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December28,2008
Money&Career

25oftheGreatestSelfMadeMeninAmericanHistory

TheideaoftheselfmademanisinextricablytiedupwiththatoftheAmericandream.Itishisimagethat
hasluredthousandsofimmigrantstoourshores,allhopingforthechancetoturnahandfulofbeansinto
avastfortune.Theselfmademanishewhocomesfromunpromisingcircumstances,whoisnotborn
intoprivilegeandwealth,andyetbyhisownefforts,bypullinghimselfupbythebootstraps,managesto
becomeagreatsuccessinlife.FrederickDouglass,aselfmademanhimself,saidthediscussionofself
mademenwasthediscussionofmanhooditself,andthisinitsbroadestandmostcomprehensive
sense.Douglasssensedthatthestoryoftheselfmademanisthestoryofmanlinesspersonified.The
selfmademanharnessesandutilizesthemostimportantmasculinequalities:hardwork,perseverance,
andmostofall,personalresponsibility.Thestoryoftheselfmademanembodiesthegoalofeveryman:
tobecomethecaptainofhisowndestiny.
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Whatisaselfmademan?
Althoughtypicallyassociatedwiththeragstorichesstory,aselfmademanisanyonewhoattainsfar
greatersuccessthanhisoriginalcircumstanceswouldhaveindicatedwaspossible.Theselfmademan
oftenhastoovercomegreatobstaclestoachievehisgoals.Selfmademenattaintheirsuccessthrough
education,hardwork,andsheerwillpower.Whilenomanisanisland,itsnotexternalhelporspecial
relationshipsthatmakethecrucialdifferenceintheselfmademansrise.
Norisluckthedecidingfactor.Societylovesthestoryofamanwhosesuccesscametohimlargelyby
chance,fromanopportunitydroppedfromthesky.Suchstoriesallowunsuccessfulmentoexcusetheir
failureasduetounavoidablebadluckanddemeritthesuccessofothersbychalkingtheirachievements
uptochance.Sadly,toomanymentodaybelievethatloungingontheshore,waitingfortheirshipto
comein,constitutesthebestpathwaytoreachingtheirgoals.Instead,selfmadementhroughouthistory
havemadetheirownwayinlifebyreachingdeepinsidethemselvesandthroughwillpowerandelbow
grease,creatingtheirowndestiny.Whiletherearealwaysmanyfactorstosuccess,allaresubordinateto
work,whichisthegreatkeytosuccess.

TheHistoryoftheSelfMadeMan
Inhisrisefrombeingthesonofacandlemakertoalegendamongmen,BenjaminFranklinbecame
Americasoriginalselfmademan.AbrahamLincolnlikewisecapturedthepublicimaginationwhenhe
madetheimprobableleapfromlowlylogcabintotheWhiteHouse.Yettheconceptreallytookholdin
AmericancultureduringthepostCivilWarperiod.ThesocalledSecondIndustrialRevolutionwasin
fullswing,newinventionsquicklymademenrichandfamous,andfactoriessprungfromtheground,
seeminglyovernight.Whileayoungmansdestinyhadformerlybeenlaidoutforhimpracticallyatbirth
(hewouldfollowhisfatherintothefamilybusiness)thepossibilitynowexistedtoleavehearthandhome
andstrikeoutforonesindividualsuccess.Fortheyoungmanwhowaswillingtoworkhardandget
ahead,thenationseemedtoofferinnumerableopportunitiestostrikeitrich.Inspiredbyrealexamples
likeAndrewCarnegieandthefictionalheroesofHoratioAlgersnovels,amanssuccessseemedlimited
onlybyhisdriveandambition.
Aftertheheydayoftheselfmademan,theconcepttookseveralhits.Duringthe1920s,America
experienceda(thankfully)briefinfatuationwitheugenicsandtheideathatamansdestinyandcharacter
werealmostentirelydeterminedbyhisDNA.Theideaoftheselfmademanwasfurtherweakened
duringtheGreatDepression,whenmenwhohadseeminglydonealltherightthingsworkedhard,
scrimped,saved,andinvestedsawtheirfortuneswipedoutandalltheyhadworkedforwashedaway.
Buffetedbygraveexternalforces,itwashardtoretainfaithintheideathatonesliferemainedinones
control.
Themodernagecontinuedtoassaultourculturesbeliefintheselfmademan.Sociologistsandpublic
policyexpertsstressedtheeffectofpovertyandcultureindetermininganindividualssuccess,arguing
thatthesefactorsgreatlyinhibitedtheriseofthosebesetbythem.MyAmericanhistorytextbookin
collegetwicecalledtheideaoftheselfmademanamyth.Mostrecently,MalcolmGladwellsnew
book,Outliers,positsthatgreatachievementislargelytheresultofculturalbackgroundandgoodluck.

Whythislistofselfmademen?
Whilethepopularityoftheselfmademanmayhavefadedinrecenttimes,itisworthyofbeingrevived.
Theconceptofmanlypersonalresponsibilityhasgreatlyeroded,andtoomanyyoungmentodaybelieve
theyarethehelplessvictimsoftheircircumstances.Thefollowinglistprovidesastrongremedyagainst
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theyarethehelplessvictimsoftheircircumstances.Thefollowinglistprovidesastrongremedyagainst
suchthinking.Itisfullofstoriesofmenwhorefusedtobesatisfiedwiththeirlotinlifeandinstead
choseadifferent,moreextraordinarypathforthemselves.Theysetacourseforgreatnessandproceeded
toworkwithoutrestuntiltheirgoalsbecameareality.

