Idols are not born.
They are created. But, it’s easy to forget that even heroes like Abraham Lincoln or Amelia Earhart were relative unknowns before they pursued the visions that earned them a place on the global pedestal. Greatness is obtained through years of hard work, day in and day out.
People at the top of their game began with a clear idea of what they sought to achieve and then fought through many obstacles to define their paths before changing the world. What may seem like an overnight success story probably has blood, sweat, and tears as the backstory.
This narrative of self-driven success doesn’t purely exist in fantasy, in the glossy pages of comic books, or in the imaginative minds of illustrators like Stan Lee. For example, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple 1 in a garage. Richard Branson dropped out of high school at age 15 and began growing his own record company, which eventually became Virgin Records.
Oprah was born into poverty but is now one of the most influential media moguls in the world. Jay Z struggled for years before he became one of the best rappers in the game and the king of his own music empire. Plus, he’s married to Beyoncé, a musical empress in her own right. These icons are a testament to the fact that unrelenting perseverance, regardless of failure, rejection, and insecurity, will often result in reward.
As Henry David Thoreau once said, "If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours." In order to achieve greatness within your lifetime, you cannot settle for a comfortable, rhythmic routine just because you’re afraid of what might happen if you try just a little bit harder. Everything described above is exactly what the new heroes on our radar are doing. From a baseball legend, to a couple of comedy up-and-comers, and a chef/entrepreneur hybrid thrown in for good measure, these innovators are revolutionizing their respective fields, and with them, an entire generation of “doers” in the process.
With each new move, these relentless visionaries are rewriting their job descriptions, challenging what’s expected of them, and embarking on unexpected new journeys. They’re also showing those who aspire to be them that achieving your dreams doesn’t necessarily mean filling someone else’s shoes, but rather growing out of them, hanging them up, and lacing up a new pair of your own.
In 1974, a young boy was born just 27 miles away from Yankee Stadium in Pequannock Township, New Jersey. Forty years later, the same kid who once looked forward to attending Yankee games with his grandparents is now one of the most respected ball players in history. But back then, everyone could already see inklings of his greatness, including the boy himself—the boy who became Derek Jeter. According to Jeter’s former fourth great teacher, Shirley Garzelloni, Jeter once stood in front of the room and boldly proclaimed to his peers during a class sharing exercise: “When I grow up, I’m going to be a shortstop for the New York Yankees.” Later, in his junior high yearbook, he was voted “Most Likely to Play Shortstop for the New York Yankees.” Those around him perceived Jeter’s confidence in his own career path. During his junior and senior year of high school, he struck out only once, while maintaining his 3.82 GPA. In 1992, while Jeter was still in high school, he was drafted for the minor leagues; by 1995, he was in the major leagues, and by 1996 he was the starting shortstop for the Yankees, fulfilling the prophetic high school superlative.
It’s impossible to discredit Jeter’s career. He's the Yankee's all-time career leader in hits, doubles, games played, stolen bases, times on base, and plate appearances (at the astounding number of 12,602). Even after his last game in September of 2014, all eyes were (and are) still on the legendary player. He has always kept his personal life guarded, which gives fans more time to focus on what Jeter does best: work.
Jeter boasts a 20-year career behind the plate, where he brought new meaning to the phrase “quality player.” While baseball’s first recorded game was in 1846, Jeter is admired for the way he modernized the position of shortstop by being consistent in his skill and work ethic, serving as a model for future players to follow. The only times in which he played less than 148 games per season—occurring only three times during his professional career—were due to injuries. He earned all five of his World Series championships and each of his 14 All-Star selections by showing up to play and never calling it in. He worked his hardest at every single game.
Jeter isn’t reinventing himself so much as he is embarking on his next great play. Eventually, that might mean buying a baseball team, much like his hero, the late George “The Boss” Steinbrenner. For now, it’s working on The Players’ Tribune, which he founded a month after his last pro game. It’s a website dedicated to telling the stories of athletes in their own words. Jeter’s main goal now, according to The Players’ Tribune, is “...for the site to ultimately transform how athletes and newsmakers share information, bringing fans closer than ever to the games they love.”
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
It’s impossible to not become obsessed with the Comedy Central show Broad City and its stars, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. The show’s supporting cast is stellar, the writers are hilarious, strong women who know the turf of New York City, and one of the show’s executive producers is Amy Poehler. In short, Broad City is a critical darling, and everything that touches the show seems to be gold. However, the glue that holds the whole spectacle together is the whimsical duo Glazer and Jacobson, who built the show’s foundation from scratch.
Glazer and Jacobson met in 2007 while working together at the Secret Promise Circle, an improv practice team at the Upright Citizens Brigade. However, Glazer and Jacobson were unable to lock in enough main stage shows to showcase their comedy acts, despite it being their collective dream. In fact, failure, though a nasty word, is what drove the duo to work even harder. As comedians, failure is the flip side of a coin—sometimes you slay the crowd, and sometimes you bomb. Each time you get on stage as a comedian, it’s a 50/50 shot. Jacobson admits that in high school she used to audition for the musicals, but never got the role. However, this didn’t deter her. After graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, where she minored in video and made goofy videos of herself playing different characters, she moved to New York and enrolled in the Atlantic Acting School. She lasted a week. She dropped out and worked at Anthropologie in Rockefeller Center. She said to the New Yorker, “That was as close as I could get to Saturday Night Live.” Much like her character on the show, Jacobson moved to Astoria with a friend; it was her roommate that recommended UCB.
Glazer, in turn, also made hours of videos (some of which have made to the Internet)—entitled KRAP-TV and Glazer Broadcasting Systems—with her older brother, who got her involved with standup comedy and UCB. Together, the Glazers started the Secret Promise Circle. This is where Glazer met Jacobson. Both were constantly auditioning for UCB gigs before Broad City came about, proving that failure may shut the door on one project, but it opens a window for another.
So, the digitally savvy girls decided to take to the Internet. In 2009, they began creating opportunities for themselves by filming their own web series called “Broad City” and posting it online. The series quickly amassed a large cult following, including Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler. Boldly, Jacobson and Glazer asked Poehler to come on the show as a producer, and help them make the transformation from web series to TV show. Although the series initially faced rejection from FX, Poehler and the Broad City girls were undeterred. Together, they worked tirelessly to repackage the show, which ultimately found its home on Comedy Central. Jacobson and Glazer’s show is unlike anything else on television, largely because it was born and raised on the Internet and then retrofitted for TV. This digital culture even carries over into Broad City characters’ lives. They are seen chatting with each other via webcam, making FaceTime calls, and talking about blogs. One character even has a very real tumblr dedicated to his pasta-making career.
The show finds some common ground with other beloved programs, like focusing on New York as a character, à la Sex and the City, or twentysomethings finding their purpose in life, like HBO’s Girls. But Broad City is, at least on one level, much more realistic than both, while still being quite simple in its delivery. The plot is essentially a platonic love story between two best friends, possibly the most realistic depiction of female friendship ever filmed. Broad City, on which Glazer and Jacobson serve as head writers, producers, and stars, covers all aspects of life for a new generation—from art openings and yogurt shops, to wisdom teeth removal and struggling to find your place in society.
And it’s a huge success. On January 2015, Broad City’s second season premiered, and on the same day it was already renewed for a third season. Broad City is breathing a lot of new life into television in the Internet age.