11 Amazing People Who Had Accomplished Nothing by Age 30

Robyn Beck/Collection/Getty Images
Robyn Beck/Collection/Getty Images

During the first 10 years of your life, you figure out the basics of being a human. The next 10 years, you figure out the basics of being obnoxious. And after that, you finally get your shit together. So we're told, at least.

By the time you hit 30, you're expected to know what you're doing with the rest of your life. No finding new passions. No rising to unexpected heights of success. You're an adult. The remaining decades are just about not screwing it up.

Luckily, for anyone reading this whose ambition and achievement levels are hovering somewhere around "1990s slacker comedy protagonist," there are plenty of millionaires and movie stars who didn't get their lives in gear until long after the age when your family and friends start worrying about you. Here are 11 people who waited three decades to make their mark.

Getty Images/Desiree Navarro

Alan Rickman

Claim to fame: Movie star, director, Judas to Dumbledore
Rough start: He's been Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, and honestly, if the list ended right there, we'd all still be huge fans. But it doesn't, because Alan Rickman has had one of the most impressive careers of any actor in his generation. Took him a while, though. He studied graphic design before drama, going back to school to follow his passion at the age of 26. That was 1972. He got his first BBC role in 1978. His first film role? Not until 1988, when he was 42 years old... the age where most people are just starting their mid-life crises.

Wikimedia/Public Domain

Vincent van Gogh

Claim to fame: Post-Impressionist, patron saint of any goth kid with a DeviantArt account
Rough start: Vincent van Gogh is so well-known that shouting his name when the Jeopardy! category is "Famous Painters" gives you a 20% chance of being right. Most of his life, though, he was, well, a mess, dealing with mental illness, unrequited love, and every single other tortured artist cliche you can think of it. Career-wise, he wasn't doing much better. He created his most recognized works well into his 30s -- in the two years before his suicide. It turns out that art is actually pretty hard, and for every prodigy out there, there's a bunch of others just trying to master their technique. Presumably, not all of them are cutting off their ears in frustration, though.

AMC/Michael Yarish

Matthew Weiner

Claim to fame: Creator of Mad Men, writer for The Sopranos, likely recipient of more name-based jokes than you
Rough start: Before introducing us to Don Draper, Matthew Weiner's life was a lot like the Draper we saw early in the seventh season of Mad Men: depressing, aimless, and kind of boring. After graduating film school, Weiner spent years trying to break into show biz, with no success. Discouraged and unemployed, he ended up wasting most days on his couch, watching TV. It wasn't until he was 30 that he even earned a paycheck for writing, helping out a friend whose script needed some work. This got his foot in the door, and inspired him to begin researching the pilot for Mad Men. 

He started writing it in 1999. The first episode didn't air until 2007.

Wikimedia/Angela Natividad

Jon Hamm

Claim to fame: Don Draper, anti-underwear advocate, likely recipient of slightly fewer name-based jokes than Matthew Weiner
Rough start: If you don't know who Jon Hamm is these days, it's only because SHUT UP YES YOU DO. Dude is so famous there are more pictures of him on the Internet than there are stars in our galaxy (maybe). It wasn't always that way, though. As a young actor, Hamm looked far too old to nab the gigs that usually go to stars in their 20s: high school students. Until he was cast as Don Draper, his only roles were the kind of minor appearances that your old high school drama-club friend occasionally brags about getting on social media. He only made it big by following the tried-and-true strategy of ignoring all common sense.


Reid Hoffman

Claim to fame: LinkedIn co-founder, Peter Griffin lookalike, champion of the world
Rough start: As a student, Reid Hoffman said he wanted to make an "impact" on the world, possibly through academia. Normally, this type of talk is a less-embarrassing way of saying "I'll probably be poor for a long, long time."

That's not quite what happened. Hoffman is currently a billionaire, with a net worth so high, a '60s Bond villain would demand it as ransom in exchange for not nuking the world. It took some time to get there, though. He had a job at Apple for a while, before starting SocialNet, which was essentially an early Friendster, which essentially means no one ever heard of it. He then moved on to a job at PayPal, where he learned the hard lessons of entrepreneurship. The experience paid off, though, earning him $1.5 billion by 2002, when he began work on LinkedIn, which has now earned him about $4.6 billion. And he didn't start getting anywhere until after his 30th birthday.