Thesestoriesprovethatitdoesntmatterwhoyourparentsare,whereyoureborn,orhowmuch
educationyouacquirethedifferenceisinyourcharacterandwillingnesstodowhateverittakestobethe
bestandachieveyourdreams.Aswehonortheseselfmademen,wehopetoinspireyoutojointheir
ranks.AsFrederickDouglasssaid:
Thoughamanofthisclassneednotclaimtobeaheroortobeworshippedassuch,thereis
agenuineheroisminhisstruggleandsomethingofsublimityandgloryinhistriumph.Every
instanceofsuchsuccessisanexampleandhelptohumanity.It,betterthananymere
assertion,givesusassuranceofthelatentpowersofsimpleandunaidedmanhood.It
dignifieslabor,honors,application,lessenspainanddepression,dispelsgloomfromthe
browofthedestituteandwearinessfromtheheartofhimabouttofaint,andenablesmanto
takeholdoftheroughestandflintiesthardshipsincidenttohebattlesoflife,withalighter
heart,withhigherhopesandalargercourage.
Thislistofgreatselfmademenisnotallinclusiveboththepastandthepresentarestuddedwith
fartoomanyremarkablestriverstopossiblycoverthemall.Butherewehighlightsomeofthemost
extraordinaryofthesestories.Whilesomeofthesevariedmenwerefarmorevirtuousthanothers,none
weresaints.Allhadflawsandmademistakes.Somewereruthlessintheirpursuitofsuccess.Anytimea
manslifeisheldupforanexample,itisincumbentuponthereadertogleanthevaluablelessonstobe
learnedfromthatlife,whilediscardingthosethingswhichhefindsdistasteful.
Andnowthelist:

BenjaminFranklin,17061790

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Doesthoulovelife?Thendonotsquandertimeforthatsthestufflifeismadeof.
Franklinslifeisthepatternfromwhichallotherselfmademenhavebeencut.Hisrhetoricofhard
work,ambition,andthriftwasnotmerelyaphilosophyhepreacheditwashecodebywhichhelivedhis
life.Noneofhissuccessescamebychancetheywerecreatedbytheceaselesswayinwhichhe
organizedhislifetomaximizeproductivity.Suchdisciplinewasnecessaryifheeverhopedtorisefrom
hishumblebeginnings.Franklinwasthe15thof17childrenborntofatherJosiahFranklin,a
candlemaker.Grantedonlytwoyearsofformalschooling,Franklinsupplementedhisknowledgeby
constantlyhavinghisnosestuckinabook.
Whenhewas17,youngBenstruckoutonhisownandtraveledtoPhiladelphia.Unlikeotheraristocrats
oftheperiod,whousedslavelabortofreeuptimefortheirotherpursuits,Franklincreatedan
enormouslysuccessfulprintingbusinesswhichallowedhimtoretireandbecameaveritableRenaissance
man.Hisaccomplishmentsaretoonumeroustolist.AsanauthorhepennedthePoorRichards
Almanack,hisfamousautobiography,andnumerousclassicessays.Asaninventor,hecreatedthe
lightningrod,theglassharmonica,theFranklinstove,bifocalglasses,andtheflexibleurinarycatheter.
AsathinkerheestablishedtheJuntodiscussiongroup,thefirstsubscriptionlibrary,andtheAmerican
PhilosophicalSociety.Asascientisthemadeimportantinvestigationsintothenatureofelectricity.He
servedhiscountry,state,andcityasacouncilman,postmaster,recruiterofthePennsylvaniamilitia,
SpeakerofthePennsylvaniaStateHouse,delegatetotheSecondContinentalCongress,ambassadorto
France,PresidentofPennsylvania,andFoundingFather.Notbadforthesonofacandlemaker,eh?

RossPerot,1930

Mostpeoplegiveupjustwhentheyreabouttoachievesuccess.Theyquitontheoneyard
line.Theygiveupatthelastminuteofthegameonefootfromawinningtouchdown.
BorninTexarkana,Texastoafatherwhoworkedasacottonbroker,RossPerotcouldhavelivedand
diedinobscuritylikethousandsbeforehim.Butfromayoungage,Perotsambitionsethimapart.He
becameanEagleScoutinhighschoolandthenattendedtheNavalAcademywherehehelpedestablish
theschoolshonorcodeandbecameclasspresidentandbattalioncommander.
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AfterleavingtheNavy,PerotbecameasalesmanforIBM.Perotquicklydistinguishedhimselffromthe
pack,fillingtheyearssalesquotaintwoweeks.Fullofentrepreneurialideas,butignoredbythehigher
ups,PerotleftIBMin1962tofoundhisowncompany,ElectronicDataSystems.Thingsstartedoff
rockyPerotsinitialattemptstoselltheirdataprocessingservicestocorporationsresultedin77
rejections.YetPerotpersisted,wonEDSgovernmentcontracts,andturnedthecompanyintoa
technologypowerhouse.EDSwaseventuallyboughtbyGMforacool700million.Notcontenttorest
onhisbusinesslaurels,Perotbegantoinvolvehimselfinpoliticalpolicyissues,aninterestthat
culminatedinhisfamousrunforthepresidencyin1992.Garneringthelargestpercentageofthepopular
voteasathirdpartycandidatesinceTRsrunin1912,Perotssuccesssurprisedthepunditsandassuredly
alotoffolksbackinTexarkana.

JohnD.Rockefeller,18391937

Idonotthinkthatthereisanyotherqualitysoessentialtosuccessofanykindasthequality
ofperseverance.Itovercomesalmosteverything,evennature.
JohnD.Rockefellerneededneitheratrustfundnortheexampleofasuccessfulfathertobecomethe
richestmaninAmericanhistory.HisdadwasasalesmanwhowasrarelyathomeasyoungJohngrew
up.Rockefellerwaslefttoforgehisownpath.Asayoungman,hetookajobasanassistantbookkeeper,
savedhisdough,andthenpartneredwithothersinbuyingacoupleofoilrefineriesinCleveland.In
1870,RockefellerincorporatedhisholdingsintoStandardOil.
Rockefellersbusinessplanwassimplebyobsessivelyincreasingtheefficiencyofhisrefineriesand

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Rockefellersbusinessplanwassimplebyobsessivelyincreasingtheefficiencyofhisrefineriesand
pressuringrailroadcompaniesfordiscountedshipping,hesuccessfullyundercutandthenboughtoutthe
competition.Itwassaidhehadthesoulofabookkeeper,andhelovedtopouroverhisfiguresandsee
wherewastecouldbeeliminated.Utilizingbothverticalandhorizontalintegration,Rockefellersoon
ownednearlyeveryaspectoftheoilbusinessandcontrolled90%ofthekerosenemarket.Suchsuccess
nettedRockefellergreatwealthwhenheretiredhewasestimatedtohaveaccumulateda$1,500,000,000
fortune.Havingwonthiswealththroughhisowntoil,hedidntjustsitonthismoney.Hedonatedmuch
ofitinhopesofprovidingotherswithsimilaropportunitiesforsuccess.

