I didn't grow up thinking I'd write for a living. I didn't study writing in college. I barely went to college, actually. By the time I was in my 30's, I'd been working in the health insurance industry for ten years and figured I'd spend the rest of my days there. It wasn't until I submitted my first pitch for a Cracked article on a total drunken whim back on Thanksgiving Day of 2007 that I realized I might have some other options in life. I immediately set about trying to turn being published on Cracked into something more, and by 2010, I'd quit my day job entirely and was writing full-time.
And you can do it too! I mean, maybe you can. It's not a guarantee, that's for damn sure. Some people are just born to dick joke, you know? Still, I'm definitely not the only person who figured out what to do with their life well after the point where you're supposed to have figured that kind of thing out. We talk about some of the more famous examples on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
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Like so many rappers before him, Action Bronson spent some time as a petty criminal before finally finding his true calling in life ... gourmet chef. After working in his father's restaurants for a few years, he took the plunge and enrolled in culinary school at Art Institute of America in 2004. From there, he filled his days and pockets by making a name for himself in the kitchens of New York City. He even had his own YouTube cooking show called Action In The Kitchen.
His career path changed on January 30, 2011, when he fell and broke his ankle outside a restaurant he'd been working at. Unable to stand long enough to work in the kitchen, he did the only other thing a person in that situation can do to make money. He started rapping.
Understand, I don't mean he'd been pursuing rap on the side and was finally motivated to go at it full-time. No, he had not rapped once in his entire life. It was something he'd always kind of fantasized about, but he was afraid he'd look stupid if he tried. This was just a little over four years ago. Since then, he's had a career's worth of releases credited to his name, including four mixtapes, two EPs, and three studio albums, one of them being his major label debut, Mr. Wonderful, which came out this past March.
Moving on to a new day job hasn't diminished Action Bronson's love of food in the slightest, though. The last half of the music video for his song "Strictly 4 My Jeeps" is mostly just footage of him whipping up the most elaborate cookout meal imaginable.
He also spends his downtime on tour filming a new cooking show called Fuck, That's Delicious, all while earning a reputation as one of the wildest live performers working today, mostly on the strength of his habit of clotheslining anyone who jumps onstage uninvited.
All that said, he was born in 1983, so it's not like he was that old when he gave up cooking for rapping. For proof that you can change your path in life at damn near any age, look no further than ...
The artist the world came to know as "Grandma Moses" was born Anna Mary Robertson way back in 1860, and for the first 76 years of her life, she barely did anything art-related at all with her time. She dabbled in needlepoint like so many other grannies before her, but it wasn't competition level or anything.
After arthritis made holding a needle far too painful, her sister casually suggested she take a shot at painting. She did, and goddamn did she get into it. In a few months, she had too many paintings to just keep them lying around the house, so she started selling them off for three or five dollars each. Some of her work eventually ended up on display in the window of a drug store in a tiny town in upstate New York. They mostly just gathered dust until a NYC art collector named Louis Caldor spotted them during a trip through town in 1938. He bought them all.
He was so impressed he vowed to make her famous, and immediately set about shopping her work around to various exhibits and galleries. Grandma Moses was 78 years old at the time.
It was slow going initially, but her first break came when three of her paintings were featured in a display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1939. She made her public gallery debut a year later at Galerie St. Etienne. By the middle of the decade, her work had been displayed in 30 states and ten European nations and, against all odds, Grandma Moses was an international celebrity.
Interestingly, she was also one of the earliest beneficiaries of the dawning of the technological age. Her work, mostly pictures of fields and barns and whatnot, lent itself perfectly to greeting cards and poster-sized reprints, which she sold in huge numbers. Even better, in a rare twist on the usual artist story, she lived to the ripe old age of 101, giving her plenty of time to enjoy all that cash.
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I'll admit right up front, this is less "it's never to late to try" and more "why quit now if you've been doing it this long?" Robert Pollard had self-released four albums in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio with his band Guided By Voices. Unfortunately, almost no one noticed, which is extra bad news when you consider that most of the financial backing for the releases came by way of a loan Pollard had secured at a local credit union. Working for free is bad enough, but at this point, he was basically paying (with interest) to keep working. Figuring it was no longer worth the hassle to carry on, he opted to end Guided By Voices ... but not before giving it one last shot.
The band's fifth album, Propeller, was meant to be their last.
