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The Psychological Formula for Success After Age 50

Grit is the secret ingredient for an exceptional third act.
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Illustration: Michelle Kwon for Bloomberg Businessweek

Julia Child launched The French Chef on TV at 50, a year after publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Ray Kroc began franchising McDonald’s at 52. Estelle Getty landed her breakout role on Broadway at age 58, then in her 60s racked up seven back-to-back Emmy nominations for The Golden Girls. These are all clearly exceptional third acts, but even if you aim for something more modest, you’re likelier to get there if you understand how the psychological formula for achievement shifts as you age.

Psychologists have long known that success is fueled by grit, passion, and a growth mindset—a deep-seated conviction that you can excel at a new pursuit. Norwegian psychologist Hermundur Sigmundsson says that passion is by far the most important psychological factor—but it peaks early, which you may have seen in kids’ obsessions: the Dinosaur Phase. The Truck Phase. The Minecraft Phase. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the growth mindset, so by the time most of us reach the Build a Company Phase, two of the three most important ingredients in the recipe for achievement are waning. “You lose the thinking that maybe you can do this,” Sigmundsson says.