The SUCCESS 25: Meet the Definitive Voices for Powering Your Personal Growth in 2021

UPDATED: June 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: February 2, 2021

We all need guidance. We all need inspiration and motivation, especially during difficult times, but also during times of calm and peace.

Naturally social creatures, we yearn for the feeling that comes from knowing someone has our back and is guiding us forward when we’re not sure where to go. Sometimes the help isn’t so straightforward. Sometimes there is an immense feeling of connection and comfort that comes from someone simply sharing their story, and when parts of that story resonate with your own. That’s what we strive to give you in every page of this magazine.

For the fifth time, we here at SUCCESS have dived into social influence research to identify 25 voices who are inspiring, teaching, enriching, caring for, loving, guiding, and informing others. In this list, you’ll find singers, authors, speakers, poets, activists and athletes. You’ll see a culmination of a thousand little acts of kindness, love and generosity that result in the world being a little bit better place to be.

There’s a voice out there for each of us. This list is whom to follow if…

If you’re a Black business owner

Daymond John

At 23 years old, Daymond John was making his mark by selling homemade tie-top hats on the streets of Queens, New York. That venture among four friends turned into a fashion sportswear line, FUBU, now worth an estimated $6 billion. Over the next two decades, John continued to find success through investment deals on the popular business reality show, Shark Tank, and positioning himself as a mentor and thought leader to hopeful entrepreneurs.

“Success is being able to get up and challenge yourself and feel comfortable knowing that even if you fail, you’re going to have other bites at the apple,” John says. “You have that level of confidence that nobody can stop you and that you will be successful no matter where you go or what you attempt to do.”

Now he wants to instill that confidence in others, particularly those at a disadvantage. In 2020, a year when divisiveness and fear reigned, John took action to unite and educate. In October, he hosted a live virtual event, “Black Entrepreneurs Day,” in which 10 Black-owned businesses were selected to each receive a $25,000 grant through the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a one-on-one mentoring session with John. The event, organized by John and the production company Medium Rare in just two months, included sponsors such as Chase for Businesss, UPS, Quickbooks, Yappp, PepsiCo and Robinhood. It featured several A-list celebrity guests, highlighted by Shaquille O’Neal, Gabrielle Union, Dwayne Wade and LL Cool J.

“I saw people out there burning businesses when they should have been building businesses because they felt marginalized and they felt they couldn’t be heard,” John says. “I felt like this was an opportune time for me to use my voice and my reach to reach celebrities and companies who want to sign on and use their name on a banner that says, ‘We know what’s right’ and educate people.”

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the world to take a reflective step back to analyze that which no longer fits. Once this phase is behind us, Daymond John says he won’t change everything back.

“I want to leave behind being stuck somewhere,” John says. “I want to leave behind the theory of having a large office. I want my staff to work virtually, and if they do want an office, I will have small pods and meetings rooms. But I don’t want to be a slave to big leases.

“In 2021, I want to embrace way more companies and investments that speak directly to the consumer and cut retail out of their lives. I’ve witnessed so many companies that had to close their doors because they didn’t have a way to directly speak to their customers.”

More than 6 million people tuned into the nearly six-hour live virtual event, in which viewers witnessed A-list Black celebrities have intimate conversations with John. Perhaps the most telling was NBA star O’Neal’s recounting signing his first million-dollar trading card deal, after which he blew the entire check in one day.

“I had a million, but I wasn’t netting a million,” O’Neal said to John during the event. “I had no knowledge about FICA, state tax and income tax.”

In times of heightened political and social unrest, many choose to share sympathetic stories on social media or retweet platitudes of togetherness. John isn’t afraid to speak his mind, but he made it clear that Black Entrepreneurs Day wasn’t about politics.

“I didn’t take a stance on anything other than humanity in that event, and it was people banding together of all colors and socioeconomic backgrounds saying, ‘This is the right thing to do,’ ” he says. “Why not make more people taxpayers than tax liabilities? You want to break that cribs-to-correctional-facilities mentality that a lot of people think African Americans should have. Instead, you want it to be cribs-to-corporations mentalities.”

Eager to prove wrong those who thought he merely caught lightning in a bottle with FUBU, John’s adult life has been a series of pivots from one successful venture to another. He sees Black Entrepreneurs Day as an annual event that provides crucial startup funds to the FUBU founders of the future.

