20 Incredibly Inspiring Lessons About Work & Life from Successful People

Linda Le Phan

Your job hunt or career path has likely been a winding road… a road that is perhaps even littered with flooded roadways, bad weather, and speed bumps. But that’s all the more reason to seek as much positive inspiration and motivation that you can get your hands on.

Since we know a thing our two about using other people’s real experiences as a source of inspiration to make our own lives better (that’s what we help job seekers do with our company reviews), we figured it would be great to gather a big list of great life lessons from some successful, remarkable people – some you’ve heard of due to their popular success and some you may have never heard of before but found success in their own rights and have an inspiring lesson to share. 

Here are our favorite inspiring lessons about work and life. Use them as motivation when things gets tough in your work-life, job hunt or life in general!:

 

4 inspiring real life stories

Ralph Braun

Ralph Braun – whose name you might not know – was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy as a young boy. Following this life-altering news, Ralph quickly lost his ability to walk. Although doctors never thought he would be able to function independently, Ralph decided otherwise. At a young age, he went to work designing and engineering the first battery-powered scooter in the world. He didn’t stop there; despite his youth and physical limitations, he went on to engineer the world’s first wheelchair lift.

Ralph’s determination and hard work eventually evolved into the launch of BraunAbility, a leading manufacturer of mobility equipment worldwide. He’s become known as such a pioneer in the mobility space that some people even call him “The Father of the Mobility Movement”. For Ralph to achieve such overwhelming success despite such tough challenges. 

While we think Ralph’s overarching life lesson to share with the world is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” he shares the following important lessons that contributed to his success:

  1. Put the customer first.
  2. No excuses
  3. Surround yourself with good people
  4. Never stop improving
  5. Believe in your God-given ability

Walt Disney

Walt Disney dreamed of becoming a cartoonist, but when he got his foot in the door at the Kansas City Star and put his skills to the test for the first time, he was fired for lack of imagination and creativity. His failure wasn’t over yet; he left the Kansas City Star to acquire an animation study called Laugh-O-Gram, which he drove directly into bankruptcy. Finally, he moved to Hollywood and opened Disney, which led to his eventual win of 22 Academy Awards.

Walt Disney said it best himself: “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me…You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” -Walt Disney

Benjamin Franklin

After hearing all of the reasons your friends, family members, and employees weren’t able to become what they wanted to be, you might really believe that family money or a college degree are necessary steps in the step-ladder of success. But the truth is that only you can choose which obstacles you’ll allow to prevent you from learning and growing.

Benjamin Franklin didn’t have the privilege of growing up in a wealthy family. Nonetheless, he chose to pursue education and greatness without stepping a foot into a college or university. His hunger for knowledge and prolific reading and research empowered him to eventually invent bifocals and the lightening rod and even become one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.

What can you learn from Benjamin Franklin? You need nothing but determination and grit to pursue the knowledge and resources you need to be successful.

Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani school girl born in 1997, faced the Taliban head on to fight for the right to education for girls in Pakistan. As a result of her resistance, she was shocking and devastatingly shot by the Taliban. When she recovered, she dove back into human rights head first, dedicating her time to advocating for others.

The lesson here: sometimes, a tragic or unfortunate event is the catalyst that helps us to do powerful things we never would have done otherwise. 

 

 

And 16 more inspiring lessons for life and work

You have no time to waste on a job you don’t like

When we’re young and we need a job, we’re willing to take any job. That’s a mistake. We are wasting our time working just for the money and we’re not getting any valuable experience in return. This investment, or lack thereof, results not only in a waste of time but with a waste of nerves and patience as well.

Don’t like your job? You thought it would be temporary, but you ended up spending years in the same office? Here’s a drastic solution: quit! There’s no progress without risks. If you really have to work just for the money and you’re not ready to quit just yet, then try to learn as much as possible while you’re there.

-Eva Wislow, Career Coach and HR executive at CareersBooster

 


Conflict is an amazing opportunity for growth.

I lead a staff support group at a non-profit agency in New York City. The presenting problem was dysfunction among the staff- infighting, vicious gossip, total lack of trust. This broken team was working to advocate for homeless youth- stressful work that requires support and strong coping mechanisms. They had neither.

The first session I led was a bit tense, but they welcomed me and invested in my purpose- to improve their relationships and begin to foster cohesion and trust. I left on a high note- felt like we were on our way up.

Session 2- I was totally blindsided by an almost immediate barrage of screaming, name calling, vicious insults and enough blame to go around for everyone. I had difficulty throughout the session getting their attention much less putting any order to the proceedings. When we were about to finish, I said that the work would be about dealing with the rage and pain- finding ways to apologize, accept apologies and learning how to work together without hurting each other. One staff member said, NO Laura. I will not work with X. And she walked out of the room. The rest of the group left the session exhausted and spent.

