Getting There

Inspiration can come from anywhere but mostly from people that are part of our surroundings. Managers, teachers, athletes, artists, even family members can inspire you. We can call these individuals that inspire us, mentors, because if we follow their path and heed their advice we can achieve greatness.

Most people don’t get the chance to find someone that will personally help them, however, we can follow the experiences of other people which will help us forge our own path.

This article will allow you to meet six prosperous individuals who successfully left a mark on the world. They all followed different roads and battled distinct challenges.

Inspiration is the one thing that connects these stories. Your road to success will probably be long and full of holes, however, true inspiration can be the best “mentor” that you can have.

This article will cover the following:

  • How strong soldier values can create a prosperous and popular artist;
  • How bad communication skills lead to the creation of Craigslist; and
  • How a single undergraduate was the reason behind Teach for America.

The child of a successful engineer follows his own path to become dean of Harvard Business School.

Looking up to your parents is as common as it gets. A lot of children chose their career by following their parent’s paths.

Nitin Nohria, a Harvard Business School dean is a clear example of that.

Nohria’s father was a true inspiration and a true role model for his son. He managed to graduate from high school, even though he was born in a small rural village in India where education was really scarce. From there he went to study engineering abroad. This helped him get a CEO position in a huge company once he was back in India.

Nohria wanted to follow the same path in order to make his father proud. However, he quickly noticed that engineering might not be his calling because his grades were rather poor. Nohria had a real passion for literature which took most of his time.

The grades for all the science classes never rose above average but Nohria was a genius when it came to elective courses. He excelled in literature, history and most importantly, economics.

After a certain period, Nohria knew that engineering wasn’t the way to go. He decided to try something new and luckily enough, he received a fellowship that allowed him to be a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to study economics. Nohria didn’t think twice and moved to the United States right away.

It was noticeable right away that he has found his calling at MIT. Nohria excelled in all humanities classes which provoked him to switch to a degree in management. Finally, he successfully completed a doctorate in that subject.

Thanks to all of his hard work, he was given a chance to be the dean of the Harvard Business School.

According to Nohria, he has been a part of the American dream. He struggled and worked hard to create amazing opportunities for himself, which bore fruit at the end. Even though he didn’t follow the same path as his father, he still had a fantastic mentor who guided him to greatness.

This is not true for all parents because some inspire their children in a totally different way. Nevertheless, children often achieve amazing things by doing things their way.

Performance artist Marina Abramović channeled a troubled childhood into emotionally charged art.

Inattentive and unloving parents are often the reason for severe psychological stress which can seriously undermine a person.

In many cases though, a hard childhood played the decisive factor when it came to motivation. Marina Abramovič, a performance artist totally fits this profile.

Born in Belgrade, Serbia, Abramovič didn’t really spend a lot of time with her parents, since they were active in paramilitary organizations.

Most of the time they were gone, but they were also very strict and controlling during the time they were home.

Maria’s mother was seriously stern with her and didn’t allow her to play with other children. She wouldn’t even allow Maria to sleep in a crooked position and would wake her up if that occurred.

Abramovič was alone for most of her childhood which meant she had to find ways to entertain herself. She was only three years old when she learned how to draw and paint. Amazingly enough, Maria was only 12 when she had her first art show.

She went on to graduate art from academies in both Belgrade and Zagreb, Croatia. It was there she found her true art direction.

One day, Abramovič was looking at the sky when several high-speed planes flew above her head. Their speed left behind contrail lines in the sky. The forms managed to captivate her because they were there for a few seconds and then disappeared. This led her to believe that art can appear from anything, even her own body. It was at that time that Abramovič decided to pursue a path as a performance artist.

However, during her beginnings, performance art wasn’t really a respected art form, which led to disapproval, censure, and even ridicule. Abramovič was never bothered by that and she continued creating fantastic performances using her body. Thanks to this determination, Maria is now a worldwide success.

Craig Newmark’s experiences as a nerdy outsider led him to foster community building online.

Being a nerd is not easy at all. They spend most of their time surrounded by electronics and have absolutely zero social skills. This makes them look weird to other people, which is why most nerds can’t seem to connect with the rest of the world.

Although, to be true a lot of nerds have become major success stories, especially these days. One such example is Craig Newmark who successfully combined technology with the one area he was never good at - communication.

Newmark had an idea on how to increase his communication skills by using the internet - a technology that was quite new back in 1995. He saw this as a second chance to connect with other people.

The internet was great for connecting people and Newmark decided to take advantage of that.

He began by sending emails to friends about technology and art events. Newmark had a whole list of events and people quickly found out about it. After some time a lot of people suggested that he adds information about job openings and sales ads to his list.

It took only six months for his idea to grow as his email couldn’t handle his 240 listings. He then decided to create a whole list server, which he named Craig’s List. By 1997, Craig’s List was getting more than one million views per month. Two years later the Craigslist Company was born.

Craigslist has grown massively since then and Newmark still makes sure that his company is run by his original motto, “Give people a break.” Newmark’s dream was to create a place through which people can connect to resolve everyday problems.