“My theory has always been—whether I stood on that corner and sold some hats or this—is that anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” John says. “As much as I love what I and my partners did with FUBU—I understood that it was empowering a generation and a culture—I think this is extremely more powerful because we will hopefully create 100 more FUBUs that will create 100 more FUBUs and a 100 more FUBUs.”

“Success is being able to get up and challenge yourself and feel comfortable knowing that even if you fail, you’re going to have other bites at the apple.”

If your life feels out of control

Gabrielle Bernstein

From Los Angeles club promoter to New York Times best-selling spirituality author and so-called “spirit junkie,” Gabrielle Bernstein’s calm nature, soothing voice and reassuring message about self-love and letting go feels like a lighthouse beacon in an increasingly divisive world. If life feels a little unmanageable right now, tune into her guided meditations on social media or read a page from her most recent book, Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. 

“As long as you’re relying on your will, your plans, and your timeline, you’ll feel blocked and fearful—stressed in the present, worried about the future, unsure of decisions, and so on. But the moment you let go and allow, an energy of support will take over.”

If hope feels out of reach

Russell Brand

Life is a series of transformations, but most of us don’t have to go through them on the covers of tabloids and in a hailstorm of trending Tweets. Comedian and actor Russell Brand might seem like an odd choice for this list until you consider the extent of his (very public) transformation from irreverent life-of-the-celebrity-afterparty to author, speaker and activist. The (still irreverent) Brand talks openly about his history with addiction and broken relationships. His spiritual podcast, Under My Skin, and most recent book, Mentors: How to Help and Be Helped, offer tangible ways for people to find their own transformations. 

“This spiritual life: in the end, it is not a choice; it’s what’s left when you run out of choices.”

If you can’t find common ground with your significant other

Brené Brown

In what is considered the longest-running study on human development, “The Harvard Study” found that relationships are the single greatest factor in determining our life satisfaction, sense of fulfillment and overall levels of contentment. Professor and psychology researcher Brené Brown spent years collecting data about the common emotions and issues occurring in relationships: vulnerability, shame and distrust. In a TedTalk with more than 50 million views, Brown says that for deep, meaningful and lasting relationships, vulnerability is the key. 

“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us…. Here’s the crux of the struggle: I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable.”

A Vulnerability Checklist: I know I’m ready to give feedback when…

  • I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you. 
  • I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us.
  • I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully understand the issue. 
  • I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
  • I recognize your strengths and how you use them to address your challenges. 
  • I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you. 
  • I’m willing to do my own part. 
  • I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings. 
  • I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity. 
  • I can model the growth and vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.


If you’re tired of being a ‘good’ fill in the blank

Glennon Doyle

You’ve probably heard of Glennon Doyle. She’s a multi-time best-selling author, married to a U.S. soccer superstar. Her most recent book, Untamed, sold more than 20 million copies within months of release. Doyle has unapologetically built her platform on the notion that we must disappoint everyone in our lives again and again if it means that we no longer disappoint ourselves. To discover and protect our true selves, she says, is the greatest work we’ll ever do. 

“This way of life requires living in integrity: ensuring that my inner self and outer self are integrated. Integrity means having only one self.”

If you’re launching your first business

Kindra Hall 

Stories stick with us. They move us. They change us. They teach us. They comfort us. Kindra Hall, SUCCESS Chief Storytelling Officer, speaker, author and storytelling strategist, has built a life helping others tell their stories. Author of the best-seller Stories That Stick, Hall says entrepreneurs often forget the most important and effective part of their brand: their story. What makes a company different is the person who started that company. 

“Be generous with your stories. Tell them often so people may understand you. Tell them often so people may understand themselves.” 

If you’re going through a difficult divorce

Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker is a big fan of lists. Take a scroll through her Instagram feed and you’ll see countless, detailed lists paired with photos of happy Jen, makeup-free Jen, Jen with her teenage sons. These lists—“what saved my life this week” or “all the good things that went down at the exact same time [as bad things]”—are detailed, thoughtful and universal, while achingly personal. Since announcing the end of her 25-year marriage, Hatmaker (and her community) rely on these reminders of silver linings, but she’s quick to acknowledge that those little mental health tricks aren’t a substitute for the real and difficult work. 

