At the age of 35, I walked away from a six-figure job with a prestigious title to start a business. I had one project lined up for $1,200 (and I had to pay my travel expenses out of it). I had a new mortgage in a very expensive California town and a baby on the way.
I had received a small advance to write a book. I didn't know if it would sell two copies or 2,000. It did quite a bit better. Thankfully, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs became an international bestseller. My ninth book will be published in June.
When I left a secure corporate job, I was immersed in writing about visionaries like Jobs, Bill Gates, and others who started companies in their garages or dorm rooms, dropped out of college, and became billionaires. Doubts crept into my mind: How can I succeed at the age of 35? What was I thinking?
I could have saved myself a lot of sleepless nights had I known what recent studies have revealed. The myth of the dropout entrepreneur is just that--a great story. There's nothing wrong with these stories. I share these stories with audiences around the world because they are educational, insightful, and inspiring. But they are good stories because they are the exception.
A recent essay in The Wall Street Journal reveals that people over the age of 35 are more likely to start a business and succeed at it. According to Syracuse University professor Carl Schramm, author of Burn the Business Plan, "Americans who are 35 or older are 50 percent more likely to start a business than are their younger counterparts."
Schramm led a study by the Kauffman Foundation that showed that the average entrepreneur was 39 when he or she started a company. The study also found that so-called "mid-career" entrepreneurs were five times more likely to enjoy a successful business five years later than entrepreneurs starting businesses right out of college.
The two reasons Schramm cites for mid-career success resonate with my experience.
1. It takes time to recognize your destiny and to build your experience.
I spent 15 years in two different, but related, careers. I was a television news anchor and later a business correspondent for CNN. I was a host of a startup television network in San Francisco with a focus on technology. Finally, I was vice president of media training for a global PR firm. Each job taught me what I liked and what I didn't like, and sharpened the skills, contacts, and credibility I would need to start my own practice.
2. "Older" entrepreneurs are more likely to self-finance.
We all know that many recent graduates are saddled with enormous student-debt obligations. Since most businesses are not backed by venture capitalists, it's difficult to make ends meet, pay off debt, and start a business on your own.
By the age of 35, I was married. Vanessa and I built our business together. Neither of us had a lot of student debt by that time. There were times when I carried our family on my health insurance and other times when she did the same. Today, Vanessa runs our company and adds her own experiences as a former psychology instructor.
As a student of storytelling, I know the narratives we read and share about entrepreneurs who found success right out of college (or in a dorm room) play a valuable role in inspiring the rest of us to dream big. But focusing on one type of narrative can also be damaging if it causes us to limit our career ambitions, especially if the data tells another story.