Weird History
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The Most Surprising Jobs Held By People Who Later Became World Leaders

Updated October 10, 2019 1.2k votes 184 voters 9.6k views15 items

List RulesVote up the jobs you wouldn't expect to see on a world leader's resume.

While many world leaders have followed "traditional" career paths of law or the military to rise through the ranks of their country's government, others have taken more unusual routes to political power.

For instance, it is well-known that Ronald Reagan was an actor in Hollywood prior to pursuing his political career, and Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer - but how many people are aware that the current president of Ukraine and the current leader of Guatemala both portrayed fictional heads of state on television? Or that Harry Truman sold ties and belts as the co-owner of a haberdashery? Or that the current president of Turkmenistan previously worked on his predecessor's teeth?

Whether taken to support their family or help pay for schooling - or even in pursuit of a true passion - here are world leaders' most surprising jobs before they rose to power.

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  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One of the most notorious political leaders of the 20th century, Joseph Stalin led the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s to 1953. By 1937, he held complete personal control over both the Communist Party and the state.

    The son of a cobbler and a washerwoman, Stalin grew up in poverty. As a teenager, he enrolled at the Spiritual Seminary of Tiflis with the intention of becoming a priest. In constant trouble with his instructors, he eventually lost interest in his studies and joined a forbidden book club. It was through this club that he was first introduced to Marxism. Stalin left the seminary in 1899 and took a job at the Main Physical Observatory in Tiflis at the age of 21. There, he was employed as an observer and recorder of meteorological data. This was the only "ordinary" job the future General Secretary of the Communist Party and Premier of the Soviet Union would ever hold. 

    While working at the observatory, Stalin continued his revolutionary activities, and organized protests and strikes. This led to the end of his meteorological career in 1901. After this, Stalin began to work full-time for the socialist revolutionary movement. 

    • Age: Dec. at 74 (1878-1953)
    137
    22
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  • Borut Pahor's extremely successful political career has spanned three decades. He's the first person in Slovenia's history to have served as its speaker of the parliament, prime minister, and president, and only the second person to win two terms as president.

    Despite his extensive experience, his political rivals still refer to him as "Barbie" because of his previous work. While attending university in the capital city of Ljubljana (where he studied political science), Pahor worked as a male model to help pay for his studies.

    Today, Pahor doesn't shy away from his past career as a model. In fact, he leans into it. Using social media to help get his political message across, he has posted many photos of himself in different types of poses on Instagram. There is even a hashtag, #boruting, which Slovenians use to parody his social media poses and personas.

    • Age: 57
    96
    29
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  • 3

    Comedian - Jimmy Morales, President Of Guatemala

    When Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina became embroiled in multiple corruption scandals prior to the 2015 presidential election, he inadvertently launched the career of an unlikely candidate from the tiny, underfunded National Convergence Front Party. Touting an anti-establishment platform, Jimmy Morales ran on the slogan, "neither corrupt, nor a thief," and voters responded. Morales, who had never held public office before, became president that October.

    At the time of his election, Morales held a degree in business administration, a master's in media management, and was pursuing a PhD in security and defense studies. However, he was best known to the public as a comedian. For 15 years, he had starred with his brother Sammy in the comedy series Moralejas ("Morals"). The television show, which was heavy on slapstick, showed Morales and his brother in various roles, including bumbling cowboys Nito and Neto. In one eerily prophetic episode, Neto (played by Jimmy Morales) accidentally runs for president of Guatemala and wins.

    After being elected - in large part because of his anti-corruption campaign - Morales, himself, and several family members faced accusations of fraud, money laundering, and other corruption charges. In 2017, his older brother Sammy and his eldest son José Manuel were charged with fraud by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Both men were acquitted by a Guatemalan court in August 2019. The CICIG also tried to have Morales impeached for alleged campaign finance irregularities, but the president survived a vote in Congress to strip him of immunity.

    In February 2019, another member of Morales's family was involved in a scandal when his wife was accused of cashing several illicit checks given to the couple during the 2015 presidential campaign.

    • Age: 50
    77
    18
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  • Though widely recognized today as one of the most influential leaders in modern history, at one point in his life, Mao Zedong struggled to earn a living as a university librarian.

    Born into a wealthy farming family in 1893, Mao bounced from job to job as a young man. A supporter of the Xinhua Revolution, he joined the rebel forces. He resigned shortly after the Republic of China was formed in 1912 and, over the next few months, enrolled in and dropped out of various schools for soap production, law, and economics, as well as a police academy.

    In 1913, Mao tried to become a teacher and enrolled at the Hunan Provincial Fourth Normal School. After it was merged into the Provincial First Normal School, Mao became exposed to Marxist ideas and became convinced of the need to organize a communist party.

    After graduation, Mao moved to Peking (Beijing) and lost the financial support of his family. He landed a job as an assistant librarian at the university. Although he was able to continue his intellectual pursuits and get involved in political activities, Mao grew tired of his menial job and left the position in 1919.

    • Age: Dec. at 82 (1893-1976)
    88
    32
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