“The failure to ask for help when needed tends to perpetuate self-neglect much more than self-reliance.”

If life takes an unexpected turn

Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis has seen plenty of unexpected twists in life. Strained family ties, the death of her brother, the unexpected growth from mommy blogger to founder of a massive media company and New York Times best-selling author of Girl, Wash Your Face, to her most recent divorce announcement. She details these twists in her most recent book, Didn’t See that Coming. Hollis’ message stays true: You cannot control what happens to you, so stop feeling sorry for yourself, stand up and take even one small step forward.

“When you’re in the midst of a crisis, in the heart of the storm, the only thing you can and should focus on is your present. Focus on the day you’re in. If this day feels too big, focus on the next hour and how to care for yourself for those sixty minutes inside of it.”

If you’re a dreamer 

Lewis Howes 

It’s hard to believe this former professional arena football player imagined himself the host of a popular podcast that regularly books A-list celebrities, philosophers and athlete superstars to learn about what it takes to achieve the next level. By all accounts, The School of Greatness is a podcast for dreamers and doers—the same types who read the pages of this magazine—and regularly hits the top charts in multiple categories. 

Lewis Howes’ 3 Tips for Achieving Your Wildest Dreams

  1. Ditch the play-it-safe mentality. What feels like a negative turning point can become your greatest success. If you play it safe, you’ll never know.
  2. Believe in greatness. It sounds simple in theory, but difficult in practice. What does believing in yourself look like?
  3. Lead with authenticity. When it comes to promoting yourself or your business, if it feels icky, it probably is. If it doesn’t feel like you, it probably isn’t.

If you’re unsure of your purpose 

Dwayne Johnson

He is one of the most recognizable people in the world. But once upon a time, Dwayne Johnson was just a kid trying to live out his professional football dreams. When that didn’t work out, he pivoted to professional wrestling and became a legend, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

But that wasn’t enough. He turned to movies and has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, his films grossing more than $10 billion worldwide. And yet that wasn’t enough, either. He’s also a successful entrepreneur. Last year he bought the XFL—an upstart professional football league—from his old WWE boss, Vince McMahon. His tequila brand, Teremana, had one of the biggest debut years in the history of the spirits industry. So what’s next for Johnson? He’ll stay hungry.

Growing up, I had nothing for such a long time,” he says. “Someone told me a long time ago, and I never forgot it: ‘Once you’ve been hungry—really, really hungry—you’ll never, ever be full.”

“Someone told me a long time ago, and I never forgot it: ‘Once you’ve been hungry—really, really hungry—you’ll never, ever be full.’ ”

If you struggle with depression

Rupi Kaur, poet and author

you are not alone
alone would be if
your heart no longer beat
and your lungs no longer pulled
and your breath no longer pushed
how are you alone if
an entire community lives in you

*source: you have all of you on your side – rupi kaur

If you feel disconnected from yourself

Alicia Keys 

“We adjust ourselves to fit, to adapt to others’ ideas of who we should be. We shift ourselves not in sweeping pivots but in movements so tiny that they are hardly perceptible even in our view. Years can pass before we finally discover that after handing over our power, piece by small piece, we no longer even look like ourselves.”

*source: More Myself: A Journey, by Alicia Keys

If your world feels chaotic

Marie Kondo

3 Steps to a Decluttered Day from the World’s Foremost Tidying Expert

1. Start your morning with good energy. Work out. Shower and get ready even (and especially) if you work from home. Eat a good meal.

2. Make a priority list. No, it shouldn’t be an endless list of everything you have to do. That clutters your mind. Prioritize three to five items and stick to those 

3. Declutter your mind. Write down the random thoughts and worries that spin around your mind. Give your brain space to think by moving those swirling thoughts onto paper. 

“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”

If you need a pick-me-up

Hoda Kotb

A familiar face on The Today Show for more than 20 years, Egyptian-American anchor Hoda Kotb has taken to inspiring those off-screen too. In 2019, Kotb published a book of her favorite quotes, I Really Needed This Today. The No. 1 New York Times best-seller was quickly preceded by its sequel, This Just Speaks to Me. The latter touches on the difficult parts of 2020, such as the coronavirus pandemic, political unrest and economic strife. But ultimately, Kotb says, it’s an uplifting book for those who just need a dash of feel-good. 