After it was released, Robert Pollard planned to quit music to focus on teaching 4th-grade English full time. Unbeknownst to the then-35-year-old future educator, that album had caught the attention of a small label called Scat Records. They signed the band to a deal, and Pollard was able to tell the 4th graders of America to fuck off for good.
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It's a safe bet that a lot of you reading this have never heard of him or his band, but it's not a minor thing that Robert Pollard almost stopped making music after five albums. At present, he has over 1,700 songs registered to his name, making him far and away one of the most prolific songwriters of all time. He's recorded more than 20 albums under the Guided By Voices name and another 20+ under his own name. Then there are the countless EPs and side projects he's been involved in.
Even if you never listen to one of his songs ...
... you at least have to admire that work ethic. Especially from a guy who came so close to giving up.
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Famously angry comic Lewis Black knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life from a pretty early age. When he was 12, his father took him to see a play, and he fell in love with the theater. He focused on making a career of it, eventually earning drama degrees from both the University of North Carolina and Yale Drama School. Shortly thereafter, he landed a job as playwright-in-residence at the West Bank Cafe's Downstairs Theater Bar in New York City, marking the first and last time in recorded history that earning a drama degree helped anyone in any way.
During his time there, he oversaw the production of over 1,000 plays, including several he'd written himself. To put it mildly, he was pretty well established in his career as a playwright. He'd done stand-up comedy some on the side, but never pursued it seriously. Nevertheless, that experience made him the perfect person to emcee the shows at West Bank, which he did regularly.
The thing about doing something regularly is that it usually leads to you doing that thing really well, and Black was no exception. Over time, he became more and more comfortable in front of a comedy crowd, and with things going well for West Bank Cafe, those crowds just kept getting larger. Eventually, the emceeing became the most fulfilling part of the gig. So he quit his "day job" to pursue comedy full-time.
Things worked out, obviously, but a lot of years would pass before Black got his first big break in comedy, when he was asked to contribute a segment to a new Comedy Central series called The Daily Show.
He's since been nominated for five Grammy Awards for best comedy album, winning twice.
So what's the takeaway here? Even if you've known what you wanted to do with your life since childhood, worked hard toward that goal, and are currently living your dreams, you might still be in the wrong career. Keep your options open, especially if the only thing you have to fall back on is your drama degree.
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When Bill Withers left the Navy at the age of 27, he had no real job experience. Well, he did, actually -- it just wasn't the kind of job he wanted to do for the remainder of his life. So, figuring he didn't have much to lose by trying, he set his sights on becoming a musician. Granted, aside from having sat in a time or two as a singer in a couple of Navy bands, he had zero musical ability or experience. But come on, how hard could it be?
Shockingly, for Bill Withers, the answer was "not that hard at all." He quickly realized that you didn't have to be a virtuoso to accompany yourself and write songs. A couple of short years after picking up a guitar and playing it for the first time, he'd written the classic "Ain't No Sunshine" ...
... and was well on his way to a record deal. He wasn't so sure about things working out, though, which is why he kept his job at a factory in LA, even after signing with his first label. The picture on the cover of his debut album was taken while he was on his lunch break.
As it turned out, he didn't have much to worry about. The album, Just As I Am, was a huge success. Bill Withers wasn't done trying new things, though. Seeing as how the guitar experiment had worked out so well, he figured he'd teach himself a little piano in the time between his first and second albums. He made a song out of the first notes he strung together, a progression so simple he said even the smallest child could pick it up pretty easily. That song ...
... was "Lean On Me." You've probably heard it a time or two. Now wrap your head around that. Bill Withers had never played guitar, decided to give it a shot, and immediately wrote "Ain't No Sunshine." Bill Withers had never played piano, decided to give it a shot, and immediately wrote "Lean On Me." No previous songwriting experience, nothing to his credit but a sincere desire to not work a shitty job anymore.
Encouraging, right? Of course it is, but before you go punch your boss in the face and spend your mortgage money on a new amp, let this quote from a recent interview Withers did with Rolling Stone bring you back a little closer to reality:
"Imagine 40,000 people at a stadium watching a football game, about 10,000 of them think they can play quarterback. Three of them probably could. I guess I was one of those three."
Will you be one of those three? Maybe not ... but maybe you will! Whatever the case, there's only one way to find out. Go try some shit.
For more from ATB, check out 5 Things You Didn't Know Are Signs Of Impending Danger and 5 Stories That Will Change Your Opinion Of Famous Companies.
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