Session 3- and beyond- The group worked their way back to each other. The staff member who had walked out of session 2 apologized to me and others offered heartfelt apologies to each other and dug deeper into their feelings, allowing their co-workers to relate and empathize. We are now moving forward- learning coping strategies, improving communication and problem solving. The conflict was the beginning of this incredible work. Allow the conflict to happen- ugly as it is, it is the key to growth.

-Laura MacLeod, LMSW, HR Expert, Consultant and Founder of the From The Inside Out Project® 


 

These are the two very important lessons I learned after my wife died of a rare liver disease at the age of 34.

Lighten up.

We never know when we will no longer be here so enjoy the moment right now because the next one might not happen.

Be loving.

On their death bed, no one ever said that they wished they worked more hours. What they do say is that they wish they had spent more time with their friends and loved ones.

-Allen Klein, MA, CSP, Professional speaker and author of “The Healing Power of Humor” and “You Can’t Ruin My Day”


When serving others…think of service as gift-giving, without obligation. 

I was raised in rural South Georgia. Like most farmers in that area, my Dad raised cows. Cows were secured in pastures with wire fences. And, most farmers had an occasional rebellious cow get out and wander along the road. When our cows escaped they almost always went north to end up on Hightower Gilder’s land; Hightower’s cows came south and ended up on our land. The way my Dad dealt with the occasional intruder taught me the most important lesson of my life.

Hightower would call the minute he spotted one of our cows and growl: “Ray, send your boys up here right now and get your cow out of my garden!!” My Dad would always express polite gratitude and dispatch one of us for the rescue mission. But, if Hightower’s cows roamed south, Dad took a completely different approach. He would get us up, return the stray, find the break in Hightower’s fence, repair the fence, and *then* call Hightower.

His example taught the power of service with abundance.

I became a customer loyalty consultant and keynote speaker on customer service. I learned that if I focused on service as gift-giving it fostered reciprocity—but without any obligation. Service as gift-giving is not conditional; it is a selfless
act. It is service emanating from the pure joy of giving, not a tactical decision. My dad did not return Hightower’s cows in the hopes Hightower would learn generosity. He did it because that is who he was.

That life lesson has rewarded me with many friends, a great family, and a 50+ year relationship with a wonderful wife. It has enabled me to live life with passion and happiness. And, it has taught me that life is most richly lived through what we give, not through what we take.

-Dr. Chip R. Bell, a renowned keynote speaker and best-selling author.


We rarely unlock our true potential unless we are challenged with some kind of obstacle or are forced to overcome what seems impossible. 

I’m a huge music fan. Jazz is one of my favorite music genres and Keith Jarrett is one of the more influential piano players of the last 50 years. I love live jazz, it’s one of the few musical genres where you can hear a talented artist stretch past the point of their own expectations.

*The Koln Concert* – I heard a story the other day that tells when Keith Jarrett was on tour back in the 70’s in Europe and went to Copenhagen to play a sold-out concert. He showed up at the concert to find that that young concert
promoter had rented a small, out of tune piano that had sticky keys and pedals that didn’t work. Keith refused to play a concert initially and only after hours of convincing did he relent and agreed to perform on the piano in front of hundreds of people.

Keith would later describe the Koln concert has one of the most challenging performances of his career.

All of these adversities and frustrations helped Keith create music that no one had ever heard before, not even himself. Reflecting back on this
concert, Keith typically says in interviews that the amazing quality of the music came from not having the core elements of his preparation. But he also talks about the fact that being out of his element and facing challenges that he had never seen before forced him to recognize the potential of the situation and trust in himself. That unique spectacular crossroad created the Koln concert.

This goal is the result of the unique learning which showed him the value of adversity unlocking potential. It is an important lesson for each of us to remember and try to recreate in our own lives. That the potential of what is in you is why you are. My hope is that everyone at Blueprint can realize their potential and be the next pearl, amazing bottle of wine, or if we’re really lucky, the next Keith Jarrett.

-Ryan Neal, President and Co-Founder of Blueprint Consulting Services


There’s no substitute for hard work and persistence when it comes to success in the business world.

Often times, when I was earlier in my career, I would read articles that seemed to describe how an overnight success occurred. In my generation (I’m an older millennial), in particular, it became particularly trendy and common
for media commentators to report on tech entrepreneurs in their 20’s and 30’s. While I think these success stories are truly very interesting and don’t fault anyone for reporting on certain of these public figures, it can be very misleading to think that you can replicate that kind of rare success with just luck and timing.

What tends to be under-reported is how hard and unglamorous the road to business success often is. It wasn’t until I found my own real-world mentors and sponsors in the real world that I truly understood how hard and persistent you have to be in pursuing your business and career goals (and often failing at them multiple times) — and in some cases, for a very long time — before you reach your goals.