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”

If you’re a first-time manager

John C. Maxwell

“To lead any way other than by example, we send a fuzzy picture of leadership to others. If we work on improving ourselves first and make that our primary mission, then others are more likely to follow.”

If you feel helpless

Matthew McConaughey

“I think I’ll write a book.
A word about my life.
I wonder who would give a damn
About the pleasures and the strife?”

Matthew McConaughey wrote this proverbial poem in 1989. He was in his freshman year at the University of Texas, mindlessly flipping through a paperback copy of Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house. It would be another three years until he was “discovered” in a bar and landed his first film role as the sleazy but likable David Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. That book, as McConaughey tells it, would be the foundation of the careful construction his life. 

And it was constructed. Although McConaughey’s persona feels very c’est la vie, the reality is that his every move was calculated. He wasn’t discovered in an Austin bar for his first film role; he nearly stalked the director to find his favorite bar and approached him in it. 

“It’s always been obvious to me that I do not have a laissez-faire attitude,” he says. “It’s a state of being that I work at, continuously, daily, and I break a sweat to get it.”

In perhaps the most Matthew McConaughey way, he published a book this year, Greenlights, that’s part memoir, part philosophy, part self-help. In it, he describes the greenlights of his life, which he says take skill to identify. These lights appear and must be capitalized on before they turn red. The metaphor is a pleasant one, a reminder to pay attention, slow down, and capture moments before they’re gone. In fact, the lessons in his book are starkly opposite to the imagined persona of McConaughey.

“You’ve got your hands on the wheel. You’re making choices. They matter.”

If you are a parent 

Michelle Obama

Born on the south side of Chicago, Michelle Robinson worked her way to Princeton University and Harvard Law School. While working at a law firm in Chicago, she met Barack Obama. The rest, they say, is history. Except not really, as Michelle maintained an active role in nonprofits, social awareness on topics of hunger, poverty and education. As first lady, she reinstated the first White House vegetable garden since Eleanor Roosevelt held the first lady title—a walk-the-walk component of her Let’s Move! campaign to combat childhood obesity. She was an avid and vocal supporter of LGBTQ rights. 

She’s been busy since her eight years in the White House, too. She wrote a New York Times best-seller, Becoming, and launched The Michelle Obama Podcast in September, which regularly ranks in the top 10 across a number of categories. An eloquent writer and speaker, Michelle offers this advice:

On becoming:

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

On opening yourself to the world:

“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

On parenting: 

“Kids wake up each day believing in the goodness of things, in the magic of what might be. They’re uncynical, believers at their core. We owe it to them to stay strong and keep working to create a more fair and humane world. For them, we need to remain both tough and hopeful, to acknowledge that there’s more growing to be done.” 

“There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice.”

If you don’t feel “normal” 

Maria Popova 

In a world where at-hand technology rules supreme, Brain Pickings, the popular weekly newsletter brainchild of Maria Popova, is a refreshing cocktail of literary musings, art appreciation and cultural observations all wrapped up in beautiful, clean and approachable language. The 36-year-old curator of ideas keeps her own name out of the spotlight, preferring to let Brain Pickings—a project she considers an extension of herself—to speak on her behalf and encourage others to look for alternative perspectives.

“Question your maps and models of the universe, both inner and outer, and continually test them against the raw input of reality. Our maps are still maps, approximating the landscape of truth from the territories of the knowable—incomplete representational models that always leave more to map, more to fathom, because the selfsame forces that made the universe also made the figuring instrument with which we try to comprehend it.”

If financial independence seems impossible

Tony Robbins

Start the new year with a financial detox:

  1. Create a spending plan. Don’t think of this as restrictive, but purposeful. Buy what brings fulfillment and peace to your future self. 
  2. Pay yourself first. Your future self, that is. Save first, spend later. 
  3. Find an accountability partner. You don’t have to go it alone. 
  4. Embrace abundance.

“How would you live your life if you could wake up each day knowing there was enough money coming in to cover not only your basic needs but also your goals and dreams? The truth is, a lot of us would keep working, because that’s the way we’re wired. But we’d do it from a place of joy and abundance. Our work would continue, but the rat race would end. We’d work because we want to, not because we have to. That’s financial freedom.”

