Inspiration / Productivity

10 Influential Entrepreneurs on the Life Advice they Want Us to Know

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We all have those leaders or influencers whom we lionize and call our heroes, the people whose enormous success has inspired us to chase after our own crazy ambitions too. But underneath all the achievements or accolades, these culture shapers are also human beings who, in the pursuit of their dreams, learned a few secrets about what makes life worth living and the journey worth taking. 

In case we ever lose sight of what truly matters in this world, the following entrepreneurs are here to remind us that it’s all about those lessons we glean in the trenches, not the success we gain on arrival. So here are 10 extraordinary humans on the best piece of life advice they each have to share:

On Embracing Yourself:

“Your legacy is every life that you touch. We think of our legacies as these major philanthropic moments that will leave an impact or will make a huge difference in the world. But it’s really what you do each day—it’s how you use your life to be a light in somebody else’s. And it’s how you use your work as an expression of your own art, whatever that is…About a year after I went national, I received a letter from a woman in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who said: ‘Oprah, watching you be yourself makes me want to be more myself.’ And I just don’t know of anything better than that.” 

— Oprah Winfrey, TV host, producer, CEO of the OWN Network 

On Valuing Relationships:

“[At Zoom] we created a culture to ‘deliver happiness’…My focus has always been on providing value to others without the expectation of anything in return. Many people are always looking for what’s in it for them. By openly caring about the success of others before yourself, you’ll build better relationships which will, in turn, help you win bigger and better deals. This is exactly how we were able to build such quick momentum with Zoom: we built strong relationships first.”

— Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom Video Communications

On Abandoning Comfort:

“A while ago, I tried an experiment—for one year, I said ‘Yes’ to all the things that scared me. Anything that made me nervous or took me out of my comfort zone, I forced myself to say ‘Yes’ to. Did I want to speak in public? No, but yes. Did I want to be on live TV? No, but yes. Did I want to try acting? No, no, no. But yes, yes, yes. And a crazy thing happened: The act of doing [what] scared me undid the fear…It’s amazing, the power of one word. ‘Yes’ changed my life. ‘Yes’ changed me.” 

— Shonda Rhimes, TV showrunner, executive producer, screenwriter

On Taking the First Step:

“A single ‘Eureka’ moment is a dangerous lie. It makes us feel inadequate since we haven’t had ours yet. It prevents people with the seeds of good ideas from starting…It’s good to be idealistic, but be prepared to be misunderstood. Anyone working on a vision will be called crazy, even if you end up right. Anyone working on a complex problem will be blamed for not fully understanding the challenge, even though it’s impossible to know everything upfront. Anyone taking initiative will be criticized for moving too fast because there’s always someone who wants to slow you down…The reality is, anything we do will have issues in the future. But that can’t keep us from starting.” 

— Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Facebook

On Seeking out Mentors:

“We can’t be what we can’t see. Research shows that access to mentors leads to higher graduation and college attendance rates for Latina [and other minority] students. Entrepreneurs often do something that’s new to them. When you present someone with a living example of success, it really inspires them to say, ‘She did that, so I can too.’ That’s the power of mentorship. It helps you see opportunities, believe in yourself and grab them…Find a mentor—somebody you want to emulate and learn from. Carefully prepare a list of questions you want to ask that person. Mentors don’t have a lot of time. Be specific with what you want to learn.”

— Eva Longoria, actress, producer, activist, serial entrepreneur

On Normalizing Failure:

“I was a spectacular failure, a certified failure. And when people talk about failure, it’s personal. People fear failure, but what they really fear is shame…No matter how much we package it, no matter how much we hide it, failure is failure is failure. The more we embrace it, the more we’re honest with ourselves [about it], the more easily we can move on…The more open conversations we have about failure, the more as a culture we accept it, the more time people can actually spend jumping on planes.” 

— Jason Njoku, co-founder and CEO of iROKOtv  

On Activating Resilience:

“I think one of the greatest skills of leadership is being unflappable. I call it being in the eye of the hurricane. When you do anything in the world, there will be criticism, so I don’t believe in growing a thick skin…I believe in listening to criticism, seeing if there is something of value that you can learn from, and if not, then staying on your course and moving forward in what your vision is for what you want to achieve.” 

— Arianna Huffington, media entrepreneur, founder of Thrive Global

On Using the Love Quotient:

 “LQ is the [quotient] of love. I strongly believe that if you want to be successful, you should have EQ (emotional quotient) and IQ (intelligence quotient). But if you want to be respected, if you want to survive the next 30 years, [then you need] the ‘Q’ of love and care for others…When you’re appreciative and open-minded, when you learn from others, you make progress…If you don’t have LQ, you’ll go nowhere.”   

— Jack Ma, co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba

On Refusing to Compromise:

“Do not edit your desires. We are entitled to ambition. We are entitled to success. We are entitled to failure. And any moment of compromise on those three things starts to weaken who we are. I remember when I mentioned in a ‘Cosmo’ article that I want to be president of the United States one day and just the screams that came at me…‘How dare I speak aloud with such a dramatic ambition?’ And my response was, ‘Of course I should. If I don’t say it aloud, how will others say it to themselves?’ But the minute we allow ourselves to be silenced and to be told that what we want is too much, then we are beginning to weaken who we are and what we can be.” 

— Stacey Abrams, politician, voting activist, founder of Fair Fight Action 

On Not Overthinking It: 

“When I was in school, I used to think before I would raise my hand to ask the teacher a question. I would think before answering the questions in my own words. I would think before [everything], and in the process, I wouldn’t do anything at all…But life is very short—always do what you love, and always do what you believe in…So my success came because of these two words: don’t think…Everything looks tough until you go ahead and do it, so I started and never stopped…Don’t think, just do.”     

— Varun Agarwal, serial entrepreneur, filmmaker, best-selling author      

Do any of these words resonate with you? What is the most helpful piece of life advice someone has passed on to you? What motivates you to pursue your ambitions and grow as a human in the process? Share your insights in the comment section below, and let’s keep the inspiration coming!

About Author

Mary-Elizabeth Meagher is a freelance writer, social media marketer, travel enthusiast, musical theatre nerd and self-described bohemian. She lives and seeks adventure in the Arizona desert, and she also blogs over at Health Be a Hippie—her personal contribution to making the internet a more authentic, vulnerable and empowering place.

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