What 30 Highly Successful People Were Doing at Age 25
This article originally appeared on BusinessInsider.com.
Everyone's path to success is different.
For some, it's mostly linear. Others encounter more twists, turns, and bumps along the way.
J.K. Rowling, for instance, was still a struggling writer daydreaming about a magical world in her mid-twenties.
To prove that no two paths to success are alike, we've highlighted what Rowling and 29 other successful people were doing at age 25.
J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series on a train.
Rowling was 25 years old when she came up with the idea for Harry Potter during a delayed four-hour train ride in 1990.
She started writing the first book that evening, but it took her years to actually finish it. While working as a secretary for the London office of Amnesty International, Rowling was fired for daydreaming too much about Harry Potter, and her severance check would help her focus on writing for the next few years.
During these years, she got married, had a daughter, got divorced, and was diagnosed with clinical depression before finally finishing the book in 1995. It was published in 1997.
Mark Cuban was a bartender in Dallas.
At age 25, Cuban had graduated from Indiana University and had moved to Dallas. He started out as a bartender and then a salesperson for a PC software retailer. He got fired because he wanted to go close a deal rather than open a store in the morning. That helped inspire him to open his first business, MicroSolutions.
"When I got to Dallas, I was struggling — sleeping on the floor with six guys in a three-bedroom apartment," Cuban writes in his book "How to Win at the Sport of Business." "I used to drive around, look at the big houses, and imagine what it would be like to live there and use that as motivation."
Martha Stewart was a stockbroker for the firm of Monness, Williams, and Sidel, the original Oppenheimer & Co.
"There were very few women at the time on Wall Street … and people talked about this glass ceiling, which I never even thought about," Stewart said in an interview for PBS's MAKERS series. "I never considered myself unequal, and I think I got a very good education being a stockbroker."
In 1972, Stewart left Wall Street to be a stay-at-home mom. A year later, she started a catering business.
Ralph Lauren was a sales assistant at Brooks Brothers.
The former CEO of Ralph Lauren was born Ralph Lifshitz in the Bronx, New York, but changed his name at the age of 15. He went on to study business at Baruch College and served in the Army until the age of 24 when he left to work for Brooks Brothers.
At 26, Lauren decided to design a wide European-styled tie, which eventually led to an opportunity with Neiman Marcus. The next year, he launched the label "Polo."
Arianna Huffington was traveling to music festivals around the world for the BBC with her boyfriend at the time.
Before she was Arianna Huffington, she was Arianna Stassinopolous, and at the age of 21, she met the famed British journalist Henry Bernard Levin while on a panel for a quiz show.
For the next few years, Huffington traveled to music festivals around the world with Levin as he wrote for the BBC. Her relationship with Levin eventually ended because he did not want to marry or have children. Huffington moved to New York City at the age of 30. That year, her biography of Maria Callas was published, which she dedicated to Levin.
Richard Branson had already started the Virgin Records record label.
At age 20, Branson opened his first record shop, then a studio at 22, and launched the label at 23. By 30, his company was international.
Those early years were tough, he told Entrepreneur: "I remember them vividly. It's far more difficult being a small-business owner starting a business than it is for me with thousands of people working for us and 400 companies. Building a business from scratch is 24 hours, 7 days a week, divorces. It's difficult to hold your family life together; it's bloody hard work and only one word really matters — and that's surviving."
Lloyd Blankfein was an unhappy lawyer.
"I was as provincial as you could be, albeit from Brooklyn, the province of Brooklyn," Blankfein told William Cohen at Fortune Magazine.
At the time, he was a heavy smoker and occasional gambler. Despite the fact that he was on the partner track at the firm, he decided to switch to investment banking, joining J. Aron at the age of 27.
Madeline Albright was raising a family while beginning her political career.
The first female US Secretary of State and current professor of international relations at Georgetown University was launching her career in politics at 25 while also raising a family with then-husband Joseph Albright, according to Bio.
Albright graduated from Wellesley College in Massachusetts in 1959, where she majored in political science, and she began studying Russian and international relations while she raised twin daughters Alice and Anne in Washington, DC.
After moving to New York with her husband, Albright completed her education at Columbia University, where she earned a certificate in Russian studies in 1968 and her MA and PhD in public law and government by 1976.
During that time she impressed a former professor so much he encouraged Albright to enter politics, and she joined him in the West Wing as the National Security Council's congressional liaison, according to Bio.
Jay Z was already in the rap scene but was relatively unknown.
Born Shawn Carter, Jay Z grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, New York, and became known as "Jay Z" at the age of 20.
For the next few years he appeared alongside various other rappers, but "remained relatively anonymous" until he founded the record label Roc-A-Fella Records at the age of 27 with two other friends. The same year, Jay Z released his first album, "Reasonable Doubt."
Actress Jennifer Lawrence was an Oscar-winner raking in millions.