If you’re a college student

Laurie Santos

  • > 60% of college students report feeling “overwhelmingly anxious” in the past year. 
  • > 50% said they felt “completely overwhelmed” in the past week. 
  • > Rates of depression have doubled in 20-year-olds since 2009. 

*source: 2019 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health

In 2018, Yale psychology professor Laurie Santos’ course, Psychology and the Good Life, became the most popular course in school history with nearly one-quarter of the student body enrolling. Now the course is available for free online. In the course and now-popular podcast, The Happiness Lab, Santos covers the science of happiness and debunks many of the myths people hold about a happy life and how to achieve it.

If you’re struggling with substance abuse

Dax Shepard

In an episode titled “Day 7,” of his popular podcast, Armchair Experts, actor Dax Shepard dedicated the entire 47 minutes to opening up about his relapse after 16 years of sobriety. In it, he gives a specific, detailed account of his relapse because that’s who he has become and what his fans expect. “Being truthful is a necessity because when I’m not being truthful, it takes a toll on me.” One story in which he details a friend finding his Big Book, in which Shepard kept a list of sobriety start dates, all crossed out with self-deprecating notes. It was, by his account, a book of shame-filled failures. To the friend, also in recovery, it was inspiring to see someone who never quit quitting.

“From 18 to 29 I was a heavy smoker, heavy drinker, drug addict, terrible eater and philanderer…. Since I got sober, [I] have honestly been about trying to peel back each of those habits, to get back to the 12-year-old kid inside who was tremendously excited about life.

Nearly 21 million people over the age of 12 have a substance abuse disorder, which is 1.5 times the annual prevalence of all types of cancer combined.

*source: The Surgeon General’s report

If you’re facing a disruptive life event

Jay Shetty

With a promising financial career path ahead of him, Jay Shetty instead chose to live and train as a Hindu monk for three years. It wasn’t his lifelong calling, but the lessons he learned there transformed into where he is now: a best-selling author, storyteller and podcaster.

“Because the only thing that stays with you from the moment you’re born until the moment you die is your breath. All your friends, your family, the country you live in, all of that can change. The one thing that stays with you is your breath…. When you learn to navigate and manage your breath, you can navigate any situation in life.”

A four-count breathing exercise to calm, renew and restore

Through your nose, 
breathe in for four seconds, 
hold for four seconds,
breathe out for four seconds, 
hold exhale for four seconds

If you’re tired of the status quo

Simon Sinek

Author and organizational behaviorist Simon Sinek has graced the biggest conference stages speaking to some of the biggest companies in the world. His ideas surrounding leadership (if you don’t know of him, read one of his earlier books, Start with Why), business and making a profit in the digital age without selling your soul challenge archaic but fiercely protected practices. Watch even one of his videos on those days where you feel hesitant to put your idea into the world.

“What good is an idea if it remains an idea? Try. Experiment. Iterate. Fail. Try again. Change the world.”

If you feel behind

Gary Vaynerchuk

The fast-talking, swear-word spitting entrepreneur, best-selling author and CEO of VaynerMedia might seem like a hustle-till-you-drop type, but Vaynerchuk is quick to correct those who take his hustle quotes out of context. Work ethic, yes, he says, but certainly not at the cost of your happiness or health. In fact, the 45-year-old is known for turning down profitable partnership investments to preserve his well-being. 

“‘Hustling’ doesn’t mean waking up at the crack of dawn and exhausting yourself until you collapse. The truth is, it’s not about how much you sleep or don’t sleep. It’s what you do while you’re awake that matters. If you work hard and smart while you’re awake and give it all you’ve got in those hours, then you’re hustling.”

If you want to redefine success for yourself

Manoush Zomorodi 

You’ve probably heard her voice. Maybe in her popular Ted Talk or one of three podcasts she hosts. Manoush Zomorodi is a journalist, first and foremost, but her work has led her to write a book about the relationship between creativity and technology, Bored and Brilliant, and discuss the future of tech and business and humanity in her popular podcast, ZigZag, which started its fifth season this year. She talks about a lot of the things you read about in this magazine: how to succeed in your career while also building a sustainable, fulfilling life. (Hint: It includes being bored).

“Boredom is both a warning that we are not doing what we want to be doing and a ‘push’ that motivates us to switch goals and projects.” 

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.