I’m the CEO and co-founder of a career community for women, Fairygodboss, and I hear from tens of thousands of women in our community about their workplace struggles and triumphs. Sometimes I see the same sort of lack of understanding about the likelihood of overnight success reflected in young womens’ job reviews, which is why I think its such an important life lesson. A lot of younger people are looking for a mentor or sponsor who they believe will help catapult their business success but I think that the effort to find one is often related to what you have done and accomplished that’s a function of your hard work — just as much as it is about finding someone to click with and connect with.

-Georgene Huang, CEO and co-founder of Fairygodboss, a career community for women


Success means performing, even when the spotlight isn’t on.

From my earliest experiences in business, I have never met anyone who is absolutely reliable who isn’t also extremely successful. The people I know to be successful don’t just perform when the spotlight is on, they work every second in between to build their vision, drive their business, or make a lasting impact on the world.

I take that as testament that successful people aren’t there because of their circumstance; they are there because of the character they have become on the way to get there. Not everyone can be successful even with all the money and support they can receive. When I think of that simple truth, I push myself to better myself in order to become one of those successful people.

-Ryan Matzner, Co-founder and marketing director of Fueled, New York’s award winning app development agency.


Confidence = comfort.

When you’re confident, you project it onto others and it makes them more comfortable to work with you. It also makes them feel confident that you will get the job done.

And also,

Always be grateful. 

For everything that you have. Happiness has nothing to do with external factors. It is a result of what’s going on within us and being grateful for who you are, where you and what you have, I believe, is the single largest contributor to happiness.

-Vladimir Gendelman, Founder & CEO of Printwand.

 


Working as an executive in the male-dominated tech industry has taught me many valuable lessons:

Success is NOT a straight line.

There were points in my life when I thought the world was going to end because of my failure. Big shocker, it didn’t, and I emerged from every missed success stronger. Your failures will help you grow in the long run. It’s also good to talk about your dreams to others; you never know when someone will be able to lend a hand.

And also,

Be willing to pivot.

In life, as well as in business, there will be times when you realize that what you’re doing isn’t working. Never get too attached to any idea,  after all, a better one may be around the corner!

-Sarah Zurell Chief Brand Officer of Pavemint, an app that connects people looking for parking in LA with residents and business owners who have spaces to share.


Success is a team sport.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned personally is that even as a businessperson, it’s important to be a great coach, teacher, and mentor. I’ve always focused on making the people around me successful, and doing my best to help them along their path in their career and in life. They, in turn, have made me successful. Even when it doesn’t appear that it would help at all, I always help them out and give feedback and advice. More often than not this helps me and my organization perform at our best.

A good example of this was the first person I was a mentor to at Google, Kyle Williams. It was his first job out of college, and he was assigned to be my inside sales person – meaning his role was to find leads and generate interest in my sales territory. I did my best to teach him everything I knew and make him as successful as possible at his first job. It turned out he was the top performing inside sales person at Google that year. Coincidentally, I was Google Enterprise’s top performing salesperson that year. Success is a team sport and by being a great teacher and mentor, your team is far more likely to succeed.

-Steven Benson, Founder and CEO of Badger Maps, a route planner for field salespeople.


“If you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else will.”

I am the CEO of a startup called Droplr (droplr.com). I am also a professional Ironman triathlete. Triathletes instinctively plan out their daily training, nutrition and rest to peak for key races. Many adhere to their routines very strictly and realize that they perform best when completely dialed in. One of my favorite phrases from the book Executive Stamina is, ‘if you don’t have a plan for your time, someone else will.’ He adds that executives can learn this same type of focus by zeroing in on a few key objectives and learning to say ‘no’ to demands that don’t fall within those.

-Gray Skinner, CEO of Droplr, Inc., a Bend, Oregon based Saas startup that develops remote collaboration solutions.


The people you start with are not always the ones who grow with you. 

It can be hard to let some people go but it really is best for them and the business and critical for the culture if you want to attract the best talent. You are only as strong as the team you build.

-Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO of Mavens & Moguls


You become the average of the people you spend the greatest amounts of time with.

Go out of your way to surround yourself with intelligent and ambitious people in both your professional life and your personal life. Not only should you work for them, but you should also hire them. It’s true that you
become the average of the people you spend the greatest amounts of time with, so surrounding yourself with the right people is key to succeeding in all areas of your life. In fact, forging deep relationships with interesting people is one of the most satisfying you will ever do.

-Peter Yang, Co-Founder of ResumeGo

 

 

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Linda Le Phan is the Content Marketing Manager at kununu US, a place where job seekers can get an authentic view of life at a company and where employers have a trusted platform to better engage talent. When she’s not creating content about the modern workplace, company culture, and life & work hacks, she is probably going out to get an iced coffee (even in Boston winter), raiding the snack drawer, or jamming to kununu’s Spotify playlist.