By the time she was 25, the actress had starred in the box-office hit "Hunger Games" trilogy and worked alongside a star-studded cast in the "X-Men" series.
At 22, she became the second-youngest winner of the best actress Oscar for her performance in "Silver Linings Playbook," and she has won many more awards for her work.
Hillary Rodham Clinton had just graduated from Yale Law School.
At age 23, Hillary Rodham Clinton began dating fellow Yale Law student Bill Clinton. She ended up staying at school an extra year to be with her boyfriend, and received a JD degree in 1973, just before turning 25. Clinton proposed marriage after graduation, but she declined.
That same year, Clinton began working at the Yale Child Study Center. Her first scholarly article, "Children Under the Law," was published in the Harvard Educational Review in late 1973, when she was 25.
After moving to Arkansas in 1975, Rodham Clinton finally agreed to marry Bill.
She'd go on to become the First Lady of Arkansas, The First Lady of the US, a US Senator, US Secretary of State, and the first woman be nominated for president by a major presidential party.
Barack Obama was throwing himself into community organizing in Chicago.
Between earning his bachelor's at Columbia University in 1983 and heading to Harvard Law in 1988, Barack Obama moved to Chicago for community organizing work.
At the age of 25, the future US president ran the Developing Communities Project, a faith-based not-for-profit organization.
Obama told the New Republic that he sought out the work because he was inspired by the civil rights movement.
Apple cofounder Steve Jobs took his company public and became a millionaire.
By the end of its first day of trading, in December 1980, Apple Computer had a market value of $1.2 billion, making its cofounders rich men. Jobs, one of the three cofounders, was 25.
He later told biographer Walter Isaacson that he made a pledge at that time to never let money ruin his life.
Actress, comedian, writer, and producer Tina Fey was a childcare registrar at the YMCA before joining famed improv troupe Second City.
After graduating from the University of Virginia, Fey moved to Chicago and hung around acting workshops and even worked as the childcare registrar at a YMCA before improv troupe Second City invited her to join.
Fey told The New Yorker that she joined Second City because she "knew it was where a lot of SNL people started," and in 1997 she sent scripts to "Saturday Night Live" producer Lorne Michaels, who then hired her as a writer.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos had a cushy job in finance.
At 24, the future Amazon founder and CEO went to work at Bankers Trust developing revolutionary software for banking institutions at that time, according to "Jeff Bezos: The Founder of Amazon.com" by Ann Byers.
Two years later, he became the company's youngest vice president.
Beyoncé was dropping her second solo album.
At the age of 25, the Destiny's Child star had already embarked on a solo career and taken the music world by storm.
Beyoncé's first solo effort came about in 2002, on her future husband Jay-Z's "'03 Bonnie & Clyde," Business Insider reported.
The following year, the award-winning singer dropped her first solo album "Dangerously in Love," and embarked on a tour for the album.
When Beyoncé turned 25 in 2006, she released her second solo album "B'Day" to coincide with her big day.
Warren Buffett was working as an investment salesman in Omaha.
In his early 20s, Buffett worked as an investment salesman for Buffett-Falk & Co. in Omaha before moving to New Yorkto be a securities analyst at age 26. During that year, he started Buffett Partnership, Ltd., an investment partnership in Omaha.
New York just wasn't for him, Buffett told NBC. "In some places it's easy to lose perspective. But I think it's very easy to keep perspective in a place like Omaha."
Ursula Burns started out as an intern, but worked her way up at Xerox throughout her 20s.
Burns overcame a tough upbringing in a New York City housing project to get a degree in mechanical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and then a master's from Columbia University.
Burns started out at Xerox as an intern at age 22 in 1980 and joined full time a year later after getting her master's. She rose rapidly through the ranks, working in various product development roles and was named CEO in 2009. Burns stepped down from the role in 2017.
"When I came to work at Xerox, I just chose to work. Somebody said 'how about this?' And I said OK, and I would go do that in the lab," Burns said in an interview for the PBS documentary "Makers." "Then somebody said how about doing some business planning. Then I started leaning more towards larger global systems problems. And systems problems are the business."
Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook was cash positive for the first time and hit 300 million users.
Zuckerberg had been hard at work on Facebook for five years by the time he hit age 25. In that year — 2009 — the company turned cash positive for the first time and hit 300 million users. He was excited at the time, but said it was just the start, writing on Facebook that "the way we think about this is that we're just getting started on our goal of connecting everyone."
The next year, he was named "Person of the Year" by Time magazine.
Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz was a Xerox salesman.
After graduating from Northern Michigan University, Schultz worked as a salesman for Xerox. His success there led a Swedish company named Hammerplast that made coffeemakers to recruit him at age 26.
While working for that company, he encountered the first Starbucks outlets in Seattle, and went on to join the company at age 29.
