02/22/2012 03:40 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Advice For Women: It's Never Too Late

In this post, I hope to inspire you to push yourself right out of your comfort zone. Too many women give up on their ambitions too easily, and often for the simplest and most unnecessary of reasons. The one that is the most unnecessary of all is "it is too late."

I was 26 years old when I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I was engaged to be married for what was, truth be told, the fourth time, when it dawned on me that I should have taken a very different route in life. No, I did not break off the engagement (having been a serial fiancée for some time, I really had to go ahead and get married or no one would have taken me seriously ever again). But I did take steps to address my mistake -- which was in my professional rather than my personal life.

My mistake was not to have trained as a chartered accountant. I had come to realize, four years after obtaining my undergraduate degree, that accountancy was something I would have loved, and been good at, and which would have given me credibility in my career.

To this day, it is my one regret in life (in general I don't "do" regret, just as I don't "do" guilt -- they are both emotions which use up far too much energy and can distract ambitious women). Why did I not resign there and then from my job and apply for a training contract? I thought it was too late. I was used to people entering the accountancy profession straight from university. I had already been in the workplace for a few years. I told myself off for not having done it when I graduated, and never even looked into the possibility of starting over at the age of twenty-six. Much too late, I thought.

Too late?

I was twenty-six. Looking back at that decision now, I cannot believe it. I was barely out of the crib.

Not many years later, the younger sister of my Longest-Standing Girlfriend (LSG) also realized, at the same age, that she should have trained as an accountant, and mentioned to LSG that she thought it was too late. LSG told her not to be so silly -- it was never too late, and especially not at the age of 26.

She gave up her job and joined an accountancy firm. 20-odd years on, she is sailing round the world with her husband, while I am working fourteen-hour days.

There is probably a lesson here.

The truth is, it is never "too late" for anything -- to go into politics, to write your first novel, to tweet, to climb Everest, or to learn to swim.

You didn't do science A levels and missed out on being a vet? I know of a girl who took two science A levels at night school (they are much easier when you are older -- it is finding the time that is tough) and then went to start her veterinary science degree in her early thirties.

What did I do, at that grand old age of twenty-six? I applied to do an MBA instead -- by some people's standards a "poor man's accountancy qualification." It was a great decision, and I am glad I took it. (I married that fiancé, too, and am also glad I did that.) But I still wish I had realized that it is never too late.

When Anna Mary Robertson Moses died in 1961, President John F. Kennedy released a statement praising her paintings for inspiring a nation, noting, 'All Americans mourn her loss.' Governor of New York Nelson Rockefeller had declared on her most recent birthday that there was 'no more renowned artist in our entire country today'. President Harry S. Truman once played the piano just for her.

Who was this woman who captivated U.S. presidents and art audiences at home and abroad?
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was better known to the world as Grandma Moses, a woman who didn't begin to paint until the age of seventy-six, when her hands became too crippled by arthritis to hold an embroidery needle. She found herself unable to sit around and do nothing, even after a long life spent working on farms, so she picked up a paintbrush.

By the time of her death, she had paintings in museums as far away as Vienna and Paris.
Why do I need to tell you that story and many more? Surely, both men and women can pick up a paintbrush late in life?

The truth is, women are far more susceptible to putting up hurdles to their progress than men. Claiming that it is too late for something is the most frequently encountered hurdle of all.
Don't do it! Never use that excuse!

If you find yourself saying 'it is too late', you are almost certainly wrong.

For a start, I hate assumptions. I once read that the word "assume" was a terrible word because "it makes an ass out of you and me," and while that is a bit crass, even for me, it is a good thing to remember.

Never assume anything.

Women are busy people -- especially if they are running the usual multitasking path of career-children-husband -- and, probably because of that, are far too easily persuaded (or, worse still, assume) that their way forward is through a door which is already closed and locked.

Adapted from "Sharpen Your Heels" by Mrs. Moneypenny by arrangement with Portfolio Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Mrs. Moneypenny