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What It Takes

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What It Takes is a podcast featuring intimate, revealing conversations with towering figures in almost every field: music, science, sports, politics, film, technology, literature, the military and social justice. These rare interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by The Academy of Achievement. They offer the life stories and reflections of people who have had a huge impact on the world, and insights you can apply to your own life.




General Colin Powell: My American Journey

Colin Powell has worn many hats, among them: Secretary of State, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and National Security Advisor. He was the first African-American to hold each of those positions. When he joined the Army in the 1950's, though, his only ambition was to be a good soldier. It was beyond the realm of possibility for the son of working class Jamaican immigrants to aspire much higher. In this episode, you'll hear Powell's stories about his journey from the South Bronx, to the...

Duration: 00:57:29

Barbra Streisand and Pat Conroy: The Way We Were

Barbra Streisand is one of the greatest entertainers of all time. In the early 1990's, she forged an unlikely friendship with novelist Pat Conroy, when they collaborated on the movie version of his book, The Prince of Tides. In this episode, you'll hear wonderful, engaging talks by both of these great artists - about what it took for them to overcome the adversity in their early lives, to achieve greatness.

Duration: 00:31:01

Jeff Bezos: Regret Minimization

When Jeff Bezos had the idea to start an online bookstore, he was working in a secure job on Wall Street. The internet was still young, and the average person had never made a purchase online. Bezos knew the chances of his company failing were high, but he also knew that if he didn't take the risk, he'd always regret it. More than 20 years later, regrets are off the table. Amazon.com brings in 135 billion dollars in revenue, and Bezos is one of the wealthiest men in the world. Hear him...

Duration: 00:32:12

Louise Glück: Revenge Against Circumstance

Louise Glück uses simple, unsentimental language in her poems to evoke overwhelming emotions. That rare combination is what has distinguished her as one of America's greatest living poets, for over half a century. In this episode, the Pulitzer Prize-winning, former Poet Laureate of the United States digs into the torment and uncertainty that has hounded her throughout her writing life. She talks about how teaching poetry, which she feared would diminish her art, instead allowed it to...

Duration: 00:41:55

Naomi Judd: Dream Chaser

Naomi Judd's life has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. For eight glorious years, she and her daughter Wynonna were the biggest country music sensation of the 1980's, with fourteen number one hits, sold-out stadium tours, and too many rhinestones to count. But Naomi's life before and since has been far from glamorous. In this episode, she talks about her tumultuous early life in small-town Kentucky and her struggles as a young single mom on welfare. She recounts how singing...

Duration: 00:35:21

Rosa Parks and Judge Frank Johnson: Standing Up for Freedom

In the fall of 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand for a white passenger on the bus, Martin Luther King Jr. was chosen to lead the boycott that followed, and a lawyer named Frank Johnson was appointed to be the first and only federal judge for the middle district of Alabama (also the youngest federal judge in the nation). These three people didn't know each other, and yet, their paths converged in Montgomery, at the crossroads of history. In this episode, you'll hear rare audio of Ms. Parks...

Duration: 00:46:55

Robert Langer: Edison of Medicine

Some of Robert Langer's inventions sound like the stuff of science fiction: "smart" pills that can release medicine by remote control... organs and bone, coaxed into growing on polymer scaffolds. But these inventions are already in clinical trials, or in development at Langer's Lab at MIT, the largest bioengineering lab in the country. In this episode, Robert Langer talks about the very unconventional route he took from chemical engineer to medical pioneer, and he explains his first...

Duration: 00:28:40

Sally Ride and Eileen Collins: Wonder Women

Sally Ride was the first American woman to rocket into space. Eileen Collins was the first woman to command the Space Shuttle. These two astronauts changed history and broke a very high glass ceiling for little girls. But they traveled different paths to get to NASA and achieve their dreams. Sally Ride graduated from an elite private school in Los Angeles and earned a doctorate in Physics at Stanford, while Eileen Collins was raised in public housing in upstate New York and joined the U.S....

Duration: 00:36:04

Frank McCourt: Teacher Man

No one could tell a story better than Frank McCourt. His first book, Angela's Ashes, remains one of the most compelling accounts of poverty, alcoholism, and the longing for a better life. It won a Pulitzer Prize, and transformed McCourt from a modest immigrant and a lifelong high school teacher, into a literary celebrity. In this episode, you'll hear McCourt hold forth with tremendous humor and that lyrical voice - about the miseries of his childhood in Ireland, as well as his passion for...

Duration: 00:44:21

Leslie Wexner: Victoria's Other Secret

This is the story of Les Wexner's path, from a tiny, old-fashioned neighborhood store in Columbus, Ohio, owned by his immigrant father... to one of the biggest retail empires in the world. His company, L Brands, now includes that lingerie giant, Victoria's Secret, as well as Bath & Body Works, and Henri Bendel. But Wexner helped innovate the very idea of a specialty clothing chain store, with his first business: The Limited. Wexner has been CEO longer than any other head of a Fortune 500...

Duration: 00:29:11

Bill Russell: Giant of a Man

The most astonishing winning streak in the history of sports, belonged to the Boston Celtics. They won eleven championships between 1957 and 1969, eight of those in a row. And the player at the center of those wins - was Bill Russell. He changed the game of basketball, with his incredible speed, and his ability to block shots as no player had done before. When he took over as coach of the Celtics (while still playing on the team), he became the first African-American coach of any major...

Duration: 00:32:48

Dr. Jane Goodall: A Dedicated Pursuit

As a girl in England, Jane Goodall dreamed of traveling to Africa to study animals in the wild. In 1960, that dream brought her to Tanzania, to observe the wild chimpanzees at Gombe Stream Park. As she describes in this episode, other scientists did not believe that a young woman could survive alone in the bush, but Jane Goodall did more than survive. Her work revolutionized the field of primatology. She was the first to document chimpanzees making and using tools, an activity that had...

Duration: 00:34:37