Quotes from 7 famous personalities who started with nothing and succeeded

In this article, I am sharing over 100 quotes from 7 public figures who started with nothing. Through their daring and tenacity, they went on to be highly successful in their chosen field. They will reveal what led them to success despite being dealt a bad hand early in life!

personalities who started with nothing

The myth of the self-made man/woman has always fascinated people! The personalities who started from nothing that you are going to see in this article did not have a lucky start in life. They had any number of reasons to give up and resign themselves to a miserable life.

And yet, they transformed the reality of their circumstances into a form of motivation, their problems into advantages and their differences into strengths, and these people succeeded in making their dreams come true! The time, the place, or the setting did not make a difference. They all endured bad fortune in life. However, overcoming the challenges and leaving their failures behind, these men and women went on to shape their own destiny and found fulfilment!

The paths these personalities who started with nothing took in life are an inspiration to us, filling us with new hope! Forget external conditions and family connections: they show us that it is possible to outgrow modest beginnings through sheer strength of will, decision-making and action, through determination to play the lead role and not be a spectator of your own life.

But how did these people manage to start a business without money and/or a college education? How did they go on to inspire millions of people through their art, their talent, their passion and their ideas? What are the secrets of millionaire entrepreneurs for whom things seemed bleak at first and who went on to build empires?

These 7 personalities who started with nothing share these things with you: determination, risk-taking, ability to seize opportunities, sense of effort, hard work, passion, ambition to do something big in the world, strong convictions, perseverance, a taste for excellence and performance, the permanent quest for knowledge… The quotes from these personalities who started with nothing show us that wounds can be the source of a struggle to be undertaken, a message to be shared, against all odds. Finally, they are a summary of life lessons, learned along the way, self-taught or through an encounter with a mentor.

In short, all these personalities who started with nothing have a lot to teach us!

Let’s draw inspiration from their examples of ingenuity and audacity to take control of our lives and move towards our goals more quickly.

1. Quotes by Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey (1954- ) is an American talk show host and audiovisual producer

Oprah Winfrey

Photo credit: MILWAUKEE, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Oprah Winfrey (or simply Oprah) is a famous American talk show host and TV and cinema producer. She is also an actor and magazine editor and Oprah Winfrey runs her own company: Harpo Productions. She is one of the richest people from the 20th century. However, before all that, Oprah has an unhappy and chaotic childhood, marred by violence in her family. She was raped by more than one family member. She faced many challenges before claiming her place running a media empire in the American TV landscape.

Quotes by Oprah Winfrey

  • “Let passion drive your profession.” 
  • “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more.  If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” 
  • “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” 
  • “We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.” 
  • “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” 
  • “You become what you believe, not what you think or what you want.” »
  • “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you – always.” 
  • “The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude.” 
  • “You can either see yourself as a wave in the ocean or you can see yourself as the ocean.” 
  • “No matter what challenge you may be facing, you must remember that while the canvas of your life is painted with daily experiences, behaviors, reactions, and emotions, you’re the one controlling the brush.” 
  • “When you make loving others the story of your life, there’s never a final chapter, because the legacy continues. You lend your light to one person, and he or she shines it on another and another and another.” 
  • “Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”  
  • “I don’t believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process.”  
  • “The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.” 
  • “When you undervalue what you do, the world will undervalue who you are.”   

2. Quotes by J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling (1965- ) is a British novelist and screenwriter

J.K. Rowling personalities who started with nothing

Photo credit: Daniel Ogren, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

J.K. Rowling is the renowned British author of the 7 books in the Harry Potter saga. With over 500 million copies sold worldwide, translated into 84 languages, the exciting adventures of the young wizard went on to become a huge cinema franchise, along with many other spin-off products. All this allowed J.K. Rowling to acquire a huge fortune and establish her reputation in the world of literature and cinema.

However, raised in a modest family, J.K. Rowling lived in unstable circumstances for many years. She is the perfect example of a personality who started with nothing and rose out of her situation by sheer tenacity. She was a victim of domestic and sexual violence and was an unemployed single mother, surviving on social welfare for several years.

J.K. Rowling is now a hugely successful author. She has extended her public to an adult audience and also writes screenplays for the cinema.

Quotes by J.K. Rowling

  • “Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.  I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.” 
  • “Just because it didn’t find an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s bad work.” 
  • “It is our choices […] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” 
  • “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was.” 
  • “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” 
  • “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” 
  • “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” 
  • “I do not blame my parents for their point of view.  There is an expiration date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  
  • “You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.” 
  • “Life is difficult and complicated and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.” 
  • “We don’t need magic to change the world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.” 
  • “I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive.” 
  • “The discipline involved in finishing a piece of creative work is something on which you can truly pride yourself.  You’ll have turned yourself from somebody who’s ‘thinking of’, who ‘might’, who’s ‘trying’, to someone who DID. And once you’ve done it you’ll know you can do it again.”  “Do not ever quit out of fear of rejection.” 
  • “Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations.” 
  • “Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.” 
  • “You’re working on something and you’re thinking, ‘Nobody’s gonna watch, read, listen.’ Finish it anyway.”

