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Some people start from nothing and slowly work their way up to prominence in their fields like they’re supposed to. However, every now and then, we see people who had a combination of luck, raw talent, work ethic, and being in the right place at the right time who came out strong right out of school and never looked back. Here are three of my favorites.
He’s the man who owns the Dallas Mavericks, and he’s also the sharkiest of the “Shark Tank” crew. Cuban worked a bunch of side jobs and got his start early, managing to become the part-owner of a college bar while he was still in school (and also while he was underage). He moved to Dallas after college with no money because he heard the women were great (they are). He hustled software for a while, but when he got fired for not opening the store because he decided to make a customer call instead, he took a bunch of his clients for himself and started up a new software company, MicroSolutions. He immediately started killing it, because he was one of the few business guys in the industry who actually made an effort to fully understand the technology he was selling.
Cuban sold MicroSolutions to CompuServe in 1990 for $6 million. He was 32. He then started what was basically the first sports media site, Broadcast.com, which he sold in 1999 right before the dot com crash for $5.9 billion in Yahoo stock. He promptly unloaded this for more stable assets, protecting himself from losing everything like so many other tech guys did. He bought the Mavericks before his 40th birthday and the rest is history. This all happened because he decided to bust his ass in his twenties and do something no one else thought to do: spend his free time understanding the business he was in.
Los Angeles, 1982. A kid sits in his shitty apartment, pecking away at a typewriter. He’s 22, fresh out of UCLA, and wants to make movies. He’s working on the script for a crime comedy that he thinks could be huge. In fact, he even writes that in the scene descriptions of his script.
“The kind of house that I’ll buy if this movie is a huge hit. Chrome. Glass. Carved wood. Plus an outdoor solarium: A glass structure, like a greenhouse only there’s a big swimming pool inside. This is a really great place to have sex.”
No one writes like that. Nobody. He doesn’t know that, though. He’s an overconfident 22-year-old UCLA graduate who just wants to make movies, remember? That idiot kid ended up selling that script a year later for a quarter million dollars. Even crazier, it actually got made. They paired a rising Australian movie star with an older, grumpier black counterpart, and Riggs and Murtaugh were born. That’s right, 22-year-old Shane Black wrote “Lethal Weapon” in his crappy apartment with no assurance whatsoever that he’d be able to do anything with it. After that, he got paid $125,000 just to come up with the idea for the sequel. He then went on to be the second highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, including a then-record sale of “The Long Kiss Goodnight” for $4 million.
The boom of the screenplay market went belly-up after the ‘90s, and Shane Black hung out under the radar for about a decade before coming back in force. He wrote and directed one of my favorite films ever, “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” which directly contributed to Robert Downey, Jr., earning his role in “Iron Man.” Black even worked as an unofficial advisor on the first movie, helping Jon Favreau and Downey, Jr., break the story and work out tough scenes. It was no surprise that when Favreau stepped down as the director of the franchise to work on other projects, Shane Black got drafted to write and direct “Iron Man 3,” an awesome blockbuster that made a bazillion dollars at the box office. Not bad for an idiot postgrad in a shitty apartment.
When Dave created the Foo Fighters a year or so after Kurt Cobain’s death, everyone looked at him like he was a veteran rock musician going his own way. Some people were actually upset that Grohl would even have the audacity to start a new band after being so intrinsically associated with one of the greatest rock bands ever–he was sullying the legacy of the band he had been such an important member of. How old was he when he made that decision? Mid-thirties? That’s what I would have guessed. Nope. He was 25. Twenty-fucking-five. Dave Grohl started the Foo Fighters and was already considered to be a rock legend at my current age. Do you realize how insane that is?
Not only did he start a band, in fact, but he formed them into the current greatest rock band on planet Earth. He just got initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Nirvana, and there’s a 100 percent chance that the Foo Fighters will be inducted as well. You know how many people have been inducted twice into the Hall of Fame for two separate bands (as opposed to one band and their solo career)? Seven. If he gets inducted for his time as a drummer with Queens of the Stone Age, he’ll be only the second three-time inductee ever. The other one? Eric Clapton. What are you doing with your mid-twenties, asshole?
A billionaire businessman, a screenwriter, and a rock star. What do they have in common? They jumped out to early leads in their businesses right after college, sure. But the reason that they still have relevance to this day, despite being well out of their postgrad years, is because they busted their asses and did things no one else did. Cuban read manuals, Shane Black broke every screenwriting “rule,” and Dave Grohl kept making pure rock music when everyone else was going digital. You can be as talented as you want all day, but unless you put your head down and try to distinguish yourself, you’re just going to end up another critic who claims life dealt you a shitty hand.