MARTHA STEWART Lifestyle Impresario “People were shocked to see real chickens.”

TA-NEHISI COATES Writer “That was the lesson: The winner is the person who keeps asking questions.”

CONNIE BRITTON Actress “Maybe I’m actually terrible and I’m just wasting my time.”

CARRIE BROWNSTEIN Musician “The song was called ‘You Annoy Me.’”

GEORGE CLOONEY Actor “I was the comedy relief, believe it or not.”

Jerry Seinfeld Comedian “I thought, ‘I think I can live on $50 a week.’”

HELENA BONHAM CARTER Actress “I suddenly realized that I was a character actress rather than a matinee idol.”

DITA VON TEESE Burlesque Performer “I’m not a Pam Anderson.”

Samantha Power U.N. Ambassador “It made me question whether or not, you know, I should continue taking notes on the Braves-Padres game.”

Don Rickles Comedian “I used to make fun of the audience, and little by little, it became a part of my performance. ”

YOKO ONO Artist “I just went up to the stage and started singing.”

Shaun White Snowboarder “I was pretty much a kid who felt like I already had everything. I just wanted to snowboard.”

Yo-Yo Ma Cellist “My parents thought I was not talented. So basically they left me alone. ”

SHEILA HETI Author “There was nobody looking over my shoulder.”

KEVIN SMITH Director “I looked around. ‘Where can I shoot a movie?’”

JON FAVREAU Speechwriter “For the first time, Obama sees it and he’s like, ‘I actually don’t have that many edits.’”

NICOLE HOLOFCENER Director “I had so overprepared.”

ANNIE DUKE Poker Player “He gave me a list of hands that I was allowed to play.”

TELLER Magician “I wore that magic set out.”

CHRIS GETHARD Comedian “Now I know what a punch line is.”

Michael Phelps Swimmer “I was within half a second of medaling.”

Mark Ronson Music Producer “Well, next week, I might be living in a trailer.”

Billy Beane Baseball Executive “For me, playing baseball was really just a means to get to run a team.”

George Saunders Writer “I could imitate.”

Amy Heckerling Director “Am I going to let that get in my way of achieving or doing anything, the fact that I’m more insecure?”

Black Thought Musician “When I lost my mom, there was no more doubt in my mind about what I was going to do. ”

Tavi Gevinson Writer and Actress “I realized that I could convert what I was feeling by writing about it, even if it wasn’t to be published.”

Alessia Cara Singer “My four best friends were in the front row, so I could look at them the whole time.”

Michele Roberts Head of the NBA Players Union “I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to be a very good public defender.’”

Samantha Bee Comedian “I don’t think of myself as an actor, generally, anymore.”

Jeffrey Eugenides Writer “If I’d known a little bit more about life, I might have thought twice about it. ”

Lynsey Addario Photographer “I had to make a picture out of even the most boring of press conferences.”

JILL SOLOWAY Director “I went to the monitor and saw how I was changing them. ”

Chris Ware Graphic Novelist “I think the worst word one can apply to oneself as an artist is ‘career.’”

Marc Maron Comedian “It was about getting that first real laugh—and probably more about getting it again.”

Dan Barber Chef “I felt like I’d never tasted an egg before.”

Jamie Grifo IVF