Motivation

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Need to fill your motivation tank? Reach for one of these business leaders' inspirational stories.
Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey
Image credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez | Getty Images
14 min read

Sustaining motivation on a long and difficult trek, whether literal or metaphysical, is always going to pose a challenge. So how do you keep your motivation tank full?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but luckily there are many methods to help push you forward. For some, following a routine helps. Having muscle memory take over parts of your day will help you conserve your mental reserve for the more demanding tasks. Other people find that tying whatever you’re doing to a personal mission statement or profound sense of purpose helps drives you.

Such is the case with Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO possesses a clear sense of purpose, saying, “My hope was never to build a company. I was driven by a sense of purpose to connect people and bring us closer together.” His sentiment of having a larger purpose appears to be the case for so many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, who have all needed to reach into their motivational reserves during their wildly successful careers.

To fuel your motivation, check out these inspirational quotes and stories related to these eight powerful moguls.

Related: 2 Awesome Ways to Motivate Yourself When You Feel Like Quitting

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Elon Musk

Elon Musk
Image credit: Justin Chin | Getty Images

"You want to have a future where you're expecting things to be better, not one where you're expecting things to be worse."

The leader of multiple technology companies, including SpaceX, was once bullied so badly as a bookish child in South Africa that he ended up hospitalized. His early difficulties set the stage for his lifelong motivation to not let the bullies win -- and accomplish whatever he set his sights upon.

While there are many outstanding aspects of Elon Musk’s life, it’s the year 2008 -- during the mortgage crisis -- that stands out as a particular time when his determination was repeatedly tested. The 46-year-old has described that year as “the worst year of my life. Tesla kept losing money, and SpaceX was having trouble launching its Falcon 1 rocket,” he was quoted as saying. The tech entrepreneur had invested $80 million of his own money to save the failing Tesla and took over as its CEO. Two years earlier, he had also provided the capital for the solar energy startup SolarCity, run by his cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive.

The man who had made $180 million off of the sale of PayPal to eBay in 2002 had been reduced to borrowing personal loans to survive. He was also going through a messy divorce from his first wife. It looked as though the real-life Tony Stark could be filing for bankruptcy.

However, Musk dug his heels in. He had conviction in his ability to show up and do the work. At the end of 2008, SpaceX was awarded a $1.5 billion contract through NASA, and the failing Tesla found additional investors. Soon after, Tesla went public and raised $226 million with its IPO, allowing Musk to sell $15 million worth of his shares and straighten out his personal finances.

Beyond SpaceX, Tesla and SolarCity, the futurist has expanded his interests into artificial intelligence, electric battery production and a tunneling company to reduce urban traffic.

Related: Inspiring Quotes to Help You Get Through Your Work Day

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg
Image credit: Johnny Louis | Getty Images

“It’s the hard days, the times that challenge you to your very core, that will determine who you are.”

If you’ve been following Sheryl Sandberg’s impressive life, you’ll know that the Facebook COO has motivation in abundance. She grew up in a relatively middle class family in North Miami Beach and was described by her longtime friend as “driven and motivated” even from a young age. “When she walks into a room, she is very confident.”

Sandberg went on to attend Harvard University, followed by Harvard Business School, where she graduated in the top 5 percent. After getting her M.B.A., she worked for the U.S. Department of Treasury and Google before landing at Facebook.

While Sandberg is involved in many areas at Facebook, she’s been widely credited for developing Facebook’s profitable and flourishing advertising arm. And while growing a $407.3 billion company (valued as of May 2017), she’s also become a global teacher of sorts for women across the globe, writing three New York Times bestsellers (Lean In, Lean In for Graduates and Option B) that provide counsel for women to succeed in the workplace. In her latest work, Option B, she gets even more personal and writes about grit and getting past unforeseen challenges, using her husband’s death as a compelling narrative.

She does all of this while raising two young children. We all could learn a thing or two from this 48-year-old motivational powerhouse.

Related: These 11 Steve Jobs Quotes Will Motivate You to Change the World

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
Image credit: Bennett Raglin | Getty Images

"Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness."

As a little girl, media mogul Oprah Winfrey recalled seeing her grandmother hanging up clothing on a drying line and thinking, “This will not be your life. Your life will be more than hanging clothes on a line." She knew she wanted to be a teacher and “be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be,” she shared. “I never imagined it would be on TV.” 

And teach and inspire she did. Winfrey conquered television as an internationally-popular talk show queen, accumulating enough sway and wealth to launch her own magazine, O., and later, a television network, OWN, in 2011. However, her television network had a rocky start, and there was speculation of whether she had lost her Midas touch.

“When I started this network, if I had only known, good lord, how difficult it would be,” Winfrey said. “The way through the challenge is to get still and ask yourself what is the next right move? [Think about] what is the next right move and not to be overwhelmed by it because you know your life is bigger than that one moment.”  

Her ability to see her larger purpose as well as break down enormous tasks into smaller chunks allows her to stay motivation. While her attempts haven’t always led to success, Winfrey has famously said in the past that failure is simply a way of pointing you in another direction.

Related: 50 Inspirational Entrepreneurial Quotes

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Richard Branson

Richard Branson
Image credit: Astrid Stawiarz | Getty Images

"My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself. I see life almost like one long university education that I never had -- every day I'm learning something new."

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson didn’t have a formal university education. He dropped out of school at the age of 16, however he made up for whatever he lacked in education through his hunger and drive. After he dropped out of school, Branson started a student youth-culture magazine and was able to cover its publication costs through advertising. His foray into the record business was a bit of a fluke: He started a mail-order record business to supplement the funding of his magazine.

However, the mail-order business did pretty well, and soon he had enough money to open a record store. What followed was a recording studio, a record label and a series of Virgin Megastores across the world.

Branson’s motivation for expansion and new business has been illustrated in his extremely adventurous experiments across a very wide range of industries, some that went belly up. His amassing empire eventually became Virgin Group, which currently consists of more than 200 companies internationally and at some points included an airline, trains, mobile phones, cosmetics, cola, a luxury game preserve and a commercial space tourism venture, to name a few.

The 67-year-old Branson has had his share of flops, but his drive to create new businesses, expand Virgin's reach and discover his next adventure still rings true.

Related: 15 Motivational Quotes From Legends in Sports

 

 


 
Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins
Image credit: Jim Spellman | Getty Images

"Leaders spend 5 percent of their time on the problem and 95 percent of their time on the solution. Get over it and crush it!"

Tony Robbins has devoted his life to offering solutions. The life coach and bestselling author was born into a family that struggled and sometimes was unable to afford Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations. During a CNBC interview, Robbins recalled that his mother chased him out of the house at knifepoint when he was 17. It was those early and often painful experiences that forged a motivation fireball within Robbins, who “decided he wanted to be rich when he grew up in order to help people in need.”

It paid off. By the age of 24, Robbins had made his first million. Two years later, he had become a household name with the wild success of his first self-help tome, Unlimited Power. He’s not only built a self-help empire based on books, speaking engagements, seminars and pricey seven-figure one-on-one coaching (clients include Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey), but Robbins has built an extremely diversified empire that reportedly brings in a whopping $6 billion a year.

Robbins is truly the embodiment of someone who decided to allow his difficult past to fuel his motivation to create a future where he is instrumental in helping people worldwide overcome their own challenging pasts.

Related: 38 of the Most Inspirational Leadership Quotes
Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg
Image credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

"The question I ask myself like almost every day is, 'Am I doing the most important thing I could be doing?'"

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s motivation to create a social media network began long before Facebook. At the age of 12, he built an early messaging system called “Zucknet” for his father’s dental practice, which the family also used. During his teen years, he attended the academically elite Phillips Exeter Academy and built an earlier version of a musical software program similar to Pandora. If money was his motivation, it didn’t show. Both AOL and Microsoft offered to buy the software from Zuckerberg -- and both offered him a job. But he declined both and went on to attend Harvard.

While at Harvard, he developed a software program that allowed students to choose courses based on the selections of other students -- essentially, an early dating program. He also developed software called Facemash, which compared the photos of two students and allowed users to vote on their attractiveness. (This was shut down for obvious reasons.)

At Harvard, Zuckerberg had earned a reputation as the go-to guy for software development, which is how the now-infamous Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra approached him to develop an elite Harvard dating site. However, the future tech mogul lost interest in that project and turned his attention to his own social media connection project, The Facebook, an early incarnation of today’s Facebook where users could upload their photos and information on a profile page.

While he dropped out of college his sophomore year, it wasn’t out of lack of drive. He moved to Palo Alto, Calif., in 2004, to devote himself to his startup. By the end of the year, Facebook, which had been run out of his dorm room up until six months earlier, had 1 million users.

It’s hard to imagine where Facebook will venture in the next 10 years. The public company is not only the most popular social media platform in the world, but it’s also a robust advertising company, a bot toolkit provider and the owner of instant messaging company WhatsApp and VR tech company Oculus. Zuckerberg also launched the nonprofit Internet.org in 2013, with the ambitious aim to connect everyone in the world to the internet.

Both Facebook and Zuckerberg have evolved, but his motivations remain: to connect the world.

Related: 11 Successful Kid Entrepreneurs Keeping Their Eyes on the Prize

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
Image credit: Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

“My job isn’t to be easy on people. My job is to make them better.”

The late Steve Jobs accumulated great wealth, but he wasn’t driven by it. He wanted his products to have a profound impact on how people made decisions and behaved. During an interview, Jobs, who was 40 years old at the time, said, “I never did it for the money. I think money is a wonderful thing, because it enables you to do things. It enables you to invest in ideas that don’t have a short-term payback. The most important thing was the company, the people, the products we were making. And what we were going to enable people to do with these products.”  

His big ideas didn’t always pan out: The Lisa, his personal computer project that followed the Apple and Apple II, was a sales flop. Jobs was soon ousted as Apple CEO not too long after Lisa’s release. However, even during his so-called “lost years,” Jobs remained motivated. He founded NeXT, a computer company that he eventually sold to Apple in 1996. He also acquired the animation arm of Lucasfilm, which he recast as Pixar, responsible for megahits Toy Story and Finding Nemo.

But Jobs never lost sight of his first love: In 1997, he was appointed interim-CEO of Apple, and he continued with his demanding and mercurial ways. The next year the world of personal computing was completely shaken with the release of the candy-colored, all-in-one desktop Macintosh. It was a huge hit. Within three years, Jobs was back as full-time CEO, poised to transform the music industry with iTunes, the iPod (and its offshoots) and eventually, the iPhone.

Jobs knew he wanted to create a product that people couldn’t live without. Scratch that -- he wanted to make a product that people loved. “You know, everybody has a cell phone,” Jobs was quoted as saying, “but I don’t know one person who likes their cell phone. I want to make a phone that people love.”

Related: Why Some of the Most Successful Ideas in History Started With Rejection

Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos
Image credit: Paul Morigi | Getty Images

“When it’s tough, will you give up or will you be relentless?”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos displayed astonishing aptitude from the get go. At the age of 3, he reportedly disassembled his crib, because he wanted to sleep on a bed. As a young teen, he used his parents’ garage as his personal laboratory, cultivating his lifelong curiosity with how things work. Eventually, he graduated as valedictorian from his high school in Miami, attending Princeton, where he majored in computer science and electrical engineering.

His relentless drive and motivation distinguished him during his time working in the New York financial market. It was reported that he kept a sleeping bag in his office, and in 1990, he became the youngest vice president of the investment firm, D.E. Shaw.

However, the CEO of Amazon wasn’t motivated by the acquisition of money so much as how money can influence people’s lives and behavior. So when he discovered in 1994 that the internet -- largely disregarded at the time -- was growing at an astonishing 2,300 percent a year, Bezos set out to figure out a business opportunity that would capitalize on that growth.

What emerged was an online bookstore -- which didn’t seem remarkable at the time  --- but because the internet was growing at such a rapid clip, his business kept growing. He was able to build on the business, improve its offerings and framework and acquire additional businesses -- until it became the Amazon we know today.

Much of Amazon’s growth is due to Bezos’s motivation to experiment and figure out how things work, something he had cultivated at a young age. He takes this innovative approach to his other businesses, The Washington Post and space exploration company Blue Origin.

Related: 50 Inspirational Quotes to Help You Achieve Your Goals

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  • Fuel Your Drive With These Motivational Stories of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Oprah Winfrey
  • 1. Elon Musk
  • 2. Sheryl Sandberg
  • 3. Oprah Winfrey
  • 4. Richard Branson
  • 5. Tony Robbins
  • 6. Mark Zuckerberg
  • 7. Steve Jobs
  • 8. Jeff Bezos
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