7 Successful People To Emulate Who Aren’t Billionaires

They provide much more to the world than Jeff Bezos


Aaron Nichols

2 years ago | 8 min read

Last month, I saw an article called something like “Jeff Bezos’s Morning Routine May Surprise You.”

I’ll go to go out on a limb and say that’s true. I’m sure that once I learned about the bed-helicopter that carries him from his sleeping mansion to his eating yacht, the personal chefs that make omelets with eggs that have been floated in zero gravity for at least 24 hours, and the robot that feeds and massages him, I would be very surprised!

I’m only going to say this once, so lean in and pay attention:

F*ck Jeff Bezos’s morning routine. Jeff Bezos’s morning routine has nothing to do with you. The man owns a $500 million yacht that comes with a smaller yacht. He’s not making his own omelets and brewing his own coffee.

Sitting around playing pretend that you’re Jeff Bezos every time you wake up is ridiculous and delusional. I’m tired of seeing article after article worshipping what tech billionaires do every day. They’re a group of computer-loving weirdos who got lucky.

Meanwhile, there are wonderful, talented people doing things that benefit our world who get far less attention. Let’s leave the richest man in the world behind, and take a walk down people-who-are-actually-helping-people boulevard.

Jacqueline Novogratz

image credit flikr
image credit flikr

Let’s call her the Michael Jordan of investing in human capital. Novogratz is the founder and CEO of Acumen. She left her job on wall street after learning how banking worked to try to use the power of investing for good. Quoting from Acumen’s website:

Acumen was founded by Jacqueline Novogratz in 2001 to use power of entrepreneurship to build a world where everyone had the opportunity to live with dignity. Our goal was to invest “Patient Capital” to bridge the gap between the efficiency and scale of market-based approaches and the social impact of pure philanthropy.

Since it was founded in 2001, Acumen has invested $135 million to create social enterprise across Africa, South Asia, South America, and The U.S. The organizations that initial $136 million created have leveraged an additional $746 million to bring basic needs like clean water, education, and sanitation to more than 308 million people. You can invest with Acumen, helping bring long-term investment to places that desperately need it.

She’s also started Acumen Academy, where some of the world’s foremost thinkers (Adam Grant, Angela Duckworth, Daniel Pink) teach classes on how you can help make the world a better place. Her flagship course, The Path of Moral Leadership (which Seth Godin helped design) is $200, or FREE if you buy a $12 copy of Manifesto for a Moral Revolution on the website.

Acumen Academy will improve your life. But probably not as much as aspiring to one day beat Jeff Bezos’s record-setting divorce settlement record, so keep idolizing his morning routine! You’ll get there, buddy.

To find out more about Novogratz’s work, check out:


TED talks:

Her show-stealing Tim Ferriss interview:

Lynsey Addario

Image credit flikr
Image credit flikr

I first found out about Addario’s work from her book It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. It feels strange to write about a famous photographer without including any of her work, but I couldn't find any creative commons pictures. So do yourself a favor, and before you read further, check out:

  • Her Instagram
  • Her website (It’s a bit old, you can navigate on the left-hand menu, and scroll sideways through the pictures)

Addario is a photojournalist whose work focuses on human rights issues, most often on the role of women in traditional societies. She’s done some incredible work documenting refugees and sex trafficking all over the world.

She’s survived kidnappings, broken her collarbone in a warzone, and photographed warzones during her pregnancy (something that made her the subject of backlash and criticism).

Basically, she’s a badass. But clearly not as badass as Jeff Bezos, who owns the most expensive home ever sold in the Los Angeles area.

To find out more about Addario’s work, check out:


NPR Interviews:

Mr. Money Moustache

Image credit Flikr
Image credit Flikr

When I think of the word “successful,” MMM is the first person who comes to mind. He was successful before he started a blog (he retired from corporate work at the age of 30) and managed to become much more successful through sharing his experience and helping others escape the world of mandatory work.

MMM is one of the original proponents of the FIRE (Freedom In Early Retirement) movement. By the age of 30, he and his wife had managed to invest more than $1 million in long-term index funds, and they realized that at a 4% spending rate+living off their investment dividends, they could retire forever.

The most important thing to note here is that MMM does not equate “retirement” to “inactivity.” The man owns several rental properties and does all of the work on them himself. He owns and operates a co-working space, where he focuses on creating close community. He also does something he calls “carpentourism,” where he travels to high-need places and teaches people how to work with their hands on their own projects.

He’s all about retiring from mandatory work, freeing yourself up to do work that you love. But that only covers a small part of his philosophy. He describes the middle-class American lifestyle as “an exploding volcano of wastefulness,” especially when it comes to the purchase and overuse of new cars.

