It’s 2015. I’m crouched on the bathroom floor of my tiny apartment, coaching a client overseas. We’ve been talking for an hour and after we hang up I send her an invoice–for $27.
The day before, I contemplated selling my engagement ring just to make rent, buy some decent food and keep the lights on. Did I mention that have a PhD (earned at tender age of 25), a cushy Fortune 500 job and a husband who adores me?
Fast forward 18 months later, and I’ve made over half a million dollars, traveled to 36 countries with my husband and yes, I’m still rocking my engagement ring (whew!). Today, I run a coaching business that’s about to cross the seven-figure mark … just before I turn 30.
I’m no longer charging $27 per hour, nor am I sitting on the bathroom floor doing it. So, you’re probably wondering: “Wait, what? But, how?” Well, I learned indispensable lessons that most successful people, like Gary Vaynerchuk and Mila Kunis, know all too well.
Now, you might not know me (yet), but I can almost guarantee you know Gary and Mila. And the three of us share eerily similar stories.
Here’s how Gary, Mila, and myself included got to where we are now.
1. Humble beginnings don’t define you
I was born in communist Ukraine, so I literally grew up in an environment where dreaming big, wanting more and speaking up (especially as a woman) wasn’t safe. In 2010 – after craving more my whole life – I traveled 40 hours by bus with my fiancé-now-husband (and just two bags!). I left everything I knew behind, including friends, family, and most of my belongings. I had to sacrifice much more than sleep, or even friendships to reach the level of success I have today. I truly risked everything to have a bigger life.
Mila’s story is similar. She too was born in Ukraine, and her family also made the tough decision to leave home and give up everything for a chance at a better life. “We came to this country with literally nothing,” Mila has said. As for Gary, he, too, was born in a former Soviet country, Belarus. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1978, and for many years, Gary and his eight family members shacked up in a studio apartment in Queens. As immigrants from Soviet communist countries, nothing and nobody predicted we’d be successful–but we didn’t let that stop us.
2. Haters gonna hate
I’ve done a lot of things other people have called “crazy.” I was crazy to leave Ukraine and leave my corporate 9-5 (and 35 days of paid vacation) to start a business in a foreign language (English was not my mother tongue), to name a few. But despite all the naysayers who called these big risks “insane,” I knew I had to fight for my dreams no matter the cost. And, of course, prove the haters wrong.
Mila also had to go against the grain. It’s a well-known fact that she lied about her age to land a breakout role on That ‘70s Show. Auditions required actors to be at least 18 years old; Kunis was 14 at the time. She wasn’t willing to let anyone or anything (including the law) get in the way of her dreams.
As for Gary… he might have a large fanbase, but he’s also drawn fierce criticism for being brash and over-the-top. The New York Times once called him a “tireless self-promoter.” But love him or hate him, Gary continues to pound the pavement and share his message. Not everyone will get it or you, and that’s fine. When you start to push yourself, it is normal for others around you to get uncomfortable.
3. It’s okay to be the black sheep
It’s okay to be an outlier in your family. You will be met with skepticism if you try to do something outside the norm. I’m the first woman in my family to move abroad to chase her dreams – let alone start her own million dollar business. I’ve done something people in my home country were once jailed for. My parents and grandparents couldn’t even travel abroad when they were young because they feared being “caught” and publicly judged, so I had plenty of people in my inner circle (family included) doubt my decisions.
But despite the fear that literally runs in my DNA, I also grew up with the mindset that if you want something in life, sometimes you have to fight for it.
Mila’s parents weren’t exactly supportive of her career decisions. She once said during an interview, “[My parents] never wanted me to become an actress because it’s such an unstable and unpredictable profession. When you’re immigrants, and you have to work hard for everything just to survive, it’s only natural that you worry about having a stable job and income.”
And while Gary actually built his family’s small business into an empire, his traditional family initially frowned upon his idea to grow it online. Good thing he didn’t listen. “Wine Library began as a small New Jersey liquor store owned by Sasha Vaynerchuk, a recent immigrant from Babruysk (now Belarus)… Eventually, Gary took over his father’s business and started to inject his own personality into the brand. WineLibrary.com was an eCommerce trail blazer and Gary used tools like email lists and video to expand the reach beyond New Jersey.” Gary’s YouTube channel exploded and led him to become a well-known digital media marketer.
Anything is possible
Mila’s family came to the U.S. with $250. Gary started out s the “wine shop” guy. And a little over two years ago, I was sitting on my bathroom floor selling $27 coaching sessions with a PhD degree no one cared about.
Today, Mila’s a sought-after Hollywood actress, Gary’s a marketing mogul, and I’ve built close to a million dollar coaching business. I’ve also opened an e-commerce store and taught entrepreneurship for free in developing countries to spread the message that anything is possible, no matter where you start.
You get to decide where you’re going. Not your family, not society, not your past–you! I think both Gary and Mila would agree.
Daria Zest, founder of Signature Life, is a success coach and business mentor for female entrepreneurs. After leaving her Fortune 500 job with a PhD degree, she built close to a seven-figure business in two years. Daria teaches online entrepreneurship to women around the world helping them obtain financial and location freedom. Connect with @dariazest on Twitter.