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10 Career Lessons From Major Success Stories

The following innovators, authors, entertainers and notable celebrities didn’t find success quickly or easily, but they all share a common denominator—they toughed it out and hit it big. Read on for 10 lessons you can learn from some of Her Campus’s favorite success stories.

1. Steve Jobs: “You’ve got to find what you love.”

You’ve heard it time and again: find something you love and pursue it. Steve Jobs was taking a risk when he dropped out of Reed College and started Apple in his parents’ basement, but three decades later, he found himself at the top of a multi-billion dollar company that probably produced your computer screen. In his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, Jobs didn’t speak so much about talent or resources or GPA, but instead told the graduates “to have the courage to follow your heart and intuition… everything else is secondary.” It’s still important to be realistic (nobody is going to hire you to surf the Internet just because you love StumbleUpon), but if you love your work, it will be easier and you will do better. In the wise words of Aristotle, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

2. Jennifer Hudson: Success is rarely instant.

Try to remember way back when American Idolactually mattered to the public and Jennifer Hudson was a contestant. She was eliminated before she even reached the top six singers of season 3—and yet, in the long run, she managed to outperform most of the show’s winners from every season. Less than three years after her elimination from Idol, Hudson was belting it out all over the big screen in Dreamgirlsalongside stars like Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy. She kept at it and made her way to the top, winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Dreamgirls, releasing a Grammy-winning debut album and landing several more roles in movies like Sex and the City and The Secret Life of Bees. Learn from Hudson’s story and don’t give up just because you weren’t noticed right away; keep working hard and you’ll earn recognition.

3. Mark Zuckerberg: Build and keep a solid network.

Facebook gets a bad rap for time-wasting, friend-stalking and boy-ogling, but in reality it has brought together millions of people who might not have kept in touch otherwise. Creator Mark Zuckerberg has not only created an extensive network for the world, but for himself as well. Soon after finishing his sophomore year of college, he made connections with technology moguls like Sean Parker of Napster, Peter Thiel of PayPal, and Steve Chen, who later co-founded YouTube. And while Facebook was a smart idea to begin with, these people gave Zuckerberg the tools to materialize it and build the entrepreneurial empire he has today. That isn’t to say you should give a firm handshake and your business card to everyone you see, but keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to meet new people. You never know where it may take you.

4. Barbara Walters: Keep your personal and professional lives separate.

Regarded today as a journalism icon and one of the world’s most influential women, Barbara Walters has been active in the television industry since the 1960’s when she began on The Today Show. Since then, she has gained a reputation as an expert interviewer as well as an incredibly popular TV personality, covering such events as Prince Charles’s conferment and speaking with figures like Anwar Sadat. While she was building this long list of credentials, however, Walters also dealt with the drama of marrying and divorcing four times, suffering three miscarriages, and raising a daughter. In 1996 she told theNew York Times, “I’m convinced that you stay married when the days are bad only because you really want to be. But I always had an out. I had this job, and this life and enough money. I didn’t have to fight the bad days.” Walters kept it classy and managed her personal life without letting it interfere with her professional life, a skill that can help any woman’s career.

5. Barack Obama: No barrier is unbreakable.

About a century ago, American women couldn’t vote; 65 years ago, experts thought the sound barrier was unbreakable; and only four years ago, America had never had a black president. No matter your political standing, you’ve got to admit that President Obama has made history by breaking the race barrier in the White House. While he may seem distant on the podium or the television screen, the truth is that he was once just a college student at Columbia. Take his story as proof that you can take your career as far as you’d like it to go—no matter who has or hasn’t done so before you.


6. Joy Behar: It is never too late to change your mind.

From watching teen talent Justin Bieber to young Olympian Shawn Johnson, it may seem that the key to success is starting at an early age. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re washed up by age 20! Joy Behar received an M.A. in English Education and taught high school English for years before taking a swing at entertainment. “I was nearly 40 before I realized I was always the funny one at parties,” Behar told Oprah’s Lifeclass™. “I started doing a little stand-up, and things took off.” She has since published humor books, children’s books, essays, and a monthly advice column in Good Housekeeping, as well as won an Emmy for co-hosting The View and launched The Joy Behar Show in 2009. Now, if you know you want to be a doctor, don’t dilly-dally for 30 years before applying to med school. But if you ever find yourself unhappy with where you are, remember Joy and go do something about it.

7. Dr. Seuss: Rejection can be a good thing.

If you had any sort of childhood at all, you probably appreciate the many creations of Theodor Geisel, the man who wrote our favorite rhymes and picture books under the pen name Dr. Seuss. Think his wit brought him big bucks right away? Think again—Geisel’s first book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected a whopping 27 times before he finally found a willing publisher. Moral of the story: don’t be discouraged by a job or internship rejection. If you’re pissed, go for a run or call your mom up—but then channel your disappointment into newfound motivation, and consider yourself one step closer to success.

8. The Beatles: Practice makes perfect.

In his best-selling book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell traces much of the Beatles’ wild success to “the sheer amount of time the band was forced to play” at a strip club in Germany before they hit it big. Gladwell quotes John Lennon, who said of the gig, “We got better and got more confidence. We couldn’t help it with all the experience playing all night long.” Our parents’ generation—and many of us—swoon in admiration for the purportedly super-talented Beatles, but as Gladwell points out, much of their success can be attributed to hard work and practice. So don’t be discouraged if you weren’t born with a perfect voice or genius-level IQ; what we call “talent” is often based in hours of experience and old-fashioned hard work.

9. Warren Buffett: Be modest.

Warren Buffett has bragging rights others can only dream of: a net worth upwards of 60 billion dollars, a position as CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, and a standing as one of the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in the world. But have you ever seen him on MTV Cribs, showing off his bling and claiming three different Ferraris as his “whips”? (50 Cent brought us that gem of an episode, by the way, and the cars weren’t even his.) Despite his legendary status among investors, 81year-old Buffett has lived in the same house since 1958, when it was worth $31,500. He is known and admired for his personal frugality, a career lesson we may not immediately consider but one to keep in mind. Buffett has nothing to prove and gets a lot of respect for his attitude. Celebrate your achievements, but skip the boasting. Your success will speak for itself.

10. Lady Gaga: Give back.

This year Lady Gaga topped Forbes’ Celebrity 100 and scored the eleventh spot in the magazine’s World’s Most Powerful Women list. Not only is she a favorite in the entertainment industry, constantly dazzling the media with her pop hits and ridiculous wardrobe, but she is also quite the philanthropist. Gaga has become involved in various charities and benefits for the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, HIV/AIDS, United States immigration laws, and LGBTQ discrimination. And while the main function of Gaga’s philanthropy is benevolence, she has also broadened her fan base and gained respect from the public for her generosity. What’s the lesson here? It’s okay to be ambitious, but don’t forget the human side of things. Keep others in mind and they’ll do the same for you, too.

Gladwell, Malcolm. “The 10,000-Hour Rule.” Outliers: The Story of Success. New York: Little, Brown and, 2008. Print.
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Sarah Kismet is a member of the class of 2014 at Kenyon College, a surreal little place that compensates for its geographical solitude with magic, smiles, and bands you’ve never heard of. There, she edits the Kenyon Observer and tutors Economics. Sarah hails from New Albany, Ohio but is of Syrian origin. When she’s not obsessively writing to-do lists or hustling to complete them, she can be found running at the athletic center, reducing the worldwide candy population, asserting her opinions, or giggling uncontrollably.