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7 times people have surprised themselves by accomplishing great things

Updated Friday, 13th March 2015

Sometimes discovering what you're capable of can surprise you. Get inspiration from these seven talented people who were pleasantly surprised by themselves.

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1. The janitor who invented the Game Boy 

When Gunpei Yokoi was a janitor at Nintendo back in 1965, he thought to himself: ‘hey, why not create a mechanical arm in-between cleaning the floors and checking the plumbing?’  That toy arm caught the attention of the company’s president who invited Yokoi to invent more games. Eventually, Yoko surprised himself by inventing one of the world’s most popular video game devices, the Game Boy. 

2. The college actor who embraced the anti-hero to become a global star

Shah Rukh Khan started out as a theatre actor in college but it was taking risks that led him to where he is today. By embracing the anti-hero: criminals, sociopaths and murderers, previously unheard of in Indian cinema, his career now spans 25 years and 80 Hindi films, placing him as the top earning cinema actor on the planet.

3. The daughter of a bankrupt who became a leading businesswoman 

Hilary Devey Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC
After her father was declared bankrupt, Hilary Devey had to leave school at the age of 16 to bring in some money. While working, she noticed how difficult it was to transport small consignments of palletised freight. But the backers she approached with solutions weren’t keen. That didn’t stop her. After remortgaging her house, she eventually became CEO of freight distribution network Pall-EX and was even a dragon on BBC's Dragons' Den.

4. The dropout who became the king of fashion 

After dropping out of school to join the Army Reserve, Ralph Lauren became a clerk at men’s clothing company, Brooks Brothers. He eventually worked his way up through the ranks to launch his own tie label, Polo. This label expanded into a huge global brand and Lauren is now the 155th richest person in the world. Not bad for a drop out, hey? 
  • Check out our free content on leadership and management. 

5. The farm boy who made children’s dreams come true 

Walt Disney (pictured above as a child, middle right) spent his childhood on his parent’s farm drawing pictures for his neighbour. He didn’t do it for free though, the clever kid charged. But when he entered the big bad world, it wasn’t so easy to make money from his talents as he found it impossible to find a job. He finally found his break when he worked at an advertising company and was inspired to launch his own animation business, getting his happily ever after. 

6. The waitress who became a global pop star 

Annie Lennox was born with a talent for music, leading her to attend the Royal Academy of Music in London. But her time there was tough as she juggled studying with a variety of part-time jobs, from being a waitress to a barmaid. But she didn’t give up and eventually became part of what is one of the UK’s most successful pop groups, Eurythmics. 

7. The regular teenager who became a cancer researcher

Jack Andraka was a typical American teenager when someone close to him received a fatal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. To cut a long story short, Jack did a tonne of research online and in laboratories and came up with an antibody test which could eventually reduce the risk of several types of cancer. Motivated by loss, and with a huge dose of determination, Jack went from regular teenager to scientist, inventor and cancer researcher.
Many Open University students surprise themselves when they sign up for courses, discovering new skills and capabilities. Find out more about life changing learning and maybe you’ll surprise yourself. 



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