A woman requested inspiring middle-age success stories, and the internet delivered—big time

This article originally appeared on 01.10.20

Media outlets love to compile lists of impressive people under a certain age. They laud the accomplishments of fresh-faced entrepreneurs, innovators, influencers, etc., making the rest of us ooh and ahh wonder how they got so far so young.

While it's great to give credit where it's due, such early-life success lists can make folks over a certain age unnecessarily question where we went wrong in our youth—as if dreams can't come true and successes can't be had past age 30.

Weary of lists celebrating youngsters, television writer and producer Melissa Hunter sent out a tweet requesting a new kind of list for 2020. "Instead of 30 Under 3 or NextGen lists," she wrote, "please profile middle-aged people who just got their big breaks. I want to read about a mother of 2 who published her first novel, a director who released their first studio feature at 47, THAT'S THE LIST WE WANT."


The Twitterverse responded with a resounding "YAAASSS." Story after story of folks finding success in their 40s, 50s, and beyond began pouring in. If you worry that you're not far enough along in your 20s or 30s, or think it's too late for you to follow your passion in the autumn of your life, take a look at these examples of people crushing it in their mid-to-late adulthood.

Take this mother of four teens who released her first full-length book at 45 and started law school this year at age 47.

Or the woman who published two books in her late 50s and is revising book #3 at age 60. Oh, she also started running at age 45.

Another person shared how they got out of prison for drugs at age 49, stayed clean and started their own business, and broke the $1 million sales mark last year at 56.

"Lauching my clothing line now—at 48," wrote a mom of two. "Next venture feels amazing."

Another user chimed in with "Yes! Plus the 40 under 40, 30 under 30 can be quite contrived (sometimes). I want to see people juggling school, career, and family."

Yet another mother of two teens finished her PhD at 41 and got a tenure-track position at age 47. She's also working on a book on Indigenous Early Childhood.

How about this woman who hadn't taken a math class for 40 years? She aced her statistics classes and will graduate with a perfect GPA after she turns 60. "Lots of life to live!" she says.

Another mom (are we seeing a theme here?) discovered a passion for interior design and won a national TV design challenge in her late 40s. Now, at 60, she has a successful design career and contributes to radio and magazines.

Of course, we also know there are fabulously successful folks who got a "late" start in Hollywood, including the incomparable Ava DuVernay, "who left her job at age 40 to focus on filmmaking and then became the first black woman to make over $100 million at the box office."

As one man pointed out, "The idea that you've got five years between 20 and 30 to do everything you're ever going to do is ridiculous." Hunter agreed, writing, "The advice is always that it's a marathon, not a race, and I wanna read about the people who finished that marathon!!"

So many stories of people publishing their first books, landing their ideal jobs, or discovering a passion later in life just kept coming, and person after person shared how inspiring and motivating they were.

Of course, not everyone has lofty career goals. If these stories aren't quite hitting the mark for you, check out this woman's contribution to the conversation. She's "just a regular human," she says, but she went to Zimbabwe and volunteered at a wildlife refuge at age 47. "Life doesn't just peter out after 30," she wrote. "My friend Elsa is 96 and went on an archaeological dig at 75. I want to be like her."

Don't we all.


Age really is just a number, and there's nothing magical about "making it" in your younger years. Let's be sure to celebrate people living their best lives and making dreams come true at any and every age.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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Photo courtesy of Macy's

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