On his job in Xerox, Schultz writes in : "I learned more there than in college about the worlds of work and business. They trained me in sales, marketing, and presentation skills, and I walked out with a healthy sense of self-esteem. Xerox was a blue-chip pedigree company, and I got a lot of respect when I told others who my employer was ... But I can't say I ever developed a passion for word processors."
Kat Cole was a star Hooters employee.
Cole, COO and president of Focus Brands, North America and former president of Cinnabon, worked at Hooters for 15 years, starting as a hostess at 17 and eventually getting promoted to vice president by the time she was 26.
A star employee, at 19 she was asked by Hooters to go to Australia to help open a franchise location there, and she spent much of her early 20s training global employees and managers, Fortune reports.
Though she never earned a bachelor's degree, she eventually went on to get her MBA, according to Fortune.
"I was lucky that Hooters wasn't a more sophisticated company because there's no way someone my age would have had those chances," Cole told Fortune. "It wasn't like people graduating from Ivy League schools were dying to get a corporate job at Hooters."
Tesla and SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk was running his first internet company.
Before turning 25, Musk dropped out of his PhD program at Stanford to join the dot-com boom and launch his first internet company, Zip2, which provided business directories and maps, Ashlee Vance reports in "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future."
Compaq bought the company for $307 million four years later, and Musk used the money to launch his next startup venture, PayPal.
Oprah Winfrey was co-hosting a local talk show in Baltimore.
In 1978, a 24-year-old Winfrey was recruited to co-host WJZ's local talk show "People Are Talking." While there, she also hosted the local version of "Dialing for Dollars."
Winfrey remained in Baltimore throughout her mid- and late-20s, until moving to Chicago in 1983 to host "A.M. Chicago" for WLS-TV.
Pope Francis was studying philosophy.
As a young man, the Pope held down a number of unusual jobs, working as a bouncer and a lab assistant.
He became a novitiate of the Society of Jesus in 1958. By the age of 25, he had taken his first vows as a Jesuit, and was studying philosophy at Buenos Aires' San Miguel Seminary, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Sheryl Sandberg had met mentor Larry Summers and was getting a Harvard MBA.
At age 25, Sandberg had graduated at the top of the economics department from Harvard, worked at the World Bank under her former professor, mentor, and future Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, and had gone back to Harvard to get her MBA, which she received in 1995.
She went on to work at McKinsey, and at age 29 was Summers' Chief of Staff when he became Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary.
Her time at HBS was a ways before Google, but that experience helped her see the potential of the internet, she said in a 2012 commencement speech to HBS grads:
"It wasn't really that long ago when I was sitting where you are, but the world has changed an awful lot," Sandberg said. "My section, section B, tried to have HBS's first online class. We had to use an AOL chat room and dial up service (your parents can explain). We had to pass out a list of screen names, because it was unthinkable to put your real name on the internet. And it never worked."
Oracle founder Larry Ellison was working odd jobs as a programmer.
After moving to Berkeley, California, at 22, the college dropout turned billionaire Oracle founder used what he picked up in college and taught himself about computer programming. He found odd technical jobs at places like Fireman's Fund, Wells Fargo, and AMPEX until finally landing at Amdahl Corp., where he worked on the first IBM-compatible mainframe system.
Former Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was building a deep background in computer science.
He spent those summers working at the famed Xerox PARC labs, which helped create the computer workstation as we know it. There, he met the founder of Sun Microsystems, where he had his first corporate job.
In his early years as a programmer, "all of us never slept at night because computers were faster at night."
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was working toward a law degree at Harvard.
By the age of 25, Ginsburg had only just kicked off her law career.
After graduating from Cornell University, the future Supreme Court justice married Martin D. Ginsburg. The couple had a daughter in 1955, and the following year Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School.
Ginsburg told The New York Times that the dean of the law school asked her, "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?"
By the age of 25, Ginsburg was one year away from graduating law school.
Anderson Cooper was studying Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi.
Determined to become a reporter, Cooper told Media Bistro's David Hisrchmann that he had a friend create "a fake press pass on a Macintosh." He subsequently headed to Burma to cover a student uprising.
At the age of 25, Cooper was continuing to cover international conflict for Channel One while studying Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi, ABC News reported.
Marissa Mayer had just started her job as Google's 20th employee.
At 24, Mayer became employee No. 20 at Google and the company's first female engineer. She remained with the company for 13 years before moving on to become the CEO of Yahoo.
Google didn't have the sorts of lavish campuses it does now, Mayer said in an interview with VMakers, "During my interviews, which were in April of 1999, Google was a seven-person company. I arrived and I was interviewed at a ping pong table which was also the company's conference table, and it was right when they were pitching for venture capitalist money, so actually after my interview Larry and Sergey left and took the entire office with them."
Since everyone in the office interviewed you in those days, Mayer had to come back the next day for another round.