RalphLauren,1939

Knowledgeisnotapassionfromwithoutthemind,butanactiveexertionoftheinward
strength,vigorandpowerofthemind,displayingitselffromwithin.
GrowingupasaJewishkidintheBronx,RalphLaurenneverhungoutatthecountryclub,playedpolo,
orwentsailingonayacht.Althoughhisbrandisnowafamoussymbolofgentilityandaffluence,Ralph
Laurensownbeginningswerefarmorehumble.BornasRalphRuebenLifshitz,hisparentswere
AshkenaziJewswhohadimmigratedfromBelarus,andhisfatherwasahousepainter.Thefamilylived
inasmallapartment,withRalphsharingaroomwithhistwobrothers.Ralphsmotherhopedhewould
becomearabbi,butfromaearlyage,Laurenwasdrawntofashionandentrepreneurship.Heworked
afterschoolasastockboyandsoldhandmadetiestohisclassmatesinordertopurchasestylishsuits.
LaurenattendedBaruchCollegefortwoyears,butthendroppedout.Heneverwenttofashionschool.
Afterastintinthearmy,hebecameasalesmanforBrooksBrothers.Theywerentinterestedinhelping
Laurendevelophisownlineofties,sohethenwenttoworkforBeauBrumwellNeckwearwhich
allowedhimtodesignandsellhisownPolobrandtiesintheirshowroom.Thetiesbecamepopularand
otherstoresstartedcarryingthem.Laurenstarteddesigningwomensandmenswear,andofcourse,
introducedhisnowfamousPoloshirt.Hesoonhadenoughmoneytoopenhisownstoreanddevelophis
brandintoanempire.Today,Laurenhas35boutiquesacrossthecountry,hasexpandedhisbrandto
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brandintoanempire.Today,Laurenhas35boutiquesacrossthecountry,hasexpandedhisbrandto
includehomefurnishingsandcologne,andcurrentlyranksasthe76thrichestmaninAmerica.

FrederickDouglass,18181895

Allowingonlyordinaryabilityandopportunity,wemayexplainsuccessmainlybyoneword
andthatwordisWORK!WORK!!WORK!!!WORK!!!!
Whenitcomestoragstorichesstories,therearenoragslowlierthanthosewornbyAmericanslaves.
Risingfromtheshacklesofslaverytoextraordinarysuccessrequiredmonumentalamountsofhardwork,
tenacity,andpassion,andFrederickDouglasshadthesequalitiesinspades.Douglassunderstoodthat
nothinginlifewouldeverbehandedtohim.Whenhismasterswife,whohadbeenteachinghimthe
alphabet,wasreprimandedfordoingsobyherhusband,Douglasscontinuedtolearntoreadby
interactingwithwhitechildrenandworkingthroughanywrittenmaterialshecouldfind.Whenhewas
tradedtothecruelmasteryofEdwardCovey,whoregularlywhippedDouglass,Douglassconfrontedhis
master,gettinghimtobackdownandneverraisehishandtohimagain.
In1838,DouglasstookhisgreatestriskyetandescapedfromslaverytoMassachusetts.Douglasssoon
rosetoprominence,becominganoutspokenabolitionist,aspectacularorator,abestsellingauthor,anda
newspaperpublisher.AftertheCivilWar,DouglassservedasPresidentoftheFreedmansSavingsBank
marshaloftheDistrictofColumbia,ministerresidentandconsulgeneraltotheRepublicofHaiti,and
chargdaffairesfortheDominicanRepublic.Duringthe1888RepublicanConvention,hebecamethe
firstAfricanAmericantoreceiveavotetobenominatedforthePresidency.Dyingin1895,Douglass 7/25
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firstAfricanAmericantoreceiveavotetobenominatedforthePresidency.Dyingin1895,Douglass
hadrisenfromslaverytobecomeoneofthemostprominentandwellrespectedblackmenintheUnited
States.

RayKroc,19021984

Luckisadividendofsweat.Themoreyousweat,theluckieryouget.
RayKroc,ahighschooldropout,attainedhisfirstjobbyemployingabitofdishonestythe15yearold
youngmanliedtothemilitarytobecomeanambulancedriverduringWWI.Thewarendedbeforeyoung
Raycouldseeaction,andsoKroctookajobplayingpianoforaradiostationatnightandsellingpaper
cupsbyday.Henextbecamefascinatedwithamultimixermilkshakemachineandpurchasedthe
marketingrightstoit.Forthenext17years,Kroctraveledthecountrysellinghismilkshakemaking
miracletowhoeverwouldlisten.Ashemadetheroundstocustomers,hebecameintriguedbya
hamburgerrestaurantinSanBernardino,CaliforniaownedbytheMcDonaldbrothers.Whilethe
McDonaldbrothersweresatisfiedwiththeirsmallfranchise,Krocbelievedtheburgerbusinesshadfar
greaterpotential.AlthoughKrocwasbythena53yearoldmansufferingfromdiabetesandarthritisand
missingbothhisthyroidandgallbladder,hehadavisionofturningtherestaurantintoaglobalfastfood
empire.In1961,hepurchasedtheMcDonaldssfranchise.Inonlyafewyearsyears,Krochadsolda
billionhamburgersandopenedthefranchises500thstore.McDonaldshadbegunitscampaigntotake
overtheworld.TheHamburglarwouldbeproud.

HarryReid,1939

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Reidwasborninthetiny,abandonedminingtownofSearchlight,Nevada:population200.Hisfather
wasaminerandalcoholicwhopossessedonlyanelementaryschooleducation.Hismothertookin
laundryfromlocalbrothelstohelpthefamilymakeendsmeet.Thefamilylivedinahousewithtwo
roomsandanouthouse.Asayouth,Reidwasrougharoundtheedgesandlovedtousehisfists,whether
competingasanamateurboxerortakingpartinanimprompturumbleinthestreets.
Yetheovercamethisauspiciousstart,graduatingfromUtahStateUniversityandattendinglawschoolat
GeorgeWashingtonUniversity.Inordertosupporthisfamilyduringlawschool,Reidwouldgotoclass
duringthedayandworkasasecurityguardatnight.Reidpracticedlawbeforebeingelectedtothe
NevadaStateAssemblyin1967.HethenservedasLt.Governor.Losingthesenatorialelectionin1974,
ReidinsteadtookapositionaschairmanoftheNevadaGamingCommission.In1982,Reidranfor
Congressagain,andthistimewonaseatintheHouseofRepresentatives.HethenbecameaUSSenator,
andsteadilymoveduptheleadershipranksfromDemocraticWhip,tominorityleader,andfinallyto
majorityleader,thepositioninwhichhecurrentlyserves.

