Going it alone
February 9, 2009 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Tell me stories about successful people that deviated from the typical career path.

I am a year and a half removed from college. Since graduation I have been working in consulting. I'm not a fan, for many reasons much too long to list here. But the principal one is that I look at my coworkers and they are extremely risk adverse, "corporatey" people; and I am frightened of the thought of being like my more senior colleagues when I get older.

I would love to work at a startup to experience the opposite side of things, and truthfully I have been looking for something new for over a year. The search has been difficult for obvious reasons. I want to go out and strike my own path but I don't know where this might be and I'm afraid that by doing so I might somehow leave the rat race and be unable to reenter it, should I want to in the future.

I have found articles in the New Yorker such as this one about Alford and Naomi Duguid and this one about former Peace Corps volunteers inspiring. I am looking for other stories, anecdotes, resources about people that have struck it out on their own in business and in life, and the successes, or perhaps lack thereof, that they have found.
posted by prunes to Work & Money (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
bill gates dropped out of harvard to start his own business.
posted by lia at 7:34 PM on February 9, 2009

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs never finished college (I do believe).

Warren Buffet's story is worth looking into.

And then there's the non-money route, people who dedicated their lives to service and didn't end up rich and famous. Sorry so short of an answer.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:34 PM on February 9, 2009

The Malcom Gladwell book Outliers has a lot of this type of story, however it should be noted that the book focuses on outliers (the super successful), and why they were successful. This may not be inspiring if you don't share similar traits. That being said, I highly recommend the book.

Google does a pretty good job if you search quit corporate life. This article is first, I liked it because I've always though it'd be awesome to own a restaurant.
posted by magikker at 7:42 PM on February 9, 2009

Barack Obama: declined prestigious clerkships and cushy academic appointments, stuck to community organizing, running for state office, and then something else.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:02 PM on February 9, 2009

Paul Erdos barely fit into the mold of a mathematician, a position which is not generally thought of as being "corporatey". The wonderful biography about him is The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:03 PM on February 9, 2009

What Should I Do With My Life is a bunch of anecdotes about this kind of thing.
posted by milkrate at 8:24 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm now the Program Manager for Supply Chain implementations for one of the largest NGOs in the world, most of my work being in various African countries. I guess I don't think about it much, but I consider the fact that I've found rewarding work that helps other people and sends me around the world to be fairly equivocal with what one might term "success." Its certainly been the most rewarding thing I've ever done.

I was formerly in consulting myself, and had similar feelings to what you listed above. I felt the need for a change, started looking around at options, and then I made one. I've written about it in a few different places around MeFi, from time to time.

If you'd care to find out more, just shoot me a me-mail.

The road less traveled is a lonesome and often difficult one, but I couldn't recommend it highly enough to you, if you think you're up to it. Throw yourself at it with everything you've got.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:00 AM on February 10, 2009

fairly equivocal equivalent (whoops)
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:04 AM on February 10, 2009

John Mackey
The people on this list.

I actually don't know of any others off the top of my head that haven't already been mentioned. What I'd suggest is going to a Libertarian forum and asking this question, because you'll find it's very common in that independent-leaning group (whether you agree with their politics or not). You might find more practical examples, because not all of us who go off the beaten path end up being Bill Gates.


Good luck with this. I see myself doing the same thing in 5-10 years. It's scary, but I think the possible rewards make the risk worth it.
posted by metalheart at 5:31 AM on February 10, 2009

I don't mean to be a killjoy, but Bill Gates pretty much left college because his business was already taking off. He was incredibly privileged with knowledge of computers and programming right before they caught on big with mainstream business and then consumers.

Steve Jobs, however, is a different story. Based on his Wikipedia page, he dropped out of college and spent some time in India and working at Atari (where, incidentally, he proposed selling the Apple I, which Nolan Bushnell thought was useless) before starting his own business.

Still, I wouldn't totally shun higher education. Consider taking some courses at a community college or adult education center that you think might broaden your horizons or give you a taste of a new field. At worst, it can't hurt your resume.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:49 AM on February 10, 2009

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