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15 Inspiring College Dropouts Who Prove Hard Work is the Way to Success

15 Inspiring College Dropouts Who Prove Hard Work is the Way to Success

One of the foremost concerns in most people’s lives is education. Whether you face high expectations, difficult life circumstances, or simply struggle to flourish in formal learning settings, it can be easy to get carried away with letting your academic pursuits define you. Regardless of how successful you are in school, it’s important to remember that academic pursuits only define a handful of our potentially outstanding qualities. While academics is the most reliable way to find a comfortable career, working extremely hard is the key to success – with or without a degree. Whether academics appeal to you or not, these 15 inspiring college dropouts can teach us all a thing or two about going the extra mile for our careers.

Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates: Jump In

Three tech giants we expect to see on any list of successful college dropouts are Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. Despite many of us knowing some of their stories, this doesn’t make their accomplishments any less impressive.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of school because they were passionate about business opportunities. They then went on to be integral to home computing. Mark Zuckerberg, on the other hand, launched the early version of Facebook while at school, then dropped out to make the site grow beyond a social network or a few universities. In the process, he changed the way we interact with each other online forever. Before this, however, all three completely immersed themselves in their pursuits. They spent months eating, sleeping, and breathing their new journeys, turning a few innovative ideas into huge waves in the technology industry.

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Ellen Degeneres: Persevere

One comedian beloved by nearly everyone is also successful college dropout. Ellen Degeneres, famous for her sitcom, talkshow, and voice acting, dropped out of college after only one semester when it was clear she was not happy in class. After leaving school, Ellen worked for years in mainly restaurant and customer service positions, all the while pursuing non- or low-paying stand up nights at local clubs and coffee shops. Four years later, in 1981, she became an emcee for a local comedy club. She then toured for years, but didn’t get a real break in her career until 1986, when she was featured on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

After following her dream with little success for nearly a decade, Ellen finally found herself with opportunities in film and television. A true testament to where hard work can get you, this is one dropout who never lost her positive outlook.

Brad Pitt: Follow Your Dreams

Another college dropout who clearly had a better plan is Brad Pitt. This famous actor left the University of Missouri to pursue his love of film just weeks before graduating. Brad Pitt worked odd jobs around Los Angeles for about five years, all the while landing bit parts in TV shows. In 1991, nine years after enrolling in university, Brad Pitt landed a role in Thelma & Louise that opened the door to more movie roles. However, it took another two years before Brad gained attention for his roles in A River Runs Through It and Kalifornia. Another college dropout who required dedication and persistence, Brad Pitt’s devotion to his passion made all the difference in his career.

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Oprah Winfrey: Ignore Detractors

Another super famous college dropout, Oprah left the University of Tennesse midway through her studies when she was offered a job. Oprah worked on radio as she began her university studies, then quickly became the first black female news anchor when she joined a local news crew in Nashville. Oprah was then offered a co-anchor position on the evening news in Baltimore, leaving her formal education behind. From there, Oprah joined a morning talk show in Chicago. Oprah took the show from last place in the ratings to first, all in a matter of months. As they say, the rest is history, but dropping out of college certainly doesn’t seem to have held Oprah Winfrey back.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: You Are More Than Your Grades

F. Scott Fitzgerald, the literary genius and author of The Great Gatsby, rarely comes to mind when we think about college dropouts. However, this great writer left his education at Princeton because of failing grades. In 1913, F. Scott Fitzgerald enrolled in Princeton, but quickly focused on extracurricular writing activities. Despite success in school writing publications, he was placed on academic probation in 1917. He then joined the army, but was never deployed, as World War I ended soon after.

This author was broke for several years, ending up writing in his parents’ house and doing car repairs. F. Scott Fitzgerald continued to see himself in a different light, however, and finished a novel that was published in 1920. This writing legend’s rise to success came soon after, inspiring proof that no one is defined by his or her school performance.

