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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 October 22, 2020

                      2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                      2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

                      Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

                      Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

                      Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

                      Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

                      Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

                      By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

                      The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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                      1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

                      Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

                      Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

                      Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

                      When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

                      The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

                      Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

                      To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

                      Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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                      We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

                      It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

                      After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

                      Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

                      Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

                      To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

                      Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

                      Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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                      When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

                      Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

                      We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

                      When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

                      Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

                      2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

                      If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

                      The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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                      To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

                      With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

                      So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

                      • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
                      • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
                      • Say no to all else.
                      • Say no again.
                      • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
                      • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
                      • Meditate.
                      • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
                      • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
                      • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
                      • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
                      • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
                      • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

                      Final Thoughts

                      These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

                      Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

                      More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

                      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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