They’re founders of multibillion-dollar companies, CEOs, and industry leaders, but at 25 years old some of the most successful women were just like you or me—unsure of what the future held but determined to make their mark. Business Insider charted the humble beginnings of some of the most successful leaders today, from Steve Jobs to Arianna Huffington. Read on to discover how five awe-inspiring women spent their 20s before they became a success. 

Marissa Mayer, Engineer

Long before she became CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer worked for leading tech competitor Google. Mayer was the 20th employee at Google and the company’s first female engineer. “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,” Mayer tells VMakers.

Arianna Huffington, Traveller and Author

Before Arianna Huffington launched The Huffington Post, she went by her maiden name Arianna Stassinopolous and spent the early part of her career penning a book and travelling to music festivals with her journalist boyfriend. Her first book, The Female Woman, was published when she was just 23. Huffington moved to New York City at age 30 to begin her media empire.

J.K. Rowling, Secretary

Before penning the best-selling Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling worked as a secretary for the London office of Amnesty International. Coincidentally, the aspiring author got fired for daydreaming too much about Harry Potter’s adventures and used her severance check to focus on writing her first novel.


Hillary Clinton, Law School Graduate

Democratic presidential nominee hopeful Hillary Clinton was always a high achiever. Clinton spent her 20s studying at Yale Law School with boyfriend Bill Clinton, who proposed to her after graduation, but she declined. Clinton’s first article in the Harvard Educational Review was published when she was 25, and she finally agreed to marry Bill in 1975.

Martha Stewart, Stockbroker

Long before businesswoman, writer, and television personality Martha Stewart was running multiple ventures, she worked in a completely different industry. During her 20s, Stewart worked as a stockbroker for the firm Monness, Williams, and Sidel. She left Wall Street in 1972 to be a stay-at-home mum, then launched her own catering business a year later.