But hey, Jeff Bezos is going to space in opulent leather chairs to float around for three minutes. He’s the real hero.

To find out more about MMM and the FIRE movement, check out:


Tim Ferriss Interview:

Speech At World Domination Summit:

Ingrid Fetell Lee

Fetel Lee at TED, image credit Flikr
Fetel Lee at TED, image credit Flikr

I just read her book, Joyful, and it is life-changing stuff. Fetell Lee is a designer who founded the blog The Aesthetics of Joy. She’s been featured as an expert on designing joy into your life by The New York Times and Fast Company, and she’s given a TED talk that brought down the house.

Lee believes that we can optimize our surroundings for joy. She’s an advocate for intuitive space design, where you let your deepest, most childish desires shine through when designing a space, rather than trying to make your home modern, sharp, and unforgiving.

I’ve learned so much from her. Did you know bright colors in your space can make you happier in dark seasons? Or that optimizing your home for natural light can improve your sleep and immune system? Or that the light color temperature of your home can affect your mental state? Did you know that you should match your lights by temperature room by room?

You can optimize your life for joy, and Fetell Lee can show you how. Or, you could just purchase the garage where Jeff Bezos founded Amazon, and continue your quest to be him. Your choice.

To find out more about Fetell Lee’s work, check out:



TED talk:

Joy-Boosting Instagram:

Esther Perel

Image Credit Flikr
Image Credit Flikr

I cannot begin to tell you how much EP’s work has changed my life. I’ve given away more copies of Mating In Captivity than any other book I’ve ever read. I’m obsessed with her work.

Perel is a Belgian relationship therapist, speaker, and author of two books on modern love. She believes that the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives and that the modern world is alienating us from each other in ways that would have been impossible when we lived in closer communities.

In her first TED talk, she points out that we still have a deep, desperate desire for community and belonging, but because of the way the modern world is structured, we take all of the contradictory needs we have for belonging and village-making and shove them on one person, our partner.

Then when things don’t work out, we blame them. Crazy when you think about it, right?

I don’t know how she does as much as she does. She speaks nine languages. She’s authored two bestselling books, given three TED talks, and runs two different podcasts, all while speaking all over the world (pre-COVID), and maintaining her own therapy practice.

But hey, why idolize her? She writes and creates her own stuff. What a sucker, right? Why do that when you can just buy The Washington Post like Jeff Bezos, and have peasants create stuff for you?

To find out more about Esther Perel’s great work, check out:



TED talks:

Relationship Courses:

Summer Rayne Oakes

Image credit Wikimedia Commons
Image credit Wikimedia Commons

Oakes is best known for her work in the world of fashion. Her values-based modeling caused her to be dubbed the first “eco-model.” She’s the founder of Le Souk (formerly Source4style), a company that connects designers around the world with sustainable fabric manufacturers.

She’s spent her career thinking about and designing solutions to eco-crises in the food, beauty, and fashion industries, authoring three books on how we can live happier more sustainable lives.

Recently, she’s been focused on sugar detoxing, and sustainable food systems.

But the quirkiest thing about her is her apartment. Oakes lives in a green-painted apartment (I found her work through The Aesthetics of Joy), with more than 750 plants. She writes about quality urban living on her blog, Homestead Brooklynn, where she offers a houseplant masterclass.

But hey, she works too hard! Jeff Bezos just paid some people to build some giant glass balls in Seattle and fill them with plants he doesn’t have to take care of. Honestly, why bother with your own plants?

To find out more about Oakes’s work, check out:



Youtube Channel:

Dr. Lori Santos

Image credit Blue diamond gallery
Image credit Blue diamond gallery

Last but very very much not least, Lori Santos! (Sorry, I couldn’t find a publically available image of her or her projects).

Lori Santos is a researching psychologist at Yale. At the beginning of her career, she focused her research on primates, trying to understand the evolutionary origins of the human mind. This earned her a TED talk, but she became much more well-known for what happened later in her career.

In 2016, she put together a class at Yale called “Psychology and The Good Life.” It became the most popular class in Yale history, with more than 1200 enrolled students. Because of this, Yale made the course publically available on Coursera, where more than 3.5 million people from 170 countries have enrolled.

In 2020, she released season 1 of The Happiness Lab, a podcast that she created in collaboration with Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasting company, Pushkin Industries. It’s full of nontraditional advice on happiness, and interviews with some of the foremost psychologists in the field.

But hey, who needs happiness when you can drop $500 million on real estate like Jeff Bezos?

To find out more about Lori Santos’s work, check out:


TED talk and speech:

(Free) Online Course:


Created by

Aaron Nichols

4x top Medium writer, educator, and vagabond. Newsletter: Email or send a raven south to contact him







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