Think It’s Too Late to Make a Career Change? These Success Stories Prove Otherwise

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Remember that ‘Friends’ episode where Ross yelled “PIVOT!” repeatedly to direct Rachel and Chandler while they were moving his couch up the stairs?

A career pivot doesn’t have to be as painful.

Whether you’re thinking of switching industries for a fresh start or you’re on the fence about pursuing your true passion  – these career change success stories serve to inspire a shift.

Sara Blakely

The founder and creator of Spanx, Sara Blakely was first a successful door-to-door saleswoman for Danka. She spent seven years selling fax machines and office supplies. At the age of 25, Danka made her a national sales trainer. Blakely quit her sales job at the age of 30 to run her company. Spanx makes “slimming intimates, body shapers, hosiery, apparel and shapewear for men and women.”

Tim and Nina Zagat

The were practising attorneys before starting Zagat Survey. Tim earned an LL.B. from Yale Law School in 1966 and a B.A. from Harvard College in 1961. He was a litigator for 20 years. Nina Zagat earned an LL.B. from Yale Law School in 1966 and an A.B. from Vassar College in 1963. She was an attorney at Wall Street’s Shearman & Sterling law firm for 24 years. During a business stay in Paris in the 1970s, the Zagat Guide came to life and went online in 1999. In 2011, Google purchased the company. You can now find Zagat’s restaurant reviews and ratings on Google Maps in addition to

Jessica Alba

As far as career change goals go, we’re partial to Jessica Alba’s story. TV’s Dark Angel (2000-2002) didn’t really leave Hollywood but she managed to cofound The Honest Company with Christopher Gavigan. The eco-friendly company makes non-toxic body care and diapers amongst other baby and household products. In its first year of selling products (2012), The Honest Company made $10 million in revenue.

Ellen Degeneres

If you didn’t tear up while watching Ellen DeGeneres‘ Presidential Medal of Freedom award ceremony, you should probably watch it again. Before Ellen DeGeneres became an award-winning comedian, talk show host, animal rights activist, actress, writer, record label owner, and producer, she worked as a waitress, hostess, legal secretary, sold vacuum cleaners and painted houses. How’s that for career change motivation?


Jeff Bezos

On July 16, 1995, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon officially opened for business, selling books online. This Seattle-based business eventually morphed into an e-commerce giant that changed the way people shop. From furniture and collectables to groceries and pets, you can pretty much find anything on Amazon today. Before starting Amazon, Jeff worked in the financial service industry on Wall Street after earning an undergraduate degree in computer science and electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1986.

Related: Read Jenny Blake’s Pivot and check out 4 other books to help transform your career.

Elvis Costello

British singer/songwriter, Elvis Costello, wasn’t always called “the finest songwriter of his generation”. Declan Patrick McManus (his real name) worked as a computer programmer, operating an IBM 360 before he quit his office day job to pursue music full-time in 1970.

The Jane Doze

Would you ditch your desk job for the decks? The Jane Doze did. New York-based DJs and producers, Claire Schlissel and Jen Mozenter, were music business employees before they quit their day jobs to spin ‘dope’ electronic dance music round the clock. To date, the duo has shared the stage with the likes of Erykah Badu, Calvin Harris and Diplo.

Tony Fernandes

If you’re looking for career change motivation in a local context – look at the story of AirAsia’s Tan Sri Anthony Francis Fernandes. Before he became CEO of the world’s leading budget airline and owned an English football team, Tony Fernandes worked as an auditor for Virgin Atlantic, a financial controller for Virgin Records, an executive for Warner Music Malaysia and as the South East Asian regional vice-president for Warner Music Group.

Amy Halm

Once Motorola’s Communication Director and the Director of Global Media Relations for Freescale Semiconductor, Amy Halm is now the founder and owner of ChickBait, LLC. and Desert Drug Dog, LLC. The former is wholesale novelty jewellery company that makes it items from fishing lures. The latter is a private narcotics detection service which came to life serendipitously thanks to Dargo, a former police dog she adopted.

Ken Jeong

Ken Jeong is a licensed physician who earned his MD from the University of North Carolina before he ventured into film. He made his debut in the comedy flick “Knocked Up”. Jeong went on to make his mark with more hilariously memorable on-screen personas including Mr Chow from The Hangover franchise.

Jack Cover

If you think a career change in your 50s is impossible, the late Jack Cover is an iconic exception to the rule. Cover spent the majority of his career as a nuclear physicist, working in defence and aerospace. He also had a significant role in supplying parts for NASA’s Apollo project. When Cover turned 50, he started Taser, Inc. to create a weapon that could incapacitate assailants without killing them. The Taser came to life and was patented in 1974.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”

— Amelia Earhart

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