ThomasEdison,18471931

Itisastonishingwhataneffortitseemstobeformanypeopletoputtheirbrainsdefinitely
andsystematicallytowork.
Kickedoutofschoolforbeingeasilydistracted,ThomasEdisonreceivedonly3monthsofformal
schooling.TherestofEdisonseducationcamefromhismothershomeschoolingandhisreadingof
classicbooks.Thoughhelostnearlyallofhishearingatayoungage,Edisondidnotletthisdisability
hinderhim.Heearlyonshowedatenaciousentrepreneurialstreakhesoldcandyandnewspapersaboard

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hinderhim.Heearlyonshowedatenaciousentrepreneurialstreakhesoldcandyandnewspapersaboard
trainsasayouthandthenwonapositionastelegraphoperatorwhenhesavedastationagentssonfrom
beingrunoverbyatrain.Asatelegrapher,heworked12hoursaday,6daysaweek.Edisonrequested
thenightshiftsothathecouldreadanddohisexperimentsduringthesloweveninghours.Hisconstant
tinkeringpaidoffEdison(oftenwithhelpfromhispartners)cameupwithamyriadofinventions,
includingthephonograph,stockticker,fluoroscope,kinetoscope,andmostfamously,thefirst
commerciallyviableincandescentlamp.TheWizardofMenloParkwasbothageniusinventoranda
savvybusinessmanhefiledmorethan1500patentsduringhislifetimeandfounded14companies
includingGeneralElectric.

LarryEllison,1944

Themostimportantaspectofmypersonality,asfarasdeterminingmysuccessgoes,has
beenmyquestioningconventionalwisdom,doubtingtheexpertsandquestioningauthority.
Whilethatcanbeverypainfulinrelationshipswithyourparentsandteachers,its
enormouslyusefulinlife.
LarryEllisonwasbornintheBronxtoanunwedmotherheneverknewhisfather.Whilestillaninfant,
EllisonwasshippedofftoChicagotobetakencareofandeventuallyadoptedby,hismothersauntand
uncle.Ellisongrewupinatwobedroomapartmentandattendedtwoyearsofcollegebeforedropping
outwhenhisadoptivemotherdied.Interestedincomputerandsoftwaredesign,Ellisonwenttoworkfor
AmpexCorporationbeforefoundingwhatwouldbecomethedatabasecompanyOraclein1977with
$2000ofhisownmoney.Greatlysuccessful,thecompanymadeEllisonabillionairemanytimesover
andcontinuestosecurehisplaceasthe9thrichestmanintheworld.

AbrahamLincoln,18091865

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Thingsmaycometothosewhowait,butonlythethingsleftbythosewhohustle.
Lincolnlackedconnections,charisma,goodlooks,andformaleducation,andyetbecameoneofthe
greatestpresidentsinUnitedStateshistory.Famouslyborninaoneroomcabintouneducatedfarmer
parents,AbrahamLincolnsrisetothePresidencyhaslongbeenthestuffoflegend.Lincolnwasalmost
entirelyselfeducatedhereceivedonly18monthsofformalschooling.Heoffsetthisdisadvantageby
voraciouslyconsuminganybookhecouldgethishandson.Atage22,Lincolnpackedhismeager
belongingsinacanoeandpaddledoutonhisown.Hetaughthimselfthelawandbecameasuccessful
attorneyandstatelegislatorinIllinois.Losinghissenatorialcampaignin1858toStephenDouglasdid
notdeterhimfromhisgoalsheperseveredagainstthisverysameopponenttowinthepresidency.The
rest,ofcourse,ishistory.LincolnwentontoguideAmericathroughherdarkestandstormiesthour.

ClarenceThomas,1948

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ClarenceThomaswasborninthepoorcommunityofPinPoint,Georgia.Abandonedbytheirfatherand
lefthomelessafterafire,ClarenceandhisbrothermovedtoSavannah.TheymovedinwithClarences
grandfather,whowouldhaveaprofoundeffectontheboy.HetaughtThomasthevalueofhardworkby
takingClarenceondeliveriesforhisicebusinessandhavinghimregularlyworkonafarmfromsunrise
tosunset.Thomasbecamethefirstpersoninhisfamilytoattendcollegewhenheheadedofftothe
CollegeoftheHolyCross.HethenreceivedhisJDfromYaleLawSchool.Afterlawschool,Thomas
steadilyattainedmoreandmoreprestigiouspositions,startingasanassistanttotheAttorneyGeneralof
MissouriandbecomingReagansAssistantSecretaryofEducationfortheOfficeofCivilRights.GHW
BushappointedThomastotheCourtofAppealsfortheDistrictofColumbiaCircuit.Hefinallygrasped
thelegalworldsbrassringwhenhewasconfirmedasaSupremeCourtJusticein1991.

