You should never let a poor or difficult background stand in your way of success. Although you may have to work harder than those who come from more privileged circumstances, your determination can pull you through. Be inspired by these wildly successful people who started from nothing.

1. Oprah Winfrey, entertainment mogul

A classic case of a rags-to-riches story, Oprah Winfrey was born to a single teenage mother and grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. Determined to become successful in the entertainment industry, she found a job at a local radio when she was still in high school and started building up experience in the media industry. As we all know, she eventually went on to host the most successful television talk show of all time. Today, she owns a multibillion-dollar entertainment empire and is regarded as one of the most influential people in history.

2. Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president

The current president of South Africa was born in Soweto during the apartheid era. Despite being born to poor parents and having limited opportunities, Ramaphosa did not let this stand in his way, as he became a leading activist in the anti-apartheid struggle and obtained a law degree. He went on to form the National Union of Mineworkers and became a multi-millionaire businessman, before rising to the presidency in 2018.

3. J.K. Rowling, author

The billionaire author grew up in a troubled household in England. As an adult, she ended up as a single, unemployed parent who survived on welfare benefits. However, her passion for writing saw her creating the world of Harry Potter, which catapulted her into stardom. The books have become the best-selling book series in history, selling more than 500 million copies. Rowling was also highly involved in the creation of the Harry Potter films, which grossed a staggering $7.7 billion at the box office.

4. Sir Richard Branson, Virgin founder

From as young as his early teens, Richard Branson knew that he wanted to become an entrepreneur. At school, he struggled with dyslexia and poor academic performance, yet still founded a magazine at the age of 16. He started building his empire step-by-step and went on to become one of the founders of the Virgin Group, which currently consists of more than 60 companies that serve millions of customers worldwide.

5. Charlize Theron, actress

Coming from humble beginnings in Benoni, Theron grew up in an abusive household with an alcoholic father. When Theron was only 15 years old her mother shot and killed her father in self-defence after he attacked and threatened to kill them both. The next year, she won a one-year modelling contract which saw her and her mother moving to Italy. After that, the family moved to America, where Theron first took up ballet, but had to give up on her dream of dancing after sustaining an injury. She was broke and frustrated when a talent scout noticed her arguing with a bank teller about a cheque that couldn’t be cashed. After a few years of acting classes and building up experience, she soon started her rise to fame and became a Hollywood star and Oscar winner.

6. Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder

Howard Schultz was raised by a truck driver and stay-at-home mom in a housing project in Brooklyn, New York. Determined to make a success of himself, he became the first person in his family to go to college. He worked at a homeware company for several years, saving money, before purchasing a small coffee chain in Seattle. He transformed the chain into the empire that Starbucks is today, becoming a multi-billionaire.

7. Celine Dion, singer

Dion was born as the youngest of 14 children in the small town of Canada, where she had a poor but happy childhood. Her talent for singing was recognised from an early age, and she wrote and composed her first song at 12 years old. She went on to become one of the world’s most successful pop divas, selling more than 200 million records.


8. Ursula Burns, former Xerox CEO

Raised by a single mother in a New York City housing project, Burns focused all her attention on working hard at school. After graduating from high school, she earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. She worked as an intern at printing company Xerox, before being hired permanently. She rose through the ranks to become CEO in 2007, earning the distinction of being the first black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company.

These eight people are proof that your background doesn’t have to determine who you become one day. You can overcome any obstacle by taking the first step – and not giving up!

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