What 21 highly successful people were doing right out of college

The first few years after college can be the launching pad for the rest of your career — it’s why successful people often advise young people to start doing what they love as soon as they can.

But while some tech geniuses and business tycoons took this route to success, finding the optimal career path right away is easier said than done for many, and others found career bliss many years down the road.

To show that no two paths to success are alike, here’s what 21 highly successful people were doing right out of college.

Aaron Taube contributed to an earlier version of this article.

Steve Jobs dropped out of college, but kept learning.

The Apple cofounder dropped out of Reed College, an elite liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, where he started doing lots of LSD and learning about spirituality, after six months, according to 'Steve Jobs' by Walter Isaacson.

Jobs said he didn't see the value in paying for an expensive college when he didn't know what he wanted to do. But his edification didn't end when he dropped out.

For the next 18 months, he would sleep on the floor in friends' rooms, live the bohemian lifestyle and return soda bottles for spare change, and drop in on the creative classes he wanted to take at Reed College, like calligraphy.

'If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts,' Jobs said during his commencement address at Stanford in 2005. 'And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.'

Marissa Mayer became Google employee No. 20.

At 24, fresh out of grad school, Mayer became the 20th Google employee and the company's first female engineer. She remained with the company for 13 years before moving on to her current role as CEO of Yahoo.

Google didn't have the sorts of lavish campuses it does now, Mayer said in an interview with VMakers, 'During my interviews, which were in April of 1999, Google was a seven-person company. I arrived and I was interviewed at a ping pong table which was also the company's conference table, and it was right when they were pitching for venture capitalist money, so actually after my interview Larry and Sergey left and took the entire office with them.'

Since everyone in the office interviewed you in those days, Mayer had to come back the next day for another round.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson was cut by a Canadian Football League team.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Before he was 'the most electrifying man in sports entertainment,' Johnson was a backup defensive lineman on the University of Miami football team.

He tried to go pro after he graduated in 1995, but he was cut from the Canadian Football Leagues' Calgary Stampeders two months into the season. 'That was my absolute worst time,' he later told The Hollywood Reporter.

Johnson responded by persuading his father to train him in the family business of professional wrestling soon after, and he made his World Wrestling Federation debut as Rocky Maivia the following year.

Hillary Clinton worked in an Alaska salmon-processing factory.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library

After graduating from Wellesley University and before enrolling at Yale Law School, the now Democratic presidential candidate struck out for Alaska, where she spent a summer doing a number of odd jobs, like washing dishes at Mt. McKinley National Park and working in a salmon-processing factory.

Her salmon processing job required her to remove guts from salmon with a spoon and pack the salmon head to tail, Clinton said during a 'Today' show interview.

She was ultimately fired for telling one of her supervisors that some of the fish looked bad, but she later joked that the work was great training for her time in Washington.

Sean John Combs worked as a talent director at a record label.

Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Combs made a bet on his career in 1990 when he dropped out of Howard University to take a full-time talent scouting job at Uptown Records, where he had previously been interning.

In his first post-college job, Combs oversaw the career of Mary J. Blige, and, at age 22, he produced her hit album 'What's the 411?'

That same year, Combs signed the young rapper Biggie Smalls, who would later be known as The Notorious B.I.G.

Combs returned to Howard in 2014 to receive an honorary degree and give a commencement speech.

Sheryl Sandberg worked for her mentor Larry Summers at the World Bank.

Sandberg's thesis adviser and economics professor Larry Summers recruited her to be his assistant at the World Bank, where he took on the job of chief economist shortly after Sandberg graduated from Harvard in 1991, the New Yorker reports.

There, Sandberg spent most of her time putting together data and helping Summers with his speeches and papers. In her book, 'Lean In,' Sandberg writes that she had originally intended to be a lawyer but that Lant Pritchett, another World Bank economist, persuaded her to go to business school instead.

As Pritchett told The Guardian: 'I tried to convince her that what lawyers did was get deals done for people who were making deals, and she should be in charge of the deals and have lawyers work for her. She should go and get a business degree that would prepare her to run the world. It took about three or four weeks to realise that this young woman was going to surpass me very fast.'

Sandberg would work for Summers again after graduating from Harvard Business School, becoming his chief of staff while he served as Secretary of the US Treasury.