SamWalton,19181992

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IthinkIovercameeverysingleoneofmypersonalshortcomingsbythesheerpassionI
broughttomywork.Idontknowifyourebornwiththiskindofpassion,orifyoucanlearn
it.ButIdoknowyouneedit.
Nowabigboxretailingbehemoth,theideaforWalMartcamefromthemindofanunassumingfarm
boyfromOklahoma.Waltonspenthisearlyyearslivingonhisfamilysfarm,andthenmovedto
Missouriwhenhisfatherdecidedtobecomeafarmloanappraiser.Samshowedgreatambitionfroman
earlyagehebecameMissourisyoungesteverEagleScoutwhenhereceivedthatawardin8thgrade,
andhewaselectedclasspresidenthissenioryearinhighschool.DespitegrowingupduringtheGreat
Depressionandworkingoddjobslikedeliveringnewspaperstohelpsupporthisfamily,heexcelled
academicallythroughouthisschoolyears.HepaidhiswaythroughtheUniversityofMissouriby
workingasalifeguard,newspaperdeliveryboy,andwaiter.Whenhegraduated,hetookjobsatJC
PenneysandataDuPontsmunitionsplantbeforeservinginthearmyduringWWII.
Afterthewar,Waltonwasdeterminedtoopenhisownvarietystore.Hepooledthesubstantialamountof
moneyhesavedwhileinthemilitaryandwithaloanfromhisfatherinlaw,boughtaBenFranklinstore
inNewport,Arkansas.Waltonsuppliedcustomerswithawidevarietyofgoodsatlowpricesandkept
thosepriceslowbybuyinginhighvolumedirectlyfromwholesalers.Thestorewashighlysuccessful,
andWaltonthenopenedhisownstore,WaltonsFive&DimeinBentonville.In1962,Walton
introducedthefirsttrueWalMarttoRogers,AR.Thatstore,likeallhisothers,turnedaniceprofit,and
Waltonbegantoexpandthefranchiseacrossthecountry,makingittheworldslargestretailerby1991.
HereignedasAmericasrichestmanfrom19851988,andwerehealivetoday,hewouldbetheworlds
richestman,withwealthdoublethatofBillGates.

HarryS.Truman,18841972

Inreadingthelivesofgreatmen,Ifoundthatthefirstvictorytheywonwasover

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Inreadingthelivesofgreatmen,Ifoundthatthefirstvictorytheywonwasover
themselvesselfdisciplinewithallofthemcamefirst.
HarryS.Trumanlivedbythemotto,Thebuckstopshere,longbeforeitofficiallyadornedhisOval
Officedesk.Suchdecisivenesswasanecessarytraitforamanwhohadtoroutinelyovercomelow
expectationstowinrespect.TrumanwasbornintoafarmingfamilyinMissouri.Afterhighschool,
Trumanwasemployedinafewoddjobsbeforereturningtolaboronthefamilyfarm.Collegewasnotin
thecardsforHarryhecouldntaffordtoattendanyschoolexceptWestPoint,andtheyturnedhimdown
becauseofhispooreyesight.Trumanwouldthusbecometheonlypresidenttoserveafter1897whodid
notholdacollegedegree.
Yet,Harrywasdeterminedtomakethebestofhiscircumstances.
HejoinedtheNationalGuardandservedinWWI.Hiseyesightshouldhavepreventedhimfromjoining
up,butTrumanmemorizedthechartinordertopass.Trumanservedheroically,andbecameaColonelin
theGuard.Afterthewar,TrumanopenedahaberdasheryinKansasCitythatwentbankruptduringa
recessionin1921.Hethenwaselectedasacountyjudge.In1934,hebecameaUSSenator.Tenyears
later,hewaschosentobeFDRsVP.WhenFDRdied,Trumanhadfinallyascendedtothehighestoffice
intheland.
Whenheranforreelectionin1948,Trumanwas,ashehadbeeninhissenatorialcampaigns,thetrue
underdog.Hehadtofightfiercelyjusttosecurethenomination,andduringthegeneralelection,
determinedtogethismessageouttothepeople,hecrisscrossedthenationinanenergeticwhistlestop
tour.WhiletheDemocratsprospectslookedbleak,Trumanvigorouslycamefrombehindandpulledoff
anupsetwin.Hehadspenthiswholelifegivinghisnaysayershell,andhehaddoneitonceagain.

SeanCombs,1969

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Iveneverbeensurprisedaboutwhathappenedtome.Iveputinhardworktogettothis
point.Itslikewhenyoubecomealawyerifyourebustinyourass,yourenotsurprised
whenyougetyourdegree.Icameintowin,youknow.ThisiswhyIstayuplatewhileother
peoplearesleepingthisiswhyIdontgoouttotheHamptons.
Puff,PuffDaddy,P.Diddywhateveryouwanttocallhim,thenameSeanCombsmostdeservesisthatof
selfmademan.Mr.Combsclaimstoworkharderthananyoneelseintheentertainmentbusiness,andhe
hasthesuccesstoshowforit.BorninpublichousingprojectsinHarlem,Seansfatherwasshottodeath
whenSeanwasonly2.Atage12,Combs,whowastooyoungtoofficiallyhavehisownpaperroute,
foundawayaroundtherulebytakingovertheroutesofseveralolderboysandgivingthem50%ofhis
earnings.Hewassoonmakingover$700aweekasapaperboy.Afterhighschool,Mr.Combsinternedat
UptownRecordswhileheattendedHowardUniversity.Hedroppedoutandtookanexecutiveposition
withthecompany.Firedfromthelabelin1993,CombsformedhisowncompanyBadBoyRecords.
InadditiontoproducinghitartistsliketheNotoriousB.I.G.,P.Diddystartedputtingouthisown
successfulraprecordsanddiversifyinghisbusinessinterests.HisenterprisesnowincludetheSeanJohn
clothingline,acologne,theMakingtheBandtelevisionseries,andarestaurantinAtlanta.Withanet
worthestimatedtobearound$324million,Combshastakenfullownershipofhislifeanddoneitwith
style.

HenryFord,18631947

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Lifeisaseriesofexperiences,eachoneofwhichmakesusbigger,eventhoughsometimesit
ishardtorealizethis.Fortheworldwasbuilttodevelopcharacter,andwemustlearnthat
thesetbacksandgrieveswhichweendurehelpusinourmarchingonward.
VeryfewmenwilleverhavethechancetocompletelyrevolutionizetheAmericanwayoflifeeven
fewerwhodosowillcomefromobscurebackgrounds.HenryFordwasbornin1863onafarmnear
Detroit,Michigan.HisfatherwantedHenrytotakeoverthefamilyfarm,butHenryhadotherplans.At
age16,helefthometobecomeamachinistsapprentice.Afterseveralyears,hereturnedtofarmwork,
andalsoranasawmill.Buthisloveforengineeringkeptcallinghimaway.In1891,Fordwashiredby
theEdisonIlluminatingCompany,andheworkedhiswayuptochiefengineer.Hesavedmoney
scrupulouslyuntilhehadenoughsohecouldquitandworkonhisexperimentswithgasolineengines.
Fordbegancreatingandtestingselfpropelledvehicles,butcouldnotproducethemcheaplyand
efficientlyashedesired.Withthisgoalinmind,FordandpartnerAlexanderMalcomsonfoundedFord
MotorCo.Fordstechnicalsmartswerematchedbyhisbusinesssavvy.Heofferedhisautoworkers$5
anhour,nearlydoublethegoingrate.ThecountrysbestmechanicsthusflockedtoFord,andthisgreatly
slowedemployeeturnoverandincreasedproductivity.Andheintroducedmovingassemblybeltstohis
plants,whichgreatlyimprovedefficiency.SuchideashelpedmaketheModelTanaffordable,
immediate,andwidespreadsuccesshalfofallcarsontheroadin1918camefromFordfactories.Ford
foundequalsuccesswithhisnextmodel,theModelA,whichhehadlargepartindesigning.Ford
securedsoleownershipofthecompanyforhisfamily,expandedthebusinessinternationally,reapeda
massivefortune,andintroducedAmericatoitsongoingloveaffairwiththeautomobile.

