This post only covers accomplishments by people between 18 and 34 — because if you’re still a minor, you shouldn’t feel like you should’ve accomplished something huge, and if you’re over 34, you’re an established adult and definitely have something to be proud of.
The archeologist David Stuart received a MacArthur “genius grant” for his work in deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs. He remains the youngest person to ever receive the grant.
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were both 18 when they created Superman — and the idea of the superhero in general — in 1933.
Samantha Larson became — temporarily — the youngest person to have climbed the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents in 2007.
Carole King co-wrote her first No. 1 single, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles, with Gerry Goffin.
Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O’Neal, and Andrew Bynum all started in the NBA at 18 in 2005. Bynum was the youngest at the time, making him technically the youngest player in NBA history.
Mark Zuckerberg created the earliest version of Facebook.
Eddie Murphy joined the cast of Saturday Night Live and quickly became one of the biggest stars in comedy.
Seth Rogen was a cast member and staff writer for Judd Apatow’s Undeclared. Prior to that, he starred on Apatow’s previous show Freaks and Geeks, and he was a stand-up comedian as a teenager.
Frida Kahlo painted the first in her series of iconic self-portraits.
Gore Vidal, who never went to college, finished writing his first novel, Williwaw.
Ryan Schreiber launched the earliest version of Pitchfork in 1995.
Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and co-founded Microsoft with Paul Allen.
Mike Tyson became the youngest heavyweight champion in boxing.
Prince released his first album, For You. His debut would’ve come out sooner, but he rejected an offer from CBS at 19 because they would not give him complete creative control over his records.
Jane Austen wrote her second and most famous novel Pride & Prejudice.
Amobi Okoye became the youngest NFL player of the modern era after emigrating from Nigeria to the United States. He was also the youngest college football player at the age of 16 when he played for Louisville.
Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, one of the most influential novels of the 19th century.
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak when he was 21.
Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero was published while he was still a student at Bennington College.
David Karp founded Tumblr, which he later sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion.
Ilana Glazer started the Broad City web series with Abbi Jacobson, who was 24 at the time. The show moved over to Comedy Central five years later.
Derek Jeter joined the New York Yankees, where he would stay for the rest of his career in baseball. He won the Rookie of the Year award and his first World Series ring in his debut season.
Bob Dylan began his groundbreaking career in music with his debut album, Bob Dylan.
Walt Disney co-founded Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, the earliest version of The Walt Disney Company, with his brother Roy.
Aaron McGruder created The Boondocks in the pages of his college newspaper at the University of Maryland before having it become a nationally syndicated comic strip three years later.
The Notorious B.I.G. released his classic debut, Ready to Die.
Sophia Amoruso started Nasty Gal as an eBay store called Nasty Gal Vintage.
Jaime Hernández published the first issue of Love and Rockets with his brother Gilberto, who was 24.
Donald Glover started as a writer on 30 Rock, where he stayed for three years before joining the cast of Community.
Veronica Roth published Divergent, the first of her best-selling trilogy of books.
Lena Dunham wrote, directed, and starred in her first movie, Tiny Furniture. Two years later she had her own show, Girls, on HBO.
Van Morrison released his landmark album Astral Weeks.
James Brown launched his career with his first hit single, “Please, Please, Please.”
Joss Whedon got his big job as a staff writer and story editor for Roseanne in its second season. He has a writer credit on five episodes in that season.
Mindy Kaling became a staff writer for The Office and made several guest appearances in the show’s first season before becoming a regular cast member.
Kurt Cobain became a rock legend upon the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Bruce Springsteen released his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.
RZA produced the Wu-Tang Clan’s classic debut Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and began work on the first wave of Wu-Tang solo albums.
Orson Welles co-wrote, starred in, and directed Citizen Kane, which is widely considered one of, if not the, greatest films of all time. He created the controversial radio hoax “War of the Worlds” two years earlier.
David Foster Wallace published his first novel, The Broom of the System. (Infinite Jest came out when he was 34, though he began writing it when he was 29.)
Zadie Smith published her debut novel, White Teeth, which went on to win several major book awards.
Jonathan Safron Foer was 25 when his first book, the acclaimed best-seller Everything Is Illuminated, was published.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google while they were still Ph.D. students at Stanford University.
Steve Wozniak completed the Apple I computer, which he invented and built entirely on his own.
Stephen King published his first novel, Carrie.
Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics journal, which went on to fundamentally change our view of the universe and led to such inventions as television and the atomic bomb.
Phil Knight co-founded Blue Ribbon Sports, the company that would eventually become Nike in 1971.
Thomas Pynchon published V., for which he won the William Faulkner First Novel Award.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published her first book, Purple Hibiscus.
Seth MacFarlane created Family Guy for Fox.
Ernest Hemingway published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
Kanye West released his debut album, The College Dropout.
Paul McCartney had co-written the majority of The Beatles’ discography by the time the band broke up when he was 27. (John Lennon and Ringo Starr were both 29, and George Harrison was 26.)
Tina Fey became a writer for Saturday Night Live. Two years later, she became the first female head writer for the show.
Matthew Barney began his Cremaster Cycle body of work, which he completed in 2002.
Amy Poehler co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City.
Diane Von Furstenberg created the iconic wrap dress, which launched her career as one of fashion’s biggest powerhouses.
John Green published his first novel, Looking for Alaska, which went on to win the 2006 Michael L. Printz Award from the American Library Association.
Pierre Omidyar founded eBay, and became a billionaire three years later after the company’s IPO.
Pendleton Ward created Adventure Time for Cartoon Network.
Steven Spielberg directed Jaws, which became the world’s first summer blockbuster.
Dave Eggers published his debut novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
Tori Amos released Little Earthquakes, her debut as a solo artist.
Steve Ells founded Chipotle Mexican Grill in Colorado.
Conan O’Brien became the host of Late Night after spending years as a writer for The Simpsons and Saturday Night Live.
Chris Claremont and John Byrne were both 30 when they created the classic X-Men stories “The Dark Phoenix Saga” and “Days of Future Past.”
Terence Malick directed his first film, Badlands.
J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book of the Harry Potter series.
Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their first “three-peat” by winning their third straight NBA championship.
Lorne Michaels created Saturday Night Live.
Oprah Winfrey became the host of the nationally syndicated The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.
Mark Cuban sold his first company, MicroSolutions, to CompuServe for $6 million.
Stephenie Meyer published the first book of her massively successful Twilight series.
J.J. Abrams co-created his first television series, Felicity.
George Lucas completed the first Star Wars film, which he wrote and directed.
Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather, one of the most widely revered films in the history of cinema.
Marissa Mayer became the youngest woman ever listed on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women In Business while she was a key figure at Google.
Andy Warhol had the first public exhibitions of his pop art work in Los Angeles and New York City.
Shonda Rhimes created Grey’s Anatomy, her first hugely successful television show.
Harper Lee published her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
James Joyce published his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Bryan Fuller created his first TV show, Dead Like Me, for HBO. He would go on to create Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and NBC’s adaptation of Hannibal.
- Two brothers suspected of planning terror attacks have been arrested in Belgium, prosecutors say.