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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 March 23, 2021

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

You need more than time management. You need energy management

1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

2. Determine your “peak hours”

Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

3. Block those high-energy hours

Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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