RonaldReagan,19112004

Myphilosophyoflifeisthatifwemakeupourmindwhatwearegoingtomakeofourlives,
thenworkhardtowardthatgoal,weneverlosesomehowwewinout.
Anymanwhocanturnanactingcareerintoasuccessfulrunforthepresidencycertainlyearnsthetitleof
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Anymanwhocanturnanactingcareerintoasuccessfulrunforthepresidencycertainlyearnsthetitleof
selfmademan.TherewasnosilverspooninthemouthofRonaldReganwhenhecameintotheworldin
1911.BorninTampico,Illinois,Reagansfatherwasasalesmanwhowasalwayslookingforbetter
work.ReaganthusgrewupmovingfromonetinytowninIllinoistothenext,oftenlivinginapartments
abovebanksandstores.TheGipperattendedthedefinitivelynotivyleagueEurekaCollege,mostly,by
hisownadmission,tocontinueplayingfootball.Aftercollege,hebecamearadioannouncerandlandeda
filmcontractwithWarnerBrothers.Afterastintinthemilitary,Reaganbecamethepresidentofthe
ScreenActorsGuild.HebeganhisforayintopoliticsbyworkingonBarryGoldwaterscampaignin
1964.Thenin1966,withoutholdingpriorpoliticaloffice,ReaganwaselectedgovernorofCalifornia.
ThoughhefailedtowintheRepublicannominationforthepresidencyin1976,Reaganwasnot
discouragedandwonnotonlythenomination,butalsotheWhiteHousein1980.

AndrewCarnegie,18351919

Peoplewhoareunabletomotivatethemselvesmustbecontentwithmediocrity,nomatter
howimpressivetheirothertalents.
Carnegierepresentstheepitomeoftheselfmademan.HisfatherwasaScottishhandloomweaver,who

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Carnegierepresentstheepitomeoftheselfmademan.HisfatherwasaScottishhandloomweaver,who
movedwithhisfamilytoAmericawhenAndrewwas13.Carnegiesfirstjobwasworkingasabobbin
boyatatextilefactory,making$1.50aweek.Hesubsequentlytookjobsasaboilertender,bookkeepers
clerk,andtelegraphdeliveryboy.Allthewhilehereadtoeducatehimselfandworkedtomitigatehis
thickScottishaccent.In1853,CarnegielandedajobwiththePennsylvaniaTelegraphCo.
Hereligiouslysavedhismoneyandreinvesteditintherailroadbusiness.Heworkedhiswayuptobeing
superintendentofthePennsylvaniaRailroadsWesternDivisionandthensupervisedtheUnions
telegraphlinesduringtheCivilWar.Hecontinuedtomakeincrediblywiseinvestmentswithhissavings
whichreapedhimhandsomedividends.Afterthewar,helefttherailroadbusinessandbegantofocuson
buildingandinvestinginironworks.Bybringinggreatefficiencytothebusiness,takingoveronesteel
companyafteranother,andutilizingverticalintegration,Carnegiesooncreatedanempireofsteeland
iron.
In1901,CarnegiesoldhissteelholdingstoJPMorganfor$480million.Carnegiehadlongpreached
whathecalledTheGospelofWealth,aphilosophyinwhichamanshouldaimtoacquireasmuch
fortuneaspossibleandthengiveitawaytoothers.Onthispoint,(unlikeseveralothers)Carnegiewasa
manofhisword.Duringhislifetimehedonated$350,695,653tophilanthropiccausesuponhisdeathhe
gaveawaythelast$30,000,000ofhiswealth.

BookerT.Washington,18561915

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Ihavelearnedthatsuccessistobemeasurednotsomuchbythepositionthatonehas
reachedinlifeasbytheobstacleswhichhehashadtoovercomewhiletryingtosucceed.
BookerT.WashingtonwasoftencriticizedbyfellowAfricanAmericanadvocateslikeWEBDuBoisfor
hisapproachtohelpinghispeopleprogress.WhileDuBoisfeltthatthefightforcivilrightsshouldhave
thetoppriority,Washingtonarguedthatblackshadtofirstworkhard,manifestthevirtuesofindustryand
thrift,andachieveeconomicsuccess.Oncethisoccurred,heargued,therightstheysoughtwould
naturallyfollow.WhileDuboisfeltthatthisapproachwasharmfullyaccommodating,suchaphilosophy
wasadirectproductofWashingtonspersonalexperience,alifewhichhadtaughthimthatmancanwork
tomakeofhimselfanythinghedesires.
Washingtongrewupasaslaveuntilfreedbythe13thamendment.Asafreedman,hetookworkinsalt
andcoalminesbeforeenteringHamptonInstituteinpursuitofaneducation.ThepresidentofHampton
recommendedthatWashingtonbemadetheheadofthenewlyformedTuskegeeInstitute.Fromthis
position,Washingtonsooncametoprominenceasanationallyknownadvocatefortheupliftand
educationofAfricanAmericans.Hiseffortstobefriendmanyoftherichcorporateheadsofthistimeand
persuadethemtodonatetheirmoneytotheeducationofhisfellowfreedmenmetwithgreatsuccessand
ledtothebuildingofover5,000schoolsintheruralSouth.Hisprofilewasfurtherraisedbythebrisk
salesofhisautobiography,UpfromSlavery,andhisinvitationfromPresidentTheodoreRooseveltto
becomethefirstAfricanAmericantodineattheWhiteHouse

