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What Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, and Lady Gaga Have in Common

Steven Spielberg, Richard Branson, and Lady Gaga are not accidental successes. Each of the icons had a "whatever it takes" attitude exemplified by a defining moment that determined the rest of their lives. I want to share each of those moments with you here.

Steven Spielberg

We all know Spielberg as one of the most successful directors in Hollywood's history. He's responsible for Jaws, E.T., Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Saving Private Ryan, and so many other blockbusters! Not to mention any influence he had on close friend George Lucas' making of Star Wars!

But what you may not know, is that Spielberg was denied acceptance from USC Film School 3 times! It's laughable now in light of his successful career, but I'd be willing to bet the majority of people would've shoved their director dreams in the trash after rejection number 1, let alone number 3. But not Spielberg! What does Spielberg decide to do?

At age 19, he enrolls in CSU Long Beach to continue his education, based on the fact that it's close enough to Hollywood for his sneaky plans. On one of his free days from school, he goes on a tour of Hollywood's backstage area on one of the trams they have to show people around. But Spielberg isn't interested in the whole tour.

The Defining Moment:

He jumps off the tram when the tour guide isn't looking at hides in a coat closet until they pass far enough along.

He starts walking around the sets trying to take in as much as he can to further his own education, when a man comes up to him and asks him who he is and what he's doing there.

In a moment of panic and desperation, Spielberg spills his guts and goes on to tell his dream of being a Hollywood director!

Instead of kicking him out, the man listens to the young Spielberg and talks with him for over an hour about his dreams. He ends up giving Spielberg a 3 day pass to come back the following few days and continue his own self-taught education of the backstage areas.

After the 3 days pass, Spielberg decides he wants more and psychologically tricks the guards at the entrance by wearing a suit and tie, holding a briefcase, and acting extremely confident. They let him in! He spends the next few months taking as many people as he can out to lunch and soaking up everything he can about the industry.

Months later, the man who initially gave him the 3 day pass tells Spielberg he needs to quit schmoozing and produce something of value if he's going to make it. Spielberg returns with a short film he produced, which is so good that the man calls the president of Universal and puts his career on the line vouching for the young Spielberg. After watching his short film, the President hands Spielberg his first director contract, and the rest is history!

Richard Branson

Richard Branson is one of the most well-known and well-loved personalities in business today, not to mention outrageously successful. Branson is the Founder of the Virgin group, which now controls more than 400 successful companies around the world in just about every industry you can imagine.

That wasn't necessarily going to be the case though. Branson's first two attempts at business, growing and selling Christmas trees and parakeets respectively, both failed horribly. He didn't quit though. He knew he wanted to work for himself and that he would do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Next, he opened a magazine named Student, which went on to be successful after a few years of hard work. That's already pretty impressive and indicative of someone who was going to be successful, but that's not his defining moment.

The Defining Moment:

In his late twenties, Branson was on his way to see a pretty girl he liked in the Virgin Islands during a vacation. It was a long trip with multiple layovers. While at the airport, his final flight was cancelled by the airline and he was told there were no other flights leaving that night.

Determined to see the girl he liked and to make the best of the situation, Branson charters a private plane to the Virgin Islands, which he didn't have the money for. Next, he writes "Virgin Airlines, $29" on a small sign and goes to the waiting area of the flight that had just been cancelled and starts selling off the remaining seats in the plane, paying for his entire trip.

Despite the many incredible and outlandish things Branson has done throughout his career, it is this moment that perfectly exemplifies his business attitude to me.

Faced with a certain and definite reality of not getting out of the airport that night, Branson not only refuses to accept that reality, but decides to get others there as well, in addition to making money on top of it all!

Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga is one of the most controversial icons of our age. Taking influence from Queen, David Bowie, and Madonna, the Pop-Star seemingly bounces through musical genres as often as she does shocking costume attires. The number of awards and nominations she has received from all over the world and across music, film, fashion, and activism is staggering.

Of all the success stories though, Gaga's was most certainly one of the key stories that was absolutely not guaranteed.

Gaga, whose real name is Stefani Germanotta, was no doubt a talented musician from a young age. Her mother saw her precocious nature and started asking night clubs if she could sit with her daughter on stage just to let her play for an audience as early as 14 years old.

She even went to the NYU Tisch School of Arts at age 17 to focus on music, but ended up dropping out a year later to play music full time for various venues in New York.

The Defining Moment:

After months of playing for rowdy bars and nightclubs, she became frustrated by the fact that the venues would never quiet down enough for her to feel like her music could be heard and appreciated.

One night, she found herself in a bar filled with fraternity and sorority kids who were all yelling and drinking loudly while she was getting ready to go on stage. She had a bunch of new material she had worked passionately on and was determined to have it be heard.

Germanotta walks up on stage in a stylish outfit and waits and waits until quiets down, but to no avail. She didn't want to play while they were all yelling, so she stripped down to her underwear to get their attention and when they were all quiet and looking at her, she started playing! And in that moment, Gaga decided who she would be as a musician for the coming years.

The Common Thread

Spielberg, Branson, and Lady Gaga are atypical humans living extraordinary lives, but they had every reason to accept the ordinary life being handed to them.

College rejects and dropouts.

Trespassers, liars, and harlots.

The cost of success didn't matter to them.

They were determined to be successful.

These are extreme examples, but the lesson is clear: successful people do whatever it takes to make their dreams a reality.

It's likely you have a dream life you think about anytime you let yourself drift off in reverie.

Maybe you want to run your side business full time. Maybe you want to travel the world out of a backpack. Maybe you want to be a famous artist or musician. Whatever it is, you're bound to come up against plenty of good reasons why your dream life shouldn't be your real life.

But if we can learn anything from Spielberg, Branson, and Lady Gaga, it's that our Dreams can be turned into a Reality if we're willing to do whatever it takes!

Here's to you Actualizing Your Potential!


With gratitude,

Dennis McGinley

Founder and Performance Coach @ STRIVENT

"Actualize your Potential!"


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