15 Great Career Lessons from Iconic Public Figures

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We look at public figures thinking that they waltz through life and gained instant success forgetting that they too are human and make mistakes like the rest of us. What they do succeed in, is taking that mistake on the chin and learning from it, with some turning their life around and making a household name for themselves.

To spare you the loss of money and heartache, here are 15 career development lessons you can learn from inspiring figures:



1. Never Stop Learning

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The world can teach you such important lessons, which combined with education, can set you on the path to success. J.K. Rowling is a great example; although she attended the University of Exeter, the hardships she went through taught her vital skills. She had struggled to become a writer, and after a divorce, found herself without money trying to raise her daughter on her own. She put all her knowledge together and wrote the best-selling line of Harry Potter books.

Moral of the Story: Everything you experience in life is a lesson, keep expanding your knowledge and use it to your advantage.

2. You Have to Take Risks to Succeed

walt disneyThought Co

Many of us are afraid to take a risk when it comes to our career, and always choose the safe option. But is this wise? Walt Disney wasn’t afraid to take risks; he decided to launch a full merchandising campaign at the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves during the great recession. Luckily the gamble paid off, and the film went on to earn $1.5 million. His company was then able to expand and become the household name that we all know today.

Moral of the Story: If you truly believe in something, follow your heart and take the risk. If you don’t try you’ll never succeed!

3. Failure Is Not Fatal


Like it or not - we all mess up from time to time (it’s only natural). After a tough and abusive upbringing, Oprah Winfrey managed to land her first TV gig. Sadly, it was short-lived as she got the boot for being too emotionally involved in her stories. Oprah didn’t let this set-back knock her down, she stayed true to her beliefs and went on to become one of the most influential personalities that graced our TVs.

Moral of the Story: Knock-backs are normal whether it’s a failed exam, fired from a job or just general rejection. The important thing is to take it on the chin and learn from your mistakes to better yourself.

4. Reinvent Yourself


No matter what industry you’re in, it’s important to change with the times. Take Madonna for example, she’s been a Popstar for over a decade but has managed to come back larger than life and meet the demands of the market and her new, younger fan base.

Moral of the Story: To remain competitive you should adapt to new technologies, trends and expectations and always remain on top of the game.

5. Don’t Crack Under Pressure

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Your teacher may have given you an unfair grade, or you’ve just received a really unfair appraisal and you might want to shout from the rooftops. Don’t pull a Britney Spears and have a frantic melt-down or do something outrageous like shaving your hair off. Be cool, calm and collected.

Moral of the Story: Don’t make yourself a laughing-stock when put under pressure. Take time out to analyse the situation and think rationally about how you want to deal with it.

6. Doing What You Love Really Does Pay off

Neil ArmstrongThe Daily Beast

Neil Armstrong didn’t instantly become an astronaut overnight. He began his journey by working at a local airport. According to the Business Insider, “Armstrong pursued his interest in aviation by working at the local airport. Armstrong took small steps to ensure he was engaged in activities he was truly interested in, and he reaped the benefits later in his career.”

Moral of the Story: Armstrong taught us that if you stick to doing what you love you’ll be eternally happy.

7. Put in the Hard Work

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It may seem like an obvious lesson, but many dream of success instead of actually working for it. Take Katy Perry, for example, she struggled to make a career out of her musical talent, and when she did she worked extremely hard to make sure she succeeded. As documented in her 2012 film, Part of Me, she toured the globe in 2011 performing in over 100 concerts, as well as shooting music videos and magazine covers, and doing promotional interviews.

Moral of the Story: If you want something you have to work for it, whether it’s acing your mid-terms, or sailing through your next interview.



8. Find a Mentor

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Whether you’re at university or in the working world, it’s vital to find a mentor to guide you and teach you all that they know. When Joan Rivers was trying to break into the TV world in the early 60’s, she found a mentor in Johnny Carson, who frequently invited her as a guest host on “The Tonight Show”. Carson’s mentorship gave Rivers the boost she needed to make it in the entertainment business leading to her memorable career as the “Fashion Police”.