MiltonS.Hershey,18571945

MiltonS.Hersheyhadtofacesomebitterfailurebeforehewasabletoachievesweetsuccess.Hershey
wasbornonafarminPennsylvaniain1857.Duetohisfathersfrequentfailedbusinessschemes,the
familymovedfrequently,andMiltonsparentsseparated.Hersheydroppedoutofschoolafterthefourth
grade.Hewasthenapprenticedtoaprinter,butdidnottaketothatlineofwork.Hebeganan
apprenticeshipwithacandymakerandafterfouryearsorlearningthetrade,attemptedtoopenhisown
shop.ThisventurefailedasdidhistwosubsequenteffortsinNewYorkCityandChicago.Atage28,he19/25
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shop.ThisventurefailedasdidhistwosubsequenteffortsinNewYorkCityandChicago.Atage28,he
returnedhometoPennsylvaniaasanunemployedmanwhohadthusfarfailedtomakeanythingofhis
life.ButHersheysluckwouldsoonchangehestartedacaramelcompanyandthistime,hisdelicious
confectionscaughton.
Duringhisvisittothe1893WorldsColumbianExposition,hebecamefascinatedbytheGerman
chocolatemakingmachines.HepurchasedthemforhisLancastercaramelfactoryandbeganproducing
variouschocolatyconfections.Sensingthegreatpotentialinchocolatetreats,Hersheysoldhissuccessful
caramelcompanyin1900forawhoppingonemilliondollars.Withthisnewwealthhebought40,000
acresoflandnearLancaster,Pennsylvaniaandbuilttheworldslargestchocolatefactoryandamodel
townforhisemployees.HewasdeterminedtobringwhatwasthenaSwissluxuryproductmilk
chocolatetothemasses.HetinkeredwiththeformulauntilHersheysmilkchocolatewasreadytobe
introducedtothepublicandbecomethenecessaryingredientforsmores.

WaltDisney,19011966

Thewaytogetstartedistoquittalkingandbegindoing.
Themanwhowouldonedaycreatethehappiestplaceonearth,experiencedalessthanidyllic
childhood.WaltDisneysfatherwanderedfromonejobtoanotherlookingtofindsuccess,andoften
needingtorelyonhisbrothertostayafloat.Waltlackednotjustfinancialsecurity,butforaffectionhis
fatherwasacoldandabusiveman.Waltwasdeterminedtoblazehisownpathofsuccessandnotendup
likehisdad.Atage16,hedroppedoutofhighschoolandservedintheambulancecorpsduringWorld
WarI.Afterthewar,DisneyfoundworkcreatingadsforbusinessesinKansasCity.Hewasfascinatedby
theemergingfieldofanimationanddecidedtosetuphisownanimationbusiness.Unableyettomanage
moneyeffectively,thebusinesswentbankrupt.
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moneyeffectively,thebusinesswentbankrupt.
ThenDisneysetupastudioinHollywoodandbeganturningoutcartoons,culminatingintheenormously
popularSteamboatWilliein1928.Overthenextseveralyears,Disneyintroducedequallybeloved
characterssuchasDonaldDuck,Goofy,andPluto.In1934,Disneybegantoworkonhismostambitious
ideayet:afulllengthanimatedfeature.DubbedDisneysfollybyhiscritics,mostthoughttheidea
wouldspellthedemiseoftheDisneystudio.Instead,SnowWhiteandtheSevenDwarveswasa
smashingsuccess.Thefilmwasfollowedbyamyriadofotherbelovedfulllengthfeaturesandanimated
shorts.Inthe1950sDisneyexpandedtheworkofhiscompanytoincludetheproductionofliveaction
films.Disneyalsocompletedanambitiousprojectfewbelievedcouldbeasuccess:the1955openingof
Disneyland.Disneyworldfollowedin1964.Waltalwaysunderstoodthedesiresofaveragepeople.While
criticslamentedtheartificiallywholesomeworlddepictedinhisfamilyfriendlymoviesandthemeparks,
thepublicfellinlovewithitandboughtintoDisneysvisioncompletely.

BarackObama,1961

Makingyourmarkontheworldishard.Ifitwereeasy,everybodywoulddoit.Butitsnot.It
takespatience,ittakescommitment,anditcomeswithplentyoffailurealongtheway.The
realtestisnotwhetheryouavoidthisfailure,becauseyouwont.Itswhetheryouletit
hardenorshameyouintoinaction,orwhetheryoulearnfromitwhetheryouchooseto
persevere.
Hisstoryisofcoursewellknownbynow,butitbearsrepeating,andcertainlymeritshimaspotonthis
list.Obamaschildhoodwasfarfromtypical.ObamawasborntoawhitemotherandKenyanfatherin
Hawaii.HisfatherwentbacktoKenyawhenhewasonly2andsawhissononlyoncemore.Hismother
marriedagain,thistimetoanIndonesian,andthefamilymovedtoIndonesia.Baracklivedtherefor
severalyearsandthenreturnedtoHawaiitolivewithhisgrandparents.ObamagraduatedfromColumbia
University,workedasacommunityorganizerinChicagofor3years,andthenwenttoHarvardLaw
School.WhiletherehebecamethefirstAfricanAmericantobeelectedaspresidentoftheHarvardLaw
Review.ObamareturnedtoChicagoandspent12yearsasaprofessorattheUniversityofChicagoLaw
School.HewaselectedtotheIllinoisStateSenatein1996,andtheUSSenatein2004.Afteronlyone
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School.HewaselectedtotheIllinoisStateSenatein1996,andtheUSSenatein2004.Afteronlyone
termasSenator,ObamawonthepresidentialelectionandbecamethefirstblackpresidentinUnited
Stateshistory.

BenandJerry,1951

BenCohenandJerryGreenfieldwerechildhoodbudswhoearlyonbondedovertheirpreferencefor
eatingovergymclass.Afterhighschool,Benattendedanddroppedoutofseveralcolleges,neverquite
findinghiscalling.HeeventuallytookajobteachingpotteryonafarmintheAdirondacks.Jerry
attendedandgraduatedfromOberlincollege.Upongraduation,heunsuccessfullyappliedforadmission
tomedicalschool.Whentheguysmetupagain,bothwereratheradriftprofessionally.Theydecidedto
openanicecreamshopinBurlington,Vermont.Aftertakinga$5correspondencecourseonicecream
making,theyopenedtheirstoreinadilapidatedgasstation.Theguysrich,chunkyicecreamgaineda
popularfollowinginthecommunity.Theysoonbegansellingpintsoftheiricecreamtolocalgrocery
stores.Duringthenextseveralyears,BenandJerrywereabletoexpandtheirfranchiseandby1988had
storesin18states.BenandJerrysbecameanationallyknownbrand,andthecompanywasboughtby
Unileverin2000for$326milliondollars,enoughtobuyawholemountainofCherryGarcia.

