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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 December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

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Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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