Moral of the Story: Find someone that can be your mentor and help you learn the ins and outs of a specific subject or career.

9. Be an Influencer

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Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO and founder of Facebook, has not only advanced technology but also dedicates 99% of his wealth towards making strides in the advancement of society. Fortune reported that “through their Chan Zuckerberg Initiative they’ve led efforts to improve education, cure disease, and build stronger and more connected communities.”

Moral of the Story: Always aim to improve something in society. If you have the platform like Zuckerburg, you too should try to bring awareness to a cause you’re passionate about.

10. Neven Burn Bridges

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Before making it as a big-time film director, Steven Spielberg’s desperately wanted to attend the prestigious University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television but got rejected twice. He then attended California State University in Long Beach but dropped out to pursue his career where he achieved fame. USC that previously rejected Spielberg later named him as an honorary alumnus in 1994 dedicated a building to him and appointed him a trustee in 1996.

Moral of the Story: Don’t burn bridges; you never know how the relationship will benefit you in the end.

11. Be Persistent

Stephen KingIreland

Stephen King had a passion for writing and wanted to become a best-selling author but struggled to get his work read. Where most would have given up, King who lived in a trailer at the time received rejection after rejection, until he finally sold his first book “The Glass Floor,” for $35. He eventually achieved success when Signet Books signed on for the paperback rights of Carrie” for $400,000.

Moral of the Story: Be persistent in life to get what you want. Even if you’re requesting a bonus, or want an internship, continue pushing for it if you know that you can do it and succeed.

12. Make Your Own Success

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The renowned hip-hop star Jay Z made his own rise to fame. He couldn’t get a record deal when he first released videos of his singles online. Record labels deemed him as too old and not ‘hard’ enough. Jay didn’t want to quit, he and his friends created their own record label; Roc-A-Fella Records to produce and sell his first album. The game changer now has an estimated net worth of $610 million according to Forbes.

Moral of the Story: If someone can’t help you succeed, take matters into your own hands and do it yourself. Most people struggle to begin with, but if you have the knowledge and talent, it’ll be worth it!

13. Learn From Your Mistakes


Everyone makes mistakes; it’s the only way we learn. Take a baby, for example; they learn to crawl before they walk, if they tried to walk immediately, they would simply fail. Popstar, fashion and beauty mogul Rihanna is one that doesn’t shy away from admitting to her mistakes. She told CNBC that “she’s always up for a challenge so if she doesn't get it right the first time or the first hundred thousand times, she’s going to keep trying until she thinks she’s figured it out.”

Moral of the Story: Don’t beat yourself up about a mistake; use it as a positive of what not to do next time.

14. Don’t Let Others Bring You Down


Throughout your career, you’ll hear people bad-mouthing you and trying to bring you down. This is too common with public figures as they are constantly scrutinised. When Beyoncé first broke onto the music scene with girl group Destiny’s Child, she struggled to keep the peace within the group and even felt depressed at times. After years of people coming in and out of the group, she decided she was better off as a solo artist and achieved global success.

Moral of the Story: What Beyoncé learned is not to let people affect your destiny. You are the one that can control it by the actions that you choose to follow.

15. There Are No Limits

Stephen HawkingImmortal News

Because of his motor neuron disease, Steven Hawking had to undergo a tracheotomy in 1985 that removed his ability to speak on his own. He didn’t let it affect his voice; he adopted his own way of speaking by using a computer that picks up the twitching movements of his right cheek. He’s an example that there really are no limits. He didn’t let his illness defy him and remains one of the worls greatest scientists.  

Moral of the Story: If there is a will there’s a way. Even if you’re faced with a road-block you can use your initiative to overcome it.



A successful career is a difficult and time-consuming journey, no matter what age, background, or industry. After following these golden rules from well-known figures, you’ll avoid a few bumps along the way.

Do you have any personal lessons that you have learnt along your career? If so, join in on the conversation below and let us know what the moral of your story is…