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10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn From These Millionaires and Billionaires Who Started With Nothing

10 Lessons Everyone Can Learn From These Millionaires and Billionaires Who Started With Nothing

What unites all humans is our ability to strive for our dreams: to overcome obstacles, defy expectations, and dare to believe in the most fragile of things – ourselves.

We are not here to deify the super-rich. They are not intrinsically smarter, more enlightened, or happier simply because of their mind-boggling fortunes. There are exceptionally successful people whose impact is not measured in dollars, but in justice prevailing, crafts mastered, children nurtured.

Wealth is not a signifier of worth, but it can signal victory over the fears that haunt us all. To say these people started from nothing is a lie. None of us have nothing. As long as we have air in our lungs and thoughts in our heads, we’ve got some powerful resources to work with. These millionaires and billionaires started with those resources, too, and created so much more.

1. As a lonely student he realized video gaming made him reclusive, so he turned the camera on himself, gaining 31 million subscribers and counting.

Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, the most subscribed YouTuber:

Felix Kjellberg

    How do you make money just playing video games? You become the guy everybody wishes they could play with. Yes, you’re good, so good that you can pick up any game and play it marginally well the first time. Then you film yourself playing every game out there – especially the stuff no one’s even heard of. But most importantly, you have fun.

    Felix doesn’t endorse stuff like many YouTubers. He literally just plays video games. And sticks chopsticks up his nose to see if he can sneeze with a straight face. From the beginning, Felix read every comment to learn from his audience. He let their comments be his guide, but he never compromised his conscience. He is genuine, relatable, and honest. He cares more about building his audience through content that meets his standards of integrity and fun than about making money. That’s the guy everyone wants to play with.

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    2. As a college student, she stopped going to class and chose to invest her parents’ college savings in an idea that is revolutionizing medicine.

    Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos:

    Elizabeth Holmes

      Who has the gall to ask, “What is the greatest change I could make in the world?” and actually follow through with it? At nineteen, Elizabeth had an idea that medical testing should be accessible by the people who need the information – the patients themselves.

      She didn’t make a big fuss about her idea; she just quietly went about getting it done. “I just decided I would figure out how to make it work.” When asked how she has that much conviction, she answered, “You have to believe in yourself.” Maybe that’s too simple. Or maybe it is that simple.

      3. He arrived in the US at 16 with only $500 and worked through college until he went on to engineer a thriving business out of a failing auto parts manufacturer.

      Shahid Khan, CEO of Flex-N-Gate and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars:

      Shahid Khan

        Shahid has an amazing talent for turning adversity into opportunity. Throughout his life, when he found himself in situations that seemed completely un-winnable, he has consistently been able to find the one leverage point to turn it all around. As he’s done so, he’s rescued thousands of American jobs that would have been lost without his savvy.

        He’s applying his innovative know-how to a new project: re-inventing the Jacksonville Jaguars. If he can turn this team around, he will prove again the power of his never-say-die optimism.

        4. Taught remedial English before starting as a stand-up comic at age 40.

        Joy Behar, long-time co-host of Emmy-winning talk show “The View”:

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        Joy Behar

          Most middle-aged women will tell you they have an unwanted superpower: they’re invisible. When Joy’s divorce went through, she decided she had nothing else to lose. Instead of surrendering to invisibility, she grabbed the mike and demanded to be seen. After years in the biz, she caught the attention of Barbara Walters who brought her on “The View.” She rode that wild ride for 16½ years.

          Joy calls it like she sees it. In an interview with John McCain before the 2008 election, she pressured him to answer for his “lies” on air, and this won her the admiration of many who feel that journalists don’t do enough to call politicians to task. Now she is in the position to pursue an abundance of opportunities or enjoy retirement at age 72 with over $8 million in the bank

          5. Raised by his mother and disabled father in housing projects, he would go on to create business that became a household name around the world.

          Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks:

          Howard Schultz

            Waking at 4:30 each morning, Howard’s habits of hard work have served him throughout his life. He turned a football scholarship into business opportunities that allowed him to travel internationally. On a trip to Europe, he enjoyed the café culture that was missing in the US. Coming home, he invested in a small coffee shop business and turned it into the global presence we know today.