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Ralph Lauren: Do It Yourself

Another name rarely associated with successful college dropouts is this high-end fashion designer. Ralph Lauren originally studied business, but only completed two years of study. He then joined the army, but eventually became a necktie salesman. Inspired by European tie designs, he pitched his own design to the company he worked for. The company rejected it, leading him to start his own tie company from a small office in New York City. After only a year, Ralph Lauren attracted the attention of Neiman Marcus, who ordered 1,200 ties. From there, Ralph Lauren started his own store, eventually moving into clothing design as well. Highly respected around the world, particularly for his contribution to semiformal attire, Ralph Lauren is another incredibly successful college dropout.

John Lennon: You Don’t Have to Fit In

Another college dropout who certainly wasn’t held back by his lack of academic achievement is John Lennon. One fourth of The Beatles, John Lennon remains one of the most famous people in the world. John was always more dedicated to music than school, failing all of his high school graduation exams. John Lennon wheedled his way into art school, but was expelled after a few years because of distracting behavior. John then began touring with the band he formed in high school. Around the time of their tour to Germany, the band was renamed The Beatles, and replaced two members with George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Obviously headed for greatness even without an academic qualification, this is another successful college dropout who is a testament to aiming high.

Lady Gaga: Try, Try Again

More well known for her high energy pop tunes and eccentric fashions, Lady Gaga is also a college dropout. Back when she was known as Stefani Germanotta, Lady Gaga was one of twenty students accepted into a conservatory program at an art campus of New York University. After her second year, however, Lady Gaga dropped out to pursue a music career. After working with two different music groups, spending years playing clubs and bars, and a few failed record deals, the singer/songwriter rose to fame with her first solo album. Consistently one of the world’s top-selling artists, Lady Gaga is just as successful as any other college dropout on this list.

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Daniel Ek: Start Now

Another technology giant who is also a college dropout is Daniel Ek. A strong interest in business early on led Daniel to start his first company when he was just 14. After graduating high school, Daniel pursued a degree at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, but dropped out before finishing. Daniel has been most successful with his site Spotify, a highly used online music streaming service. Currently estimated to have a net worth of $400 million, Daniel Ek’s early forays into business taught him to take initiative and pursue ideas immediately.

Wolfgang Puck: Work, Work, Work

Another testament to what a hard-working attitude can get you, this world-renowned chef dropped out of school to become an apprentice in a kitchen at Hotel de Paris in Monaco. The position required long hours and hard work, but Wolfgang Puck was unusually dedicated to his craft. Puck became so skilled that when he moved to the United States at age 24, it was only two years until he became a part-owner of Los Angeles restaurant Ma Maison. Yet another example of hard work making all the difference in life.

Tom Hanks: School Isn’t the Only Place You Should Study

Known around the world for his acting skills, Tom Hanks clearly was not held back by dropping out of university. Hanks studied theater at university, which he attended for a little over two years. Tom was an eager student, but traded his formal education for an internship opportunity with a theater company in Ohio. He eventually spent years with the company, learning all aspects of theater production. Tom Hanks was also fond of constantly watching theater shows, attending by himself and growing familiar with great playwrights. Six years after starting with the company in Ohio, Tom Hanks landed the role in the film Splash, which was his first big break.

Matt Mullenweg: Just Go for It

Another incredible college dropout from the tech world is Matt Mullenweg. Best known for co-creating WordPress, Matt studied Political Science before dropping out of the University of Houston. While studying at university, Matt began working on a coding project with a few friends. The project soon became the first versions of WordPress, a massively popular online blogging service. When the technology site CNET asked Matt to work with them on WordPress, Matt left school to further perfect the service he started. Soon, Matt founded Automatic, a company that, along with WordPress, runs a number of online sites. Proof that when you have a great idea, you should commit to it.

Arash Ferdowsi: Know When to Move On

This tech innovator is known for creating the popular storage site Dropbox, which he first launched with his business partner while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While in his final year, Arash thought Dropbox could be bigger, but was limited by his location. Arash left MIT for San Francisco in order to raise venture capital for his new site. Now valued at $5–10 billion, this successful company was definitely the right move for Arash Ferdowsi.

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Alicia Prince

A writer, filmmaker, and artist who shares about lifestyle tips and inspirations on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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