Many wealthy people can trace their successful beginnings to their 20s. After all, your 20s are typically the time when you’ll experience exciting life changes, such as graduating from college, getting your first job and living on your own. But, it’s also the age where you’ll learn hard lessons, including how to deal with rejection or how to survive on a small paycheck.
If you’re a millennial, these success stories might inspire you. From Oprah Winfrey to Mark Cuban, click through to see what these millionaires — and billionaires — were doing in their 20s.
Bill Gates: Cobbled Together Software for Hardware He’d Never Seen
Every young entrepreneur needs someone to take a chance on them, but that chance must be earned. Work hard to create something of value, so when an opportunity presents itself, you can bring something to the table that makes you indispensable. That’s one of the ways Bill Gates built his fortune.
In 1974, Harvard student Gates read an article in Popular Electronics about a new computer made by a small company in New Mexico. Gates and fellow Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen contacted the company and claimed they were working on software designed for the computer, reports BBC.
When the computer manufacturer requested a demonstration, Gates and Allen scrambled to get the program ready. When the program was tested for the first time in Albuquerque, the software worked perfectly. Soon after, both Allen and Gates headed to New Mexico to work on the software.
Mark Cuban: Got Fired and Inspired to Be His Own Boss
To be a successful billionaire entrepreneur like Mark Cuban, you might want to follow his example. Cuban learned a life lesson at 25 that made him fully commit to starting his own business.
When a lazy, egotistical boss told Cuban not to chase a client, he did it anyway. The boss fired him on the spot for disobeying — even though Cuban would have earned the company $15,000.
“[B]eing fired from that job was the determining factor in my business life,” Cuban wrote in an article for Forbes in 2013. “I decided then and there to start my own company. I didn’t have that much to lose, and it was something that I knew I had to do.”
Ever since, Cuban has spent his life trying to do the opposite of everything that boss represented, making the unmotivated, ego-driven supervisor a kind of reverse mentor. In fact, Cuban shuns titles like “CEO” and seems to value hard work and good sales numbers over everything else.
Today, the millennials who follow their instincts, take chances and stick to their beliefs will likely be the ones who go the furthest.
Richard Branson: Launched a Mail-Order Record Startup
Virgin Group founder and billionaire Sir Richard Branson struggled throughout his schooling and forewent college. Instead, the 65-year-old followed his entrepreneurial instinct and started selling records by mail in 1970, reports Inc. He started a mail-order business when he was just 20, and it soon parlayed into a record shop, then a studio and eventually a record label that signed then-controversial acts like the Sex Pistols.
Virgin is now one of the most high-profile companies in the world, with dozens of investments and subsidiaries. It all started because Branson identified a problem in the market — high record costs — and positioned himself as the solution.
The takeaway? Look for things that bug you about an industry you love, come up with a solution and work hard until the money rolls in.
Sam Walton: Worked as a Retail Sales Trainee
When Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton died in 1992, his namesake store was the giant of the American retail landscape. But Walton’s customer-first focus started early, with his 1940 retail job at a JCPenney store, reports Entrepreneur magazine.
As a 20-something sales trainee, Walton put the customer first, often leaving paperwork undone. Walton’s boss even told him that he wasn’t cut out for retail. Despite this, Walton’s success was proven by the extra $25 in commissions he earned each month — equal to over $400 today.
“There is only one boss — the customer,” Walton reportedly said. “And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
If you’re thinking about one day starting a business, always remain humble and take care of your customers and supporters — whether you’re a sales trainee or the CEO. Without them, even the biggest and strongest companies can fall.
Steve Jobs: Founded Apple Out of His Garage
The late Steve Jobs was arguably the most important inventor and executive to emerge from the modern tech revolution — and certainly one of the most prominent. But in 1976, 21-year-old Jobs was just a young college dropout messing around with new technology in his family’s garage with Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, reports TIME.
Today, Apple is the most valuable brand in the world that’s worth more than $150 billion, according to Forbes. And it all started with Jobs as a curious young man.
No one learns it all in college — or outside of college — and young people should consider themselves sponges who are just beginning their real education. Surround yourself with people who share your passions, and make sure those people are more experienced than you, more advanced than you and more knowledgeable than you. You can’t learn if you’re the smartest person in the room.
Oprah Winfrey: Got Demoted, But Stayed Open to New Opportunities
In her early 20s, Oprah Winfrey got a promotion to be a co-anchor of a Baltimore news station — a huge accomplishment for someone so young. Yet, Winfrey proved too green for the responsibility and after just a few months was demoted.
“I shall never forget April 1, 1977,” Winfrey said in an interview with Baltimore Magazine. “I got called out of the newsroom to meet with the general manager. … I was devastated. I knew it was a horrible demotion …”
Soon, another opportunity came up to co-host a daytime talk show. Winfrey initially resisted the idea but decided to try it. “From that first day, I knew instantly this is what I was supposed to do,” she told the magazine. “I felt like I had come home to myself.”
Like Winfrey, 20-somethings shouldn’t give up if they encounter setbacks in their careers. Sometimes, what might seem like a failure is actually an opportunity to achieve greatness.
Kanye West: Survived a Devastating Car Accident
In October 2002, rap superstar Kanye West’s career — and life — was almost cut short after a car accident. After the accident, he told MTV, “My jaw was broken in three places. I had nasal fractures — I’d be talking to people and my nose would start bleeding.”
But just a few weeks later, West recorded his first single “Through the Wire,” which he rapped through his broken jaw, reports Rolling Stone.
Reflecting on the accident, West realized that his legacy could have ended with mediocre work. “Now when I go into the studio, I act like this could possibly be my last day,” he said in a 2005 interview with USA Today.
Every 20-something should remember that the future belongs to them — but they need to give it their all in the here and now, too.
Eminem: Released a Failed Album Before Getting Picked Up By Dre
Marshall Mathers — also known by his stage name Eminem — came from a broken home and endured bullies in Detroit’s east side, reports Rolling Stone. But, Mathers found a passion for words and rapping, and verbally sparred in the fiercely competitive Detroit rap battle scene. Even so, he failed to reach stardom with his first solo album, “Infinite.”
Eminem kept at it, though, and in 1998 his “The Slim Shady” EP landed with Dr. Dre, a rap legend and super producer. Dr. Dre listened to the EP, recognized Eminem’s impressive talent right away and signed him. Eminem went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful rappers of all time.
Through years of rejection and adversity, the only thing Eminem really had turned out to be the only thing he needed — persistence. When they’re ready to give up, millennials can look to Eminem as an example of what can be achieved if they keep at it.
Madonna: Took Odd Jobs to Pursue Singing
In 1978, when she was around 20 years old, pop superstar Madonna moved to New York, reports the Rolling Stone. But before she became known as a “Material Girl,” Madonna worked a number of odd jobs in the city to support herself.
“Trying to be a professional dancer, paying my rent by posing nude for art classes, staring at people staring at me naked,” Madonna wrote in a piece for Harper’s Bazaar. “Daring them to think of me as anything but a form they were trying to capture with their pencils and charcoal. I was defiant. Hell-bent on surviving. On making it.”
But eventually, her hustling paid off. By the early ’80s, she recorded and released her self-titled debut album — and the rest is pop music history.
No matter what the industry or the circumstance, there will never be a substitute for hard work and discipline. These are the traits that are essential to succeeding in any pursuit.