On the way home from our recent trip to the Midwest, we stopped in Mansfield, Missouri to see the farm home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Many of us grew up reading her “Little House” books.
At the urging of her adult daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who was also a writer, Mrs. Wilder wrote the novels about her childhood in a settler family. Her first book, “Little House in the Big Woods” was published in 1932 when she was 65 years old. Before she wrote her book series, she had previous careers as a teacher and a newspaper columnist.
We visited the 200 acre farm where Mrs. Wilder lived with her husband and daughter. It’s called “Rocky Ridge Farm” and she wrote her books there in long hand on tablets while sitting in a wide-armed chair her husband, Almanzo, had built using wood from their land. When we toured the farmhouse, I very badly wanted a picture of the chair where Mrs. Wilder wrote her books, but we were not allowed to take pictures inside the home.
Mrs. Wilder’s nine volume book series has been read by millions of children around the world. Since their initial publication in 1932, her books have been in print continuously and have been translated into 40 other languages. Her first and smallest royalty check was for $500 from Harper in 1932. Today, that would be equivalent to $8,640.
“Life Begins at 40” is an old catchphrase I used to hear a lot. It actually comes from a 1932 self-help book by Walter B. Pitkin. It was written during a time when American life expectancy was around 60 years and was increasing very rapidly due to improvements in medicine and hygiene. The book became the number one bestselling non-fiction book in the United States in 1933 and said basically that people could look forward to many fulfilling years of life after the age of 40 if one maintained a positive attitude.
This sounds funny today when our average life expectancy is 80 years and many are living well into their 90’s. But as people live longer and are empowered by greater life experiences, many over the ages of 40 and 50 are pursuing dreams and reinventing themselves. When children leave the nest, older adults are discovering a renewed energy and creativity enabling them to pursue and achieve new goals.
In the past five years, I’ve known a number of people (myself included) who have lost their jobs in their 40’s and 50’s…a time when many of us are paying mortgages, putting children through college, and saving for our retirement years. It’s devastating to lose a job very suddenly for whatever reason, especially for those who have been with the same company for 20 or more years.
I wonder if sometimes these things happen because God is giving us a “kick in the pants” to find a new career that is better suited to our older selves? When we get older, we gain a perspective and a wisdom that comes only with having lived a lot of years. It’s hard to explain until one actually gets there, but it’s real. Sometimes, we simply have to live long enough until we are prepared for our later purpose.
According to our United States Constitution, a person must be at least 35 years old to be eligible to be president of our country. The average age of our U.S. Presidents is 54 years old. Our youngest elected president was Theodore Roosevelt at the age of 42 and our oldest president was Ronald Reagan, a former actor, who was 69 when he was elected.
Here are a few more examples of people who like Laura Ingalls Wilder, tried something new after the age of 40 and made significant contributions to our world:
*Harlan David Sanders, known as Colonel Sanders who started the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants at the age of 65.
*Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at the age of 50. After that she became a celebrity chef.
* Gary Heavin was 40 when he opened the first Curves fitness center in 1992. Curves became one of the fastest-growing franchises of the ’90s.
*Vera Wang became a fashion designer at age 40. Before that, she was a figure skater and a journalist.
*Ray Kroc was in his late 50’s when he bought a small hamburger chain from the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, California and turned it into a worldwide restaurant empire.
* Jack Cover invented the Taser gun and became a successful entrepreneur at age 50 after working as a nuclear physicist scientist for NASA.
* Momofuke Ando, a Japanese businessman, invented instant Ramen Noodles at the age of 48 with his company, Nissin Foods. Over 100 million people per day eat these instant noodles.
* Soichiro Honda was 42 years old when he formed the Honda Motor Company in 1948. He attached a small engine to a bicycle and created the motorbike. He then designed a small motorcycle and within 10 years, was the leading motorcycle manufacturer in the world. After that, he started building cars and was inducted into the Automobile Hall of Fame at the age of 82.
* Benjamin Franklin was 46 when he did his famous kite/electricity experiment. Between the ages of 47 and 49, he invented bifocals, the catheter and the Franklin stove. He signed the Declaration of Independence at age 70 and the U.S. Constitution at age 77.
*Sandra Day O’Conner became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981 at the age of 51. After serving on the Supreme Court she became the 23rd Chancellor at the College of William & Mary at age 75.
*Anna Mary Robertson Moses, (known as Grandma Moses) began her prolific painting career at age 78. In 2006, one of her paintings sold for $1.2 million.
*Sir Alexander Fleming, a British doctor and scientist specializing in studying bacteria, discovered penicillin at the age of 47.
* Peter Mark Roget was born in 1779. He was a British doctor know for publishing Roget’s Thesaurus at the age of 73. His book has never been out of print since it was first published in 1852.
*Tim and Nina Zagat are the husband and wife team who created the popular dining surveys. They were both lawyers in their 50’s when they left the corporate world to focus on their restaurant guide business which they sold in 2011 for $151 million.
*Edmond Hoyle was an Englishman and around the age of 70 when he began writing the rules for various card games in 1741. The phrase, according to Hoyle, refers to his expertise on the subject of games.
If you are thinking about doing something new but you think you are too old to start over, forget that thought. Do it. The world is waiting for your second act!