3. Quotes by Alain Ducasse

Alain Ducasse (1956- ) is a French restaurant chef

Alain Ducasse  personalities who started with nothing

Photo credit: Wikialainducasse, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The second most star-studded chef in the world and owner of several hotels and restaurants (inns, restaurants, cooking schools), Alain Ducasse has built a vast culinary empire as only those who started with nothing know how. He grew up in modest circumstances on his parents’ farm in the French Pyrenées. He began his career as an apprentice cook when he was 16 years old. The young man went on to catering school, but he did not finish the course.

Today, Alain Ducasse is a highly influential businessman and he has published several specialist books.

Quotes by Alain Ducasse

  • “The most important factor in my success is my ability to unite different calibres of talent.” 
  • “I am curious about everything. […] I do not believe in pure creation, that springs from nothing.” 
  • “Mastering your profession means taking your acquirements, your professional knowledge, and being able in turn to create a dish that is not entirely someone else’s, not entirely your own.” 
  • “You have to work harder, faster and better […] and with passion.” 
  • “You gain by sharing. Never keep anything for yourself. The days of secret recipes and hidden techniques are long gone. I share everything I know and I want everybody on my team to do the same.” 
  • “Perfection is not of this world, and definitely not in my profession. In any case, you question yourself every day, and you try to improve, to be better tomorrow than today.” 
  • “Little by little, you learn gestures that you repeat, and that is what we call expertise.” 
  • “Because competition is fierce and knowledge within everyone’s reach, what counts these days is to run faster than the others.” 
  • “For a chef, simplicity, humour and charisma are essential.” 
  • “You have to work extremely hard in a kitchen. And give hugely of yourself. It’s the only way. There is no short cut. You work, you succeed. You don’t work, you fail.” 
  • “Leadership is a leader’s ability to show the path and ensure that his employees are completely on board.” 
  • “Sometimes astonishment is in the simplest things. In the end, perhaps simplicity is the new luxury.” 

4. Quotes by Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) was an English actor, director, producer, screenwriter and composer

Charlie Chaplin personalities who started with nothing

Among celebrities who started with nothing and succeeded, I simply have to mention the illustrious Charles Spencer Chaplin, known as Charlie Chaplin. The son of music hall parents, Charlie Chaplin grew up in England in extreme poverty. After his parents separated (Charles was aged 3 at the time), he spent most of his time in institutions for the destitute, due to his absent father and his mother’s failing health (psychiatric disorders). As an adult, Charlie Chaplin became an actor, director, screenwriter, producer and composer. He starred in over 80 films. His burlesque character made him very famous in the silent movies of the 1910s. During a long career spanning 65 years, he was sometimes adored, sometimes controversial.

Quotes by Charlie Chaplin

  • “Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles.” 
  • “Don’t be afraid of the unknown because, even when they wander into chaos, planets are born stars!” 
  • “The value of a man is not measured by his clothes or the goods he possesses…man is his character, his ideas and the nobility of his ideals.”  »
  • “Persistence is the shortest path to success.” 
  • “Humour strengthens our survival instinct and safeguards our sanity.” 
  • “I wanted to know, not for the love of knowledge but as a defence against the world’s contempt for the ignorant.” 
  • “Let us strive for the impossible. The great achievements throughout history have been the conquest of what seemed the impossible.” 
  • “Success is wonderful, but it involves the effort to keep pace with this unfaithful nymph’s popularity.” 
  • “Laughter is very close to tears and vice versa.” 
  • “As I began to love myself, I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egotism. Today I know it is Love of Oneself.” 
  • “All children in some form or another have genius; the trick is to bring it out in them.” 
  • “As I began to love myself, I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now I only live for the moment, where everything is happening.  Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.” 
  • “The knowledge of man is the basis of all success.” 
  • “Simplicity of approach is always best.” 

5. Quotes by Jay Z

Jay Z (1969-) is an American rapper and businessman

Jay Z personalities who started with nothing

Photo credit: Joella Marano, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shawn Corey Knowles-Carter, alias Jay Z, is a definitive member of the group of celebrities who started with nothing and had to fight to make a breakthrough in the artistic milieu.

Jay Z grew up in Brooklyn with his mother who raised four children on her own. He developed a passion for music early in life, for rap music in particular. No record company would sign him, so he decided to sell his own music on his own label: Roc-A-Fella.

