At Y Combinator’s Startup School in Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg told a group of young entrepreneurs that it is more risky not to take chances. “In a rapidly changing world, the only guaranteed failures are those who don’t take risks,” he said. It appears he was right: If we have learned anything from professionals around the world who have been successful (like Zuckerberg himself), it is that taking sizeable risks can lead to significant rewards.
Do you need a little inspiration to take a risk? Whether you’re thinking about starting your own business or wanting to switch industries, read on to learn more about these seven famous people who took big career risks and never looked back.
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1. Elon Musk
While most people would’ve blown their PayPal Millions on a new company, Elon Musk had other plans. He took his money and invested in two of his own startups, SpaceX and Tesla. Although running these two companies at the same time pushed them both towards bankruptcy, it seems to have eventually paid off— now SpaceX and Tesla are doing better than ever.
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2. Vera Wang
A big career change is a scary but often rewarding endeavor, as Vera Wang can attest. As a young competitive figure skater, she didn’t make the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, so she pursued a career in magazine editing instead. When she later wasn’t offered the position of Vogue editor-in-chief, she took on the role of design director for accessories at Ralph Lauren. After finding a career in fashion, she became increasingly unhappy with the less-than-impressive dress options available for weddings. So, she followed her passion and pursued a career in bridal fashion design. And now? She’s an extremely successful wedding dress designer.
3. Christene Barberich
Christene Barberich is an excellent example of how you can bring your grandest ideas to fruition. When she talked with her co-founders in 2004 about their thoughts for a style-centered website, the internet was still rapidly changing. (Keep in mind, Facebook had only been created the year before!) However, Barberich found herself intrigued and enamored by the idea—so much so that she left her steady job at Condé Nast one year later to make Refinery29 a reality. It may have been risky, but this #GirlBoss never once regretted her decision.
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4. Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone was struggling financially when he wrote the screenplay for Rocky in just four days. Producers loved the script and offered him a lot of money to make it into a movie—but Stallone, as down-and-out as he was, refused to take any offer if he wasn’t allowed to play the lead role in the film. Although he could have made more money by selling his screenplay, Rocky’s stubborn attitude landed him a smaller paycheck. However, the risk was worth it in the end: Rocky pulled in millions of dollars and skyrocketed Sly into fame.
When Beyoncé released her surprise album in 2013, we were ecstatic. We spent the night dancing to our new favorite song, “Drunk in Love.” However, Queen Bey was terrified of the feedback she might receive—dropping an entire album at once is a big risk, even for someone as famous as Beyoncé. (The Harvard Business School even did a case study on it!) Thankfully, Beyoncé’s album was a huge success and she went down as one of the most fabulous risk-takers ever.
6. J.K. Rowling
Though it may be difficult to believe, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was once considered a “risk.” It took a great deal of struggling on Rowling’s part to find somebody who believed in the book as much as she did. Even when she was a single mother living on welfare, though, Rowling never stop believing in the work she had created. So, one year after finding an agent, she finally got the call: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was going to be published by Bloomsbury Publishing in London. The rest of Harry’s (and Rowling’s!) story is history!
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7. Bill Gates
Bill Gates, now a Harvard dropout and successful beyond his wildest dreams, decided to take a risk that would pay off greatly. He dropped out of college after only two years in order to start Microsoft. Although he has gone on record urging students to stay in school, as it is usually the smarter path towards success, the idea behind taking such risks still exists–and often times they end up paying off very well.