Wendy Kopp proved that being idealistic doesn’t necessarily mean being unrealistic.

It’s a thin line between ambition and craziness, however only you can tell if you are crossing it. Other people can say that what you aim for is unreasonable but whether that’s true depends only on you. Wendy Kopp is a prime example of how too much ambition can be great if the final goal is worth it.

It all began while Kopp’s was a freshman at the Princeton University. She wanted to make a difference so she joined a student organization. Together with several members of the organization, they went to a CEO of a grand St.Louis-based company because they needed to raise funds.

The CEO followed their presentation and then pointed to a poor neighborhood nearby asking them why he should support their cause when clearly other people needed his money more. Kopp felt he was absolutely right and an idea sparked in her head.

She then decided that her path should be dedicating her life to a greater cause: equal education. Kopp came up with a plan for improving public education. Her idea was to recruit and train America’s best graduates to become teachers in rather poor school districts.

Kopp believed that she needed a budget of $2.5 million but she received no support from her professors. They all thought she was way too idealistic and that such a large sum could never be raised. However, Wendy stood firm and started realizing her plan.

She sent hundreds of letters to CEO’s and large business owners in order to raise the required funds. However, almost all of them told her the same thing - you are aiming too high.

Kopp took matters into her own hands and started recruiting students for her project. Over 2,500 students were interested and because of that the media quickly followed. As soon as the story went public, hundreds of donors started getting in touch with her. The funds were raised in no time at all. Former presidential candidate Ross Perot even threw in a $500,000 grant.

Kopp’s program is known as Teach For America and the training she had in mind began with 489 teachers. Kopp ignored rejection and kept following her path, which resulted in such a positive outcome for her project.

Spanx’s Sara Blakely learned from her past failures to discover her calling purely by chance.

Everyone has a dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Most people give up on their childhood dreams, however, some manage to stand firm and hold on to their dreams.

Sara Blakely always wanted to be a lawyer. She wanted to be just like her father who worked in court while she was still a kid. However, school admission tests proved to be a strong burden for Blakely as she failed them twice.

When this happened she gave up on her dream and settled for a job where she went from door to door and sold fax machines.

It wasn’t a very rewarding job, however, it did teach Blakely one thing - how to ignore the word “no”. Customers could scream and threaten to call the police on her but she never backed down.

Even though Blakely was good at her job, she felt that she needs to sell a product that she actually cared for. The only solution was to come up with a product herself.

One day she was getting dressed to go to a party and she cut off the feet from a pair of pantyhose because she wanted to wear them with sandals. During the night she noticed how flattering it felt to have that hose under her dress. Blakely then realized that this is the product she could create and sell: invisible and comfortable shapewear.

In secret, she spent almost a year of research and also patented her product. Most local producers ignored her and refused to make a prototype of her product, however, Blakely never backed down on her idea. One factory owner who had three daughters thought that her product might be perfect for his girls and decided to give Blakely her chance.

Through the years Blakely’s Spanx became a very popular product which was mentioned on many widely known TV shows like Sex and the City and The Oprah Winfrey Show. All of this was made possible because she failed the law school admittance test. If she got accepted Blakely would never have become a successful businessman and one of the youngest billionaires in the world.

John Paul DeJoria experienced astonishing success but never forgot where he came from.

It is unheard of for a business leader to take showers at a public tennis court and spend only $2.50 daily. However, this is exactly what luxury brand owner John Paul DeJoria had to do in order to successfully start his business.

DeJoria’s mother taught him that success comes only through hard work and having money has nothing to do with it.

He had a rough childhood and there were times where he, his brother and his mother had only a few dimes to spend.

Nevertheless, they were a happy family. They had food on the table and they also managed a small garden. This is where DeJoria got his business approach. He wanted to be successful so he took all kinds of jobs just to make that happen.

He made flower boxes, drove tow trucks and even went door to door to sell encyclopedias. Through all of this, he always made sure his customers were making the right choice which helped him develop as a manager.

At one point DeJoria decided to join forces with Paul Mitchell, an old friend. Together with Mitchell, they created one of the largest professional hair-care companies in America, John Paul Mitchell Systems.

At the beginning, they didn’t have a lot of money to run their business and DeJoria even had to live in his car. However, their resolve was strong and with time, success arrived.

After this successful project, DeJoria founded many other businesses. One of which is the renowned tequila brand Patrón. He also has some dealings with the diamond trade, however, he never abandoned his principles of helping customers make the right decision.

Final Summary

It can take a whole life to create a successful venture, which is proven by everything listed above. It doesn’t matter if one’s childhood is inspirational or hard and should be forgotten, mentors always learn from their experiences. By doing that they discover skills and values that will help them later in life.

Actionable advice:

Make yourself heard!

If you find yourself in a meeting where people are not following and paying attention to your words, think about how you sound. If you sound nervous, sarcastic, timid or pessimistic people will ignore what you are saying. Always try to transfer enthusiasm and optimism through your voice and everyone will listen to you.

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