            Because he grew up in a home where his father’s disability condemned the family to poverty, he created one of the most progressive systems of benefits for Starbucks employees. While Starbucks has its critics, Howard takes this criticism personally. He genuinely wants to create a business of passion and substance, which is why he’s up at 4:30 and continually striving to improve.

            6. Rose from a frightening childhood to become the daily voice of hope for billions of people through The Oprah Show.

            Oprah Winfrey, CEO of Harpo Productions and The Oprah Winfrey Network:

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            Oprah Winfrey

              Name the obstacle, and chances are Oprah’s faced it. Poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, excessive weight. She doesn’t hide these struggles, which is one reason why she is able to connect with so many people. In a public forum, she doesn’t parade her issues about, but she doesn’t pretend that they don’t exist either. She, like PewDiePie, is the friend you wish you had.

              Oprah also trusts that what fascinates her will fascinate her audience, too. She dares to create what she longs to see in the world. And when she does, she builds foundational systems to sustain projects and seeks out aligned leaders to get the job done.

              7. When he couldn’t get hired by KFC, he hatched his own plan to create the largest eCommerce site in China.

              Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba:

              Jack Ma

                Jack is a quirky fellow, and those quirks haven’t always worked to his advantage. In fact, for quite a while his life was an embarrassing mess. He never gave up, and eventually found himself on a business trip to the US where he saw the success of eCommerce. He decided he could recreate that in China. Out of an apartment, he began a business that is now worth over $20 billion.

                Jack’s success comes from his ability to cooperate with people and create circumstances that solve critical problems. The edge he has over his competitors is that he created a system to address the distrust of eCommerce. Customers weren’t buying because they weren’t sure they would get what they paid for. When Jack led a team to fix this, the business boomed.

                8. As a cocktail waitress living in her car, she sobered up to start a multi-million business from a phone booth.

                Dani Johnson, motivational author and speaker:

                Dani Johnson

                  Dani posted handwritten fliers for a weight-loss product in a post office, and from a pay phone she made calls to potential customers. Calling a successful weight-loss center as a customer, she wrote down everything they asked her. Then she called her list of leads and asked those questions. It worked. She didn’t ask for someone to give her permission. She used the little she knew about the world to start something and just repeated what worked.

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                  Dani also learned the greatest key to success: don’t sell the product, don’t talk about yourself, just focus completely on the customer. Get them talking about themselves, listen, and then help them solve their problems.

                  9. As a boy in Sweden, he sold products door-to-door before starting the furniture company at 17 years old.

                  Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA:

                  Ingvar Kamprad

                    While you may have never heard of this man, even Fight Club’s Tyler Durden had an IKEA catalog. His anonymity is one of Ingvar’s keys to success. It’s been said that he’s taken the bus to red carpet events and that he’s so thrifty that he keeps salt and pepper packets. He has made a concerted effort to remain an “everyman” so that he stays connected to the people his products are created for.

                    The other major key to Ingvar’s success: he knows the minute details of his business. His knowledge is encyclopedic. That only comes when a person takes the time learn and realizes that these little details matter.

                    10. Cleaned floors to support himself and his disabled mother on welfare before creating the messaging app used by billions of users.

                    Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp:

                    Jan Koum

                      Jan has a distinct dislike for the clutter advertising adds to our lives. Growing up in Soviet-era Ukraine, advertising was absent from his daily life. When he immigrated to the US at 17, he saw how it affected the visual experience and effected business at Yahoo! where he later worked. WhatsApp does not sell ads and collects as little information as possible about its users so that it can focus on its mission.

                      Jan’s success has also come from his passion for the idea of private, convenient, inexpensive communication. He knows first-hand what it’s like to not be able to connect with those he cares about or fear that what is said will be monitored for political control. His passion and principles are solid, guiding every choice he makes.

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                      Last Updated on July 17, 2019

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

                      What happens in our heads when we set goals?

                      Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

                      Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

                      According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

                      Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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                      Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

                      Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

                      The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

                      Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

                      So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

                      Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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                      One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

                      Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

                      Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

                      The Neurology of Ownership

                      Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

                      In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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                      But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

                      This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

                      Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

                      The Upshot for Goal-Setters

                      So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

                      On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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                      It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

                      On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

                      But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

                      More About Goals Setting

                      Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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