Today Jay Z is a living hip-hop legend. His albums sell in hundred of millions of copies. He is one of the biggest cultural entrepreneurs in the world. Apart from music, he invests in many other areas, fashion, artistic and athletic representation, online music. He is married to Beyoncé and between them, the couple have a vast fortune.

Quotes by Jay Z

  • “Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week.” takes a day, impossible takes a week.” 
  •  “Don’t ever go with the flow. Be the flow.” 
  •  “Everybody can tell you how to do it but they never done it.” 
  • “Life is all there is. And if that’s true, then we have to really live it—we have to take it for everything it has.” 
  • “A wise man once told me that luck isn’t some mystical energy that dances around the Universe randomly bestowing people with satisfaction and joy. You create your own luck.”  
  • “You learn more in failure than you ever do in success.” 
  • “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not trying.”   
  •  “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so Obama could run. Obama’s running so we all can fly.” 
  • “No one’s walking around here perfect. Everyone’s gonna make mistakes. That’s part of how you learn.”  
  • “Without the work, the magic won’t come.” 
  • “There’s the gift, there’s the spirit, and there’s the work-all three have to come together. If one of those things is off, it can stop you from becoming who you were meant to be.”  
  • “No matter where you go you are what you are.” 
  • “Don’t tell me what they said about me. Tell me why they were so comfortable to say it to you.”  
  • “Identity is a prison you can never escape, but the way to redeem your past is not to run from it, but to try to understand it, and use it as a foundation to grow.” 
  • “May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows.” 

6. Quotes by Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was an American inventor, politician and advocate for the abolition of slavery

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was a renowned American statesman, a diplomat, scholar, writer, naturalist and brilliant inventor. He was one of the most talented people of his age in America.

But nothing predestined him for such success. He is another personality who started with nothing: born into a very modest family of 17 children, Benjamin Franklin’s childhood was mainly spent helping his father to make candles and soap instead of in school. He is the perfect self-taught man, teaching himself to write before going to work as a printer. Meanwhile, Benjamin Franklin made a name for himself by inventing things and making major improvements in a variety of fields (invention of the lightning rod, summertime saving hours or bi-focal spectacles). His talents multiplied over the course of his life.

This renowned man of science and letters was also a fervent supporter of the abolition of slavery. He was the first ambassador for the United States and contributed to writing the US constitution after independence.

Quotes by Benjamin Franklin

  • “Constant dropping wears away stones. Be persistent in all that you do.” 
  • “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” 
  • “Buy what thou hast no need of and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessities.” 
  • “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom.” 
  • “It is hard for an empty sack to stand upright.” 
  • “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.” 
  • “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.”  
  • “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”  
  • “Little strokes fell great oaks.” 
  • “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” 
  • “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” 
  • “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive.” 
  • “There are many roads to success, but only one sure road to failure; and that is to try to please everyone else.” 
  • “Get what you can, and what you get hold; ’tis the stone that will turn all your lead into gold.” 
  • “A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.” 

7. Quotes by Danièle Henkel

Danièle Henkel (1956- ) is a Canadian speaker, writer and businesswoman

Danièle Henkel

Nicknamed “the woman with the iron hand in a velvet glove”, Danièle Henkel is an entrepreneurial icon from Québec. She is another of these celebrities who started with nothing: forced into marriage by her family in Morocco, in the 1990s Danièle Henkel ended up penniless in Québec to escape the religious extremism of the time. She took on a number of jobs to feed herself (secretary, Tupperware saleswoman…) before succeeding, through sheer force of will, in creating her own cosmetics business. That company, along with her many other enterprises, have made Danièle Henkel’s prosperity today.

Quotes by Danièle Henkel

  • “They have often tried to bring me to my knees. Sometime, I put one on the ground, and I have always used the other to lift myself up again. Always.” 
  • “You have to believe in life and in yourself, and accept to endanger yourself. This is what creates the joy of living, what allows us to build the scaffolds of our dreams, even the craziest of them. It gives us an extraordinary thirst for life.” 
  • “A period of failure is a dream moment to sow the seeds of success.” 
  • “You have to set limits, of course, but above all try to reach them and exceed them. I believe in this philosophy.” 
  • “Life is a series of learnings, each one of which teaches us more than the others, as dramatic as they may be.” 
  • “One person’s goals should not be compared to those of others. Whether they be modest for some or very ambitious for others, what counts is to set goals and do everything to achieve them. We all have unsuspected means to excel.” 
  • “Perfection does not exist, but excellence does!” 
  • “Replace the word ‘problem’ with the word ‘challenge’ and you will get into solution mode. 
  • “If you promise something, you must do everything you can to deliver, but what is certain is that it will not be perfect. And we don’t want it to be, because then we would have nothing to improve.” 

There are many other personalities who started out with nothing we could mention. What about you, who do you find inspiring? Why not share their quotes in the comments.

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