also gone to Portugal to teach English, and there she met her first husband, Jorge Arantes, a Portuguese journalist. She later admitted to wanting to take her own life when she was in her mid-20s after separating from Arantes.
Rowling later attended the University of Exeter in Devon where she studied French. Her parents hoped that by studying languages she would enjoy a great career as a bilingual secretary. But Rowling recalls that she never paid much attention in meetings because she was too busy scribbling down ideas.
When she was 25, Rowling was delayed on a train from Manchester to London when the idea of a boy sorcerer at wizard school flashed into her mind. She says that the idea for Harry Potter “strolled into her head fully formed.” Her mind was soon flooded with ideas about Harry Potter, but she didn’t have a pen at the time to write them all down:
“I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…
I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.” That evening, she began to write her first book, The Philosopher’s Stone.
Reflecting on the experience, she says, “I don’t think I had ever felt so excited. I thought, ‘I’d love to write that,” she says. “I’d never thought about writing for children—I’d never thought about aiming anything at that age group. And yet it was the thing that I was meant to write.”
The Harry Potter series became the best-selling book series in history, with Rowling becoming the first author to achieve a net worth of $1 billion.