Wikimedia/Jason McELweenie

Danny Trejo

Claim to fame: Actor, boxer, most intimidating senior citizen in human history
Rough start: There's a reason Danny Trejo is the go-to guy for any director looking to cast someone in the role of "Mexican Badass": he has the life experience to make it authentic. Long before showing up in hardcore Hollywood entertainment like HeatCon-Air, and, uh, Spy Kids, Trejo spent the first three decades of his life in and out of the penal system. He learned to box in San Quentin Prison, and after putting his life of crime behind him, became a drug counselor. He was helping a patient on the set of a film when the writer -- Edward Bunker, a former fellow inmate -- recognized Trejo and asked him to teach star Eric Roberts to box.

Say what you want about prison, but it's apparently useful for networking.


Mark Twain

Claim to fame: Novelist, satirist, hero to mustache advocates worldwide
Rough start: Mark Twain wasn't always the literary titan behind your high school English curriculum. In fact, up until right around his 30th birthday, he was what your mom would lovingly call "unfocused." Sure, he'd worked on a steamboat, spent time in a militia, and contributed some stories to various newspapers, but like that older cousin who still lives with his parents, he didn't seem to find much success in any one thing. It wasn't until the 1865 publication of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County that his writing career actually started to accelerate.

Well, maybe not accelerate. He wouldn't publish a single novel until 1873.

Wikimedia/Daniel Ogren

J.K. Rowling

Claim to fame: Author of everyone's favorite books and no one's favorite book
Rough start: It's tough to remember a time before everyone and their mother had read a Harry Potter novel, but J.K. Rowling probably doesn't forget those years, mainly because they sucked so hard she developed the kind of depression that makes you invent characters like the Dementors just to deal with it. Prior to publishing the first entry in the series, Rowling was a single mother, on welfare, and suicidal. During this time, she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone while looking into becoming a teacher. She also had to fend off a frightening ex-husband, because the universe wanted her rags-to-riches story to be as bleakly terrifying as possible.

The book was published when she was 31. We think you know how her life turned out after that.

Flickr/Drew XXX

Gene Hackman

Claim to fame: Portrayer of Popeye Doyle, fast-food chicken namesake (really)
Rough start: With classic roles in everything from The French Connection to The Royal Tenenbaums, Gene Hackman has earned so much respect that we're almost willing to forget about Welcome to Mooseport. Two Academy Award wins doesn't hurt, either. Not bad for a guy dubbed "Least Likely to Succeed" by his acting school classmates. After graduating, Hackman headed to New York and promptly proved them right by getting a gig as a doorman, which is kind of like acting, in that you have to pretend you're not miserable all day long. He didn't get a single credited role onscreen until 1963, appearing in his first film a year later. Oh, by the way, he was born in 1930, meaning he was well past the age when people should be pursuing acting careers.

Wikimedia/Caroline Bonarde Ucci

Ricky Gervais

Claim to fame: Creator of The Office -- no not that one
Rough start: There's a reason The Office (again, not that one) perfectly captured the dull lifestyle of white-collar work: Ricky Gervais was pretty used to it. Aside from a brief taste of almost-stardom as one half of New Wave pop duo Seona Dancing (please click on that if you want your day to be better), he spent years working boring radio station jobs and getting fired. He didn't make it to TV until 1998, when he was halfway through his 30s. At that age, showing up on TV for the first time usually means you either committed a crime or were the victim of one.

Getty Images/John Dominis

Julia Child

Claim to fame: Chef, author, TV star, spy
Rough start: So, it's not exactly fair to claim that Julia Child accomplished nothing before finding fame. She did have a job in the OSS during WWII, which we really can't ignore; Anthony Bourdain never helped jumpstart the CIA. That said, we don't remember her for hunting Nazis, we remember her for bringing French cooking to America, a career path she didn't find until reaching the age when most people start thinking about retirement. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with two friends, hit bookshelves in 1961. Her television career began with The French Chef two years later. Her last television series ended in 1998... when she was 85.

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Joe Oliveto is a writer for Thrillist, and will keep this article in mind when family conversations turn to what he's doing with his life. Follow him at @JoeOliveto1.