Martha Stewart modelled.

Courtesy Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart graduated from Barnard College in Manhattan in 1962 with a degree in European and architectural history and became a full-time model, Anne Kerns reports in 'Martha Stewart.'

Stewart had begun modelling at age fifteen and continued throughout college part-time to supplement her scholarship. She continued until, as a 25-year-old mother, she found few modelling jobs coming her way.

After a stint as a Wall Street stockbroker, Stewart turned her love of gourmet cooking and creative presentations into Martha Stewart, Inc., now Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which was valued recently at more than $US400 million.

Larry Ellison worked odd jobs as a programmer.

After dropping out of two colleges -- Ellison spent a little over a year at the University of Illinois, Champaign, and one semester at the University of Chicago -- the Oracle founder moved to Berkeley, California.

Over the next eight years, he used what he picked up in college and taught himself about computer programming to find odd technical jobs at places like Fireman's Fund, Wells Fargo, and AMPEX until finally landing at Amdahl Corporation, where he worked on the first IBM-compatible mainframe system, according to Bio.

Jeff Bezos had a cushy career in finance.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Before graduating from Princeton University summa cum laude with a degree in computer science and electrical engineering, Bezos was offered jobs at top firms including Intel, Bell Labs, Anderson Consulting, and financial trading firm Fitel, Ann Byers reports in 'Jeff Bezos: The Founder of Amazon.com.'

Upon graduating he took the job at Fitel, where he designed, programmed and tested on Wall Street for two years. Bezos had a lucrative career on Wall Street and took on top roles at various financial firms before transitioning to the world of e-commerce.

Oprah Winfrey was a TV news anchor in Baltimore.

Oprah Winfrey left Tennessee State before graduating to anchor the 6 o'clock news at Baltimore TV station WJZ in 1976. In 2011, she told The Baltimore Sun she was 'humiliated' when she was demoted from the anchor job just seven months after starting.

But in 1978, Winfrey was recruited to cohost WJZ's local talk show 'People Are Talking,' which she did for five years until she moved to Chicago to host the half-hour morning talk show 'AM Chicago,' which was later extended to an hour and renamed 'The Oprah Winfrey Show.'

Jonah Peretti taught computer science at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans.

Brad Barket/Getty Images

Shortly after graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1996, the future BuzzFeed founder went to work as a schoolteacher in New Orleans, Nola.com reports.

There, Peretti taught sixth graders how to use Microsoft Office, program games, and build websites.

He presented his lesson plans at technology and education conferences, which ultimately led him to pursue a master's degree at the MIT Media Lab.

It was there that he created his first viral hit, an email he wrote to Nike after it refused to print the word 'sweatshop' on a pair of custom sneakers.

Tina Fey worked odd jobs while she studied improv.

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

After graduating from the University of Virginia, Fey moved to Chicago and hung around acting workshops when she wasn't working as the childcare registrar at a YMCA.

Fey told The New Yorker that she eventually joined Second City because she 'knew it was where a lot of SNL people started,' and in 1997 she sent scripts to 'Saturday Night Live' producer Lorne Michaels, who then hired her as a writer.

Amy Poehler moved to Chicago to study improv.

Jeff Vespa/Getty Images

After graduating from Boston College in 1993, the 'Broad City' producer and 'Parks and Recreation' star moved to Chicago for its world-renowned improv comedy scene.

There, she joined the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe.

While in Chicago, Poehler met BFFL and frequent collaborator Tina Fey in a class at the ImprovOlympic Theatre. Later, Fey would persuade Poehler to join her on 'Saturday Night Live.'

Angela Merkel was a research associate.

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

While finishing her studies at the University of Leipzig in Germany, the current German chancellor applied to be an assistant professor at an engineering school in East Berlin, but she was rejected after she told the East German secret police, known as the Stasi, that she would not serve as an informant on her coworkers, according to 'Angela Merkel: A Chancellorship Forged in Crisis.'

Instead, she took a post at the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin, where she spent 12 years earning a doctoral degree in quantum chemistry and working as a research associate.

A 2013 Businessweek story notes that the decision proved crucial to Merkel's future career as a politician, given how Stasi ties led to the downfall of fellow East German politician Wolfgang Schnur.

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