Success is a subjective concept. How does one gauge whether a person is successful? Personal wealth and power? The ability to affect change? Personal happiness and fulfillment? Success may be the most nebulous of our commonly used labels, but there are a few people out there who seem to embody it so thoroughly that it's impossible to deny that they are some of the most successful people in the world. For your inspiration (and possibly imitation) here are four of the world’s most successful people and what they overcame to rise to the top.
South African born Elon Musk is the founder and CEO of some of the most ambitious companies operating today.
After moving to California to complete his PhD at Stanford, Musk and his brother Kimbal used a $28,000 loan from their father to start a web company called Zip2. Though the company experienced several setbacks and the board of directors refused to name Musk CEO, it eventually acquired by Compaq in 1999 for $341 million, netting Musk $22 million. Half of that money was used to develop an email payment company called X.Com, which eventually merged with rival PayPal. Again, fraught with structural and operational challenges, Musk came away from the company with $165 million of the $1.6 billion in stock that was used when eBay acquired the company in 2002.
It was then that Musk had enough capital to begin his more radical ventures, such as SpaceX and Tesla, a commercial rocketry company and fully electric automobile manufacturer, respectively. By starting his ventures with a solid and well thought out concept, Musk was consistently able to weather the storms of doing business and always step away with a sizable profit, which often had 50% of it reinvested into the next venture. This pattern has allowed Musk to build a fortune while allowing him the freedom to make each new venture riskier and more ambitious than the last. Throughout his career, Musk has shown a combination of resilience and risk-taking that has allowed him, in spite of setback and failed ventures, to reach the pinnacle of success.
Michael Jordan, a man whose name is synonymous with basketball superstardom, faced a tough path to reach the level of fame and fortune he eventually achieved.
One of these challenges, and a fact that many people find ironically shocking, is that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team his sophomore year. Rather than giving up on the sport, Michael came back the next year and broke every basketball record at the school.
Michael Jordan went on to play basketball for the North Carolina Tar Heels, but facing predictions that he would never see much time off of the bench. Proving these predictions wrong, Michael went on to not only see extensive playing time with the Tar Heels, but also to make the game winning shot in the 1982 national championship.
Michael Jordan was later given a shot at the NBA, but his challenges did not end there. Soon into his NBA career, the basketball prodigy suffered a devastating injury that many predicted would end his still-young career. Instead, Michael worked even harder, improving on both the offensive and defensive aspects of his game until he had completely mastered the sport.
Michael Jordan’s road to success was not one where everything was handed to him. Rather, the basketball legend is proof that there is simply no substitution for hard work and the unwillingness to accept failure as an option.
There is perhaps no better example of a “rags to riches” story than that of Sylvester Stallone. Educated as an actor and a scriptwriter, Stallone’s early career saw nothing but one rejection letter after another. Stallone happened on just enough breaks to keep him and his family off of the streets, but not enough to rid them from the constant struggle of extreme poverty. Stallone was desperate for work, but he still refused to accept any jobs outside of acting or writing, stating that he was unwilling to compromise his dreams. Stallone even resorted to selling off his wife’s jewelry and the family pet in order to put food on their table.
Then one day, Stallone penned the script to the movie Rocky. After shopping it around, Stallone was eventually offered $100,000 for the script—a massive amount for a man living in the grasps of poverty. The one stipulation was that Stallone was not allowed to act in the movie. Still unwilling to compromise his dreams even in spite of such a huge break, Stallone turned down the offer. The studio raised the offer all the way up to $400,000, but Stallone declined again and again, insisting that he should play the lead role. Eventually, the studio agreed to pay him $25,000 for the script and give him the lead role. Stallone accepted, immediately went and bought back his dog, and went on to be one of the most successful actors of all time.
In a real-life Cinderella story every bit as compelling as the one Stallone penned in Rocky, the story of Sylvester Stallone is still referenced as an example of the outcome of always following your dreams.
Early in her career, Lady Gaga began to feel the pressures faced by far too many female stars. Recognizing that without a certain body image, she would likely be neglected no matter her talent, Lady Gaga began to impose diets on herself that were so strict that she bordered on the edge of a full-blown eating disorder.
Facing these struggles as well as several other emotional disorders, Lady Gaga through herself into what is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally demanding realms the world has to offer. Unlike many would-be stars who are quickly crippled under the pressure of constant media attention, Lady Gaga flourished. She adopted a sense of style and music that was entirely her own and refused to buckle under criticism.
Now, the pop star enjoys a career as one of the most successful artists of the 21st century. In her hit song “Poker Face” Lady Gaga warned other artists of the risks of sacrificing themselves for their career. Like her music or not, there is something to be said for Lady Gaga’s ability to thrive under pressure and criticism and come out a better person for it.
Walt Disney, the man behind the world’s most famous mouse and most successful entertainment studio, started his career as a newspaper artist in Kansas City. There, Walt Disney would draw cartoons that the paper called Laugh-O-Grams. Buzzing with creativity, humor, and wit, Disney’s cartoons soared in popularity.
Excited by this success, Disney started his own studio, however, by 1923 the studio was drowning in debt and Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Undeterred, Walt and his brother Roy put what little money they had left together and moved to Hollywood. Still, Disney’s early time in Hollywood was plagued with setbacks, including having the rights to the cartoons he had been creating stolen out from under him. Having lost the rights to what he had been working on his entire time in Hollywood, Disney set out and created another cartoon, this one centered around a mouse named Mickey. After two failed silent films, Disney created a sound-equipped short film called Steamboat Willie. The cartoon exploded in popularity and instantly sealed the success of both Walt Disney and his mouse, Mickey.
For the rest of his life, Walt Disney put his creativity to work, producing international hits such as The Mickey Mouse Club, and Marry Poppins. Today, Walt Disney is seen as more legend than man, and is proof that a spark of creativity and imagination can truly take you a long way.