7 traits of people who achieve success later in life, according to psychologists

by Isabel Cabrera | April 12, 2024, 2:59 pm

When I was younger, I always dreamed of becoming an overnight success. I knew (or thought) age was my main advantage.

If I published a book at fifteen, I’d be considered a genius!

If I became a well-known actress at seventeen, I’d still have decades of success ahead of me!

As I grew older, though, I realized that achieving success early in life wasn’t the only viable option.

Many people become masters at their craft in middle age, after all. And their success is just as worthy.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Here are the 7 traits of people who achieve success later in life.

1) They aren’t afraid to try out different life paths

My best friend is a bit of a chameleon. He changes careers as chameleons do colors, with ease and quick speed.

He used to study languages, then worked as a Math teacher at high school, and now he’s a freelance illustrator.

Oh, and did I mention he is an incredibly talented musician? For my friend, music is his final destination. But that doesn’t mean he desperately chases after it.

On the contrary, he’s an expert at trying out different life paths, which is probably why he still hasn’t built a stable music career.

Personally, I think he’s fated to achieve success in that part of his life later on. And that’s because he is simply way too multitalented to pass on other opportunities.

He wants to experience life in its richness. He wants to experiment, shift, and adapt. And if that means it will take some time before he reaches the finish line, so be it.

In fact, the post-doctoral researcher Laura E. Buffardi, Ph.D. says, “Career shifting is common today in part because studies show that younger generations value fulfilment in their career choices over money.”

And that’s the key. Fulfilment. 

People who achieve success later in life prioritize fulfilment and following their intuition in the present moment, which is why it may take them some time before they arrive at what society views as “success”.

2) They accept that everything unfolds in its own time

Another important trait on this list is patience. And when you combine patience with a high tolerance for uncertainty, you’ve got a killer mix of peace, acceptance, and happiness.

Remember how I used to dream of becoming an overnight success as a teenager?

Well, this was largely motivated by the fact that I compared myself to others. I thought that I was in some invisible competition of success in relation to age and I looked at other writers I admired, thinking, “They got published when they were X years old. I better make it on time.”

When I eventually passed those signposts and “failed”, I realized that age was only a small part of the equation. Growing older meant nothing much. I could still achieve my dreams. There was nothing stopping me.

That was when it dawned on me that I existed on my own timeline and that comparing myself to other people was completely futile.

My success would unfold at its own pace. All I had to do was keep going, be patient, and have faith that my future hid plenty of amazing treasures.

And it did. It still does.

3) They understand the value of experience

Once in a while, there comes a genius, someone who doesn’t need thirty years of experience under their belt to be a mind-blowing singer or to write a bestselling novel.

More often than not, though, people who are true masters at their craft have put in years or decades of hard work. They have spent so long polishing their talents that they are now truly phenomenal.

And sometimes, it’s not even as complex as that – sometimes, it’s just a matter of growing older, maturing, and having a better understanding of the world around us.

Stephen King was 26 years old when he published his first novel.

J.K. Rowling was around 30 when she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

Leigh Bardugo, author of the famous YA series Shadow and Bone, was 35 when it first came out.

And Suzanne Collins was 46 when Hunger Games was published!

This only goes to show just how valuable it is to collect experiences, work on one’s craft, and soak in life before we achieve success.

Plus, did you know that the prefrontal cortex, an important part of the brain that’s in charge of decision-making, memory, and risk processing, just to name a few, only reaches full maturity at 25 years old?

Frankly, I noticed a huge difference in the way I approached my craft once my brain fully developed.

The lesson here is this: if your talents need to simmer for a bit, let them.

4) They are lifelong learners

“Cultivating beginner’s mind is critical to sustaining a youthful spirit,” says author and lecturer Gregg Levoy.

It’s also what allows us to never stop growing and eventually make our dreams come true.

Way too often, people get stuck in a rut. They go to work, come home, watch TV, go to sleep, rinse and repeat.

Those of us who eventually achieve success, however… they’re different simply because they never stop learning.

Levoy explains, “Anything that counters the tendency to take life for granted is an active ingredient in both wisdom and wonder.”

If you take life for granted, you’ll settle for whatever it is you can get while putting in the bare minimum. If you approach it with wonder, you still have amazing things ahead of you – no matter your age.

Keep learning, be it by reading books, taking online courses, joining clubs, or watching fascinating documentaries. Not only does this help your mind stay sharp but it also motivates you to keep reaching for more.

5) They know when to give up and when to keep going

People often like to say that you should never give up.

What they forget to mention is that sometimes, giving up is the bravest thing you could ever do.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

If you’re stuck in a dead-end job or relationship, giving up is extremely courageous because it’s the door through which you walk into uncertainty.

If you give up on pursuing your greatest dreams out of fear or laziness, though, it’s a different story entirely.

This is why people who eventually reach success have a pretty good idea of how to dance between the two.

When something no longer serves them, they give up or shift their approach.

When they feel they are not pursuing something they genuinely want just because they don’t prioritize it enough, they know how to motivate themselves to stay disciplined.

Thus the magical formula for success.

6) They are realistic optimists

What’s the difference between realism and optimism?

According to researchers, “A realistic outlook improves chances to negotiate the environment successfully, whereas an optimistic outlook places priority on feeling good.”

However, it’s also possible to combine the two, which is what realistic optimism is all about.

When you’re a realistic optimist, you believe that things will turn out okay while also factoring in real obstacles you might have to overcome.

In other words, you’re not lying to yourself about the struggles you’ll have to face, but you also don’t let that knowledge stop you. Instead, you courageously venture forth.

Many people who achieve success later in life are realistic optimists – they’ve always believed they could get there one day, but they also knew the journey wouldn’t be easy.

And they made it anyway.

7) They have their own definition of “success”

Finally, what you see as “success” might drastically differ from how others view it.

While the societal perception has everything to do with money and status, more and more people prefer fulfilment and work-life balance over expensive cars, which is amazing to see.

This is also why people who achieve “success” later in life don’t necessarily consider this final stage as the pivotal moment toward which they’ve been working for decades.

On the contrary, one of the reasons it took them so long to get there is that they haven’t been rushing anywhere. They’ve enjoyed every moment as it came.

And if the ability to enjoy the present moment for what it is isn’t a success in its own right, I don’t know what is.

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