One crucial decision early on can have an ever-lasting impact on your life. Depending on that choice, you could end up scrapping by or living large.

So, what critical decisions did the wealthiest people on the planet make when they were younger that helped propel them to success?

Below you'll find the key early-life decisions of entrepreneurs and financial mavericks like Warren Buffett that led to outsized riches later in life. By the end, you'll notice the common thread that binds their stories and advice together.

Hint: They don’t recommend waiting for luck to land in your lap.

Warren Buffett (net worth: $122.5 billion)

  • Early decision: The “Oracle of Omaha” is known for his long-term bets. Perhaps no one on the list better exemplifies being an “investor” rather than a “trader.” At the early age of 11, Buffet took the $114.75 he had saved since age six and invested it all in the Cities Service preferred stock. “What I bought was three shares of Cities Service preferred stock. I had become a capitalist, and it felt good,” Buffett wrote in 2019 in his famous annual letter to shareholders.
  • Outcome: While Cities Service, a natural gas company formed in 1910, no longer exists, the event marked the beginning of Buffett’s incredible investment journey that has seen his initial roughly $100 savings balloon into his current net worth. It also solidified his investment strategy: buy names you believe in and stick with them.
  • Advice: "Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."

George Soros (net worth: $6.7 billion)

  • Early decision: As a child during WWII, Soros and his family made the tough decision to flee their homeland of Hungary for England. The move ultimately led Soros to study at the prestigious School of Economics and kickstarted his career in finance at Singer & Friedlander.
  • Outcome: Soros ultimately became one of the most famous traders of the 90s. After founding the Quantum Fund, he earned the title “The Man Who Broke the Bank of England” after shorting the equivalent of $10 billion worth of British pounds, netting him an impressive $1 billion profit during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crisis.
  • Advice: "It's not whether you're right or wrong that's important, but how much money you make when you're right and how much you lose when you're wrong."

Jeff Bezos (net worth: $159.4 billion)

  • Early decision: In 1994, Bezos made the life-changing decision to quit his job at hedge fund company D.E. Shaw & Co. to take a shot at opening a virtual bookstore, Amazon. Bezos and a handful of employees worked tirelessly on his moonshot idea out of his garage in the neighborhood of West Bellevue in Bellevue, Washington.
  • Outcome: Amazon graduated from a book-only platform to become the world’s largest online retailer. As a result, Bezos himself temporarily ranked as the world’s richest person.
  • Advice: "If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you’re going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table."

Mark Zuckerberg ($106.4 billion)

  • Early decision: After creating “The Facebook” social networking site in 2004 while a student in college, Zuckerberg chose to go all-in on the project. As a result, he made the difficult decision to drop out of one of the most prestigious colleges in the world, Harvard.
  • Outcome: Facebook exploded in popularity, becoming the world’s leading social media platform with billions of users. For his part, Zuckerberg amassed a massive fortune on the back of his stake in the company.
  • Advice: "The biggest risk is not taking any risk... In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks."

Richard Branson (net worth: $2.9 billion)

  • Early decision: Branson had an entrepreneurial bug at an early age. Rather than just dream big like most people, he took concrete action to help shape his fate. At the young age of 20, Branson took a shot at starting a mail-order record business. This early project would go on to become the Virgin Records music label.
  • Outcome: Music was just the beginning. The Virgin Group Limited holding company would see Branson enter banking, film, health care, mobile, rail transport, and even commercial spaceflight. As of early 2023, the multinational holding company was valued at over £3 billion or roughly $5 billion.
  • Advice: "Do not be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again."

Ray Dalio (net worth: $15.4 billion)

  • Early decision: After getting a taste at an early age, Dalio knew he was destined to rule Wall Street. At the age of 12, the legendary trader bought shares of Northeast Airlines. His investment tripled when the airline merged with another company, giving a young Dalio a small taste of the profits he was destined to accrue. While in his mid-twenties, Dalio risked it all to start what would become one the largest hedge funds in history, Bridgewater Associates.
  • Outcome: Between 2000 and 2005, Bridgewater held the title of the fastest-growing asset manager. This title likely only ended because Bridgewater paused accepting new accounts in 2005. Between 2001 and 2010, assets under management at the firm grew an impressive 25% each year. Today, Bridgewater employs 1,500 people, and Dalio is one the wealthiest individuals on the planet.
  • Advice: "Fail well. Accept your mistakes, learn from them, and don’t repeat them."

Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $96.3 billion)

  • Early decision: After being laid off from Salomon Brothers, Bloomberg made the risky decision to use his severance pay to start Innovative Market Systems to provide real-time data, news, and analytics.
  • Outcome: You might not recognize Innovative Market Systems, but you’ve undoubtedly heard of the name it transitioned into, Bloomberg L.P. This behemoth of a private financial technology company has 176 offices worldwide. In 2019, it pulled in a staggering $10 billion in revenue. Despite his success in the financial space, Bloomberg also managed to serve as the 108th Mayor of New York City for over a decade, from 2002 to 2013.
  • Advice: "Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure."

Jim Simons (net worth: $30.7 billion)

  • Early decision: Simons made the tough choice to leave his cushy job in academia in the late 1970s to start a hedge fund.
  • Outcome: The hedge fund Renaissance Technologies utilized mathematical models to drive investment decisions. Renaissance would go on to become one of the most successful hedge funds in history. In fact, the firm's flagship Medallion fund holds the title of having the best track record on Wall Street. Over a three-decade span from 1988 to 2019, the fund experienced a head-spinning 39% annualized return after accounting for fees.
  • Advice: "You have to be willing to make mistakes regularly; there is nothing wrong with it. It’s really just a matter of probabilities."

Overriding theme

If you’ve been paying attention, you might notice a common theme among the stories and advice: take risks, fail, learn, and repeat until successful.

Of course, these billionaires would also caution against taking mindless chances. Instead, risks should be calculated.

Perhaps most important, when those risky bets don’t pay off, you must learn from your mistakes. Otherwise, you may be destined to step on the same rake over and over again.