JohnSperling,1921

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JohnSperlingwasborntoapoorsharecroppingfamilyandstruggledinschool.Dyslexicandsemiliterate
whenhegraduatedfromhighschool,Sperlingjoinedthemerchantmarinesandsailedtheworld.Along
theway,hetaughthimselftoread.DuringWWII,heservedintheNavy.Whenthewarended,Sperling
attendedReedCollege,completedgraduatedworkatBerkley,andearnedhisPh.DfromCambridgehis
childhoodteachershadclearlyunderestimatedhim.
Sperlingspentthenextcoupleofdecadesasaprofessor,buthenevercouldshakehisconcernthat
collegeswerefilledwiththemiddleandupperclasses,whilethosewhowerenotwelloffwereleftoutof
academia.Atage53,hedecidedtodosomethingaboutit.Hetriedtobringaprogramforworkingadults
intotheuniversitybutwasrebuffed.Sohecreatedhisownuniversityforadults.In1976,hestartedthe
UniversityofPhoenix,afranchisethatwouldquicklyexpandaroundthecountry.Thisforprofit
enterprisenotonlygaveworkingadultsaalternativeforregularcollege,itmadeJohnSperlinga
billionaire.

DavidSarnoff,18911971

Success,inagenerallyacceptedsenseoftheterm,meanstheopportunitytoexperienceand
torealizetothemaximumtheforcesthatarewithinus.
DavidSarnoffwasborntoapoorfamilyinasmallJewishvillageinwhatistodayBelarus.Histalents
wererecognizablefromayoungage,andhisfamilyplannedonDavidbecomingarabbi.Theseplans
wereinterruptedwhenthefamilyemigratedtotheUnitedStatesin1900.LivinginNewYorkCity,

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wereinterruptedwhenthefamilyemigratedtotheUnitedStatesin1900.LivinginNewYorkCity,
youngDavidhelpedsupportthefamilybysellingnewspapersbeforeandafterschool.Then,whenhis
fatherwasstrickenwithtuberculosis,Davidwasforcedtobecomethemanofthehouseanditsmain
breadwinner.HefoundapositionastheMarconiWirelessTelegraphCompanyofAmerica.Sarnoff
workedhardtoeducatehimselftotheinsandoutsofthecommunicationsbusinessandsteadilyrose
throughthecompanyranks.Hepaidcloseattentiontothedevelopingradiotechnologyandsuggestedto
hissuperiorsthattheybegintodesignandbuildaradiofortheaverageconsumer.Hisideaforaradio
musicboxwasignoredbyhisbossesattheMarconicompany,andhisideascontinuedtofallondeaf
earswhenthecompanywasboughtbyGEandbecameRCA.
Yet,asthe1920sdawnedandSarnoffspredictionsaboutthepopularityofradiowereprovedtobequite
prescient,Sarnoffbegantogettherecognitionandrespecthedeserved.RCAlaunchedNBCradioin
1926,andonlyafewyearslater,Sarnoffwasmadeitspresident.AfterbuildingtheAMradiobusiness
intoasuccess,Sarnoffturnedhisattentiontothetelevision,whichhesensedwasgoingtobebiggerthan
radio.Sarnoff,nowthepresidentofRCA,investedheavilyintheresearchanddevelopmentofthenew
technology.HisgamblepaidoffwhenNBCintroducedtelevisiontotheAmericanpublicatthe1939
NewYorksWorldFair.Thenextday,RCAbegansellingtheirtelevisionsetsinstores.Thetelevision
businessexplodedafterthewar,andSarnoffagainledNBCtodominancebybeingfirsttointroduce
colortelevisiontothecountry.

ArnoldSchwarzenegger,1947

Formelifeiscontinuouslybeinghungry.Themeaningoflifeisnotsimplytoexist,to
survive,buttomoveahead,togoup,toachieve,toconquer.

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survive,buttomoveahead,togoup,toachieve,toconquer.
SharingmuchincommonwithanotherfamousactorturnedgovernorofCalifornia,Arnold
Schwarzeneggermadetheimprobableleapfrombodybuilderandactortopolitician.Arnoldwasbornin
asmallvillageinAustria.Hiscoldandabusivefatherwasthelocalpolicechief,andyetmoneywas
alwaystightforthefamily.LifeintheunhappyhouseholdleftArnolddeterminedtoleavehomeandfind
fameandfortune.Decidingatanearlyagetomakebodybuildingacareer,Schwarzeneggerstarted
pumpingironatage14.Healsostudiedpsychologytobettersharpenhismindsstrengthandwillpower.
NothingcouldkeepSchwarzeneggerfromhisloveofbodybuildingasayouthhebustedintothegym
whenitwasclosedonweekendsandasasoldierhewentAWOLtoenteracompetition.
YearsofsweatandtoilpaidoffwhenArnold,atage20,becametheyoungesteverwinneroftheMr.
Universecompetition,atitlehewouldwinfourmoretimes.Hecontinuedtrainingwhilesimultaneously
attendingbusinessschoolandworkingatagym.Atage21,hemovedtoAmericatobecomeastarofthe
silverscreen.HecontinuedtocompeteinbodybuildingandwontheMr.Olympiatitleseventimes.
Arnoldsentranceintofilmwasfarmoredifficultthanhisworkouts.Withathickaccentandbulking
body,hemetmanyrejectionsbeforefinallylandingroles.Afterbecomingablockbusteractionstar,
Schwarzeneggersnextobstacletoconquerwaspolitics.In2003,overcominghisinexperience,accent,
andhavingappearedinasMr.FreezeinBatmanandRobin,ArnoldwontheCaliforniarecallelection
andbecamethegovernororCalifornia.
Brett&KateMcKay
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