Careers

How Oscar-winner Emma Stone and 9 other highly successful people got their start

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Behind nearly every professional who's made it to the top — be it an Oscar win or a C-Suite office — is a long career path and years of hard work.

From last night's Best Actress Oscar-winner Emma Stone to the late Steve Jobs, the early careers of some of the most successful people are marked by dogged persistence and a refusal to give up.

Here's how 10 stand-outs got started:

1. Emma Stone

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in "La La Land."
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Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling star in "La La Land."

The "La La Land" star realized she wanted to become an actress one afternoon while at her desk in a high school history class, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

That evening, Stone created a PowerPoint presentation she titled "Project Hollywood" and convinced her parents to let her move to L.A., where she would be homeschooled while going to auditions.

"It's nuts that they agreed to it," Stone tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't condone it. Everybody should go through high school and graduate."

Several years later, the actress caught her first real break as Jonah Hill's love interest in "Superbad."

2. Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett speaks at the “Detroit Homecoming” event, Sept. 18, 2014.
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Warren Buffett speaks at the “Detroit Homecoming” event, Sept. 18, 2014.

The billionaire started making money at an early age. At 13, he was a paperboy in Nebraska, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to deliver copies of The Washington Post, according to Alice Schroeder's 2008 biography, "The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life."

By 15, Buffett had made $2,000 from the job. He invested $1,200 of that a 40-acre piece of land and struck a profit-sharing agreement with a Nebraskan farmer.

3. Elon Musk

Elon Musk, chairman, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors
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Elon Musk, chairman, CEO and product architect of Tesla Motors

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO was fascinated by technology and coding from a young age. He sold his first video game for $500 at age 12 and later sold computers from his college dorm room.

He dropped out of a Stanford Ph.D. program and launched e-commerce company Zip2, which would fast-track his career.

"When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor," Musk says.

4. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
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Winfrey began her broadcasting career at only 19. She was an anchor for a local TV station in Nashville, and later on news shows in Baltimore and Chicago. The aspiring journalist faced many obstacles along the way, including racism and sexual harassment, but she persisted.

Winfrey was such a hit on a local Chicago radio program that it was later renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Today she is worth $3 billion, according to Forbes.

5. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the iPhone 4 during his keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., unveils the iPhone 4 during his keynote address at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, California, U.S.

After dropping out of college, Jobs took a position as a video game designer at Atari, but the job didn't last long.

After a few months, Jobs left to seek spiritual enlightenment in India. When he came back, the then-21-year-old met Steve Wozniak, with whom he would later co-found Apple, and the pair started making computers in the Jobs family's garage.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work," the late inventor once said. "Don't settle."

6. Vera Wang

Vera Wang, Designer.
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Vera Wang, Designer.

Before becoming an iconic fashion designer, Wang was a figure skater, dancer and journalist. In fact, she tried out for the 1968 Olympic figure skating team, but didn't make it.

While she had a promising career in the fashion world as an editor for Vogue and a director at Ralph Lauren, it wasn't until age 40 that she truly made her mark on the apparel industry. With an investment from her father, Wang opened her flagship bridal salon at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.

"All those years of skating and dancing have carried over," Wang says. "I can't design anything without thinking of how a woman's body will look and move when she's wearing it."

7. Robert Herjavec

Robert Herjavec
Monica Schipper | Getty Images)
Robert Herjavec

The "Shark Tank" investor and entrepreneur arrived in North America with just $20 in his pocket, having emigrating from former Yugoslavia.

Herjavec built and sold several IT companies to major players like AT&T. His big break came in 2003, when he founded the information security company the Herjavec Group. It quickly became one of North America's fastest growing technology companies.

Herjavec's father told him to never complain and that "'all you're owed in life is an opportunity.'"

8. Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Indra Nooyi

Before rising through the ranks at Pepsico to become the CEO, Nooyi began her career in business in her home country of India. She was a product manager at Johnson & Johnson and at Mettur Beardsell, a textile firm.

She later earned a master's degree from the Yale School of Management in 1978 and would make a name for herself in corporate strategy in the years that followed. According to the CEO, those awaiting their big break need to be prepared to make bold moves.

"Courage. I think that's what lacking the most today," she says.

9. Bill Gates

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The Microsoft co-founder was so inspired by the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, which featured a demonstration of the Altair 8800 computer, that he contacted the creators to set up a meeting.

Then a student at Harvard, Gates and long-time friend Paul Allen wrote software for the system and landed a deal with the team. Microsoft was born, and Gates never returned to college.

10. Madonna

Madonna performs a tribute Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jeff Kravitz | FilmMagic | Getty Images
Madonna performs a tribute Prince onstage during the 2016 Billboard Music Awards at T-Mobile Arena on May 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before changing pop music as we know it, Madonna Louise Ciccone was just another struggling artist in New York.

She dropped out of college and convinced her father to let her take ballet lessons. She pursued a career in dance, earning money as a server at Dunkin' Donuts on the side. Eventually, she became a backup singer and dancer for a French artist, leaving to front her own band.

Check out what Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would do if they lost it all and had to start over