Some people are born pretty. Some are born smart, or sporty, or with a silver spoon in their mouth. But nobody on this earth is born successful. Riches and talent may smooth their path, but those who get to the top get there through grit, determination, and perseverance. As Archimedes definitely didn’t say, give me an attitude strong enough, and I shall move the world.

To prove the point, here are five people (or groups of people) who used daring, positivity, and self-believe to smash world records, win national television shows… and give a great soundbite after being routed in a vote by a less famous version of David Cameron:

1. Tom Pellereau

Before he became the most adorable Apprentice winner of all time, Tom-the-inventor was a nobody with ideas coming out of his ears and zero buyers interested in putting his creations on the shelves. So he took his latest invention, wrapped it up into a beautifully presented gift and insisted on delivering it personally to a top buyer. It worked, which is doubly impressive when you consider the ‘invention’ was essentially a slightly snazzier version of the rather unsexy nail file.

Moral of the story: a bit of bottle and a bit of charm will get you far. Never sit around waiting for good things to come to you – go out and grab them for yourself. 


Alan Sugar and Tom Pellereau

2. Iris Apfel 


There aren’t many people who have earned the moniker “geriatric starlet”, but then there aren’t many people like Iris Apfel. You’ll recognise her from the Citroen DS adverts, but she’s also been the face of numerous designer collections and magazine covers. Iris is 95 years old. She was retired and in her eighties before she was “discovered” by an exhibition at the Met. She’s since built herself up into a fashion icon and celebrity superstar.

Iris is living proof that there is no such thing as “too late”. So follow your dreams, strive for success, and keep believing in yourself. If nine decades and two hip operations didn’t hold Iris back, you’ve got no excuse! 





Lady in living room

3. Alasdair de Voil

If you’re wondering who on earth Alasdair de Voil is you clearly didn’t follow the Whitney by-election closely enough. Alasdair, also known as Mad Hatter, attempted to wrest David Cameron’s former constituency away from the Tories by standing as a representative for the Monster Raving Loony Party. (Flagship policy of said party? Solving the red squirrel population crisis by painting half the grey ones’ crimson.)

Alasdair lost. He lost badly. But he earns a place on this list for his subsequent show of such incredible optimism and positive thinking that he should be an inspiration to us all:

“It seems we are catching up fast with the Greens and UKIP who, despite all their media attention, still only have one more M.P. than us.” 



Man holding poster

4. Tina Seelig’s Students

Tina Seelig is a professor at Stanford. One day, she decided to give her students a business assignment: create as much money as possible in two hours using just $5. The class was divided into teams and were told to give a presentation on their methods after completing the task.

Plenty of teams made tidy profits by setting up mini-businesses selling restaurant reservations or pumping up student bicycles tires. But one group blew them all out of the water by turning in a cool $650, or a 4000% ROI.

How did they do it? They sold their presentation slot to a company looking to advertise to Stanford students. Capitalism at its finest, and also a nifty example of why creative thinking is so valuable. Next time you’re faced with a challenging project, remember that thinking outside the box means rethinking every assumption you would normally make. Look for the solutions that never cross most people’s minds. 

Woman talking

5. Diana Nyad

In her twenties, Diana Nyad had a dream. She wanted to swim between Cuba and Florida -100km in distance- through some of the most dangerous waters in the world. Nobody had ever managed to do it. So she tried, and she failed. She tried again, and she failed again. Again, and again, she tried and failed.

On her fifth attempt, age 64 years old, Diana Nyad reached the shore of Key West. She’d battled box jellyfish, sharks, deadly currents, hypothermia, vomiting, and hallucinations. She battled through for 53 hours.

When Diana talks about her experience, she emphasises two things. The first is the role of her support team. Without the help of other people, she could never have attempted, never mind achieved, her lifelong dream. The second emphasis is placed on the extended, all-consuming, backbreaking work that went into achieving her feat. The lesson is that success doesn’t come easy, and cannot be achieved alone. “Every day of our lives is epic,” Diana says.

Wise words. Go out and make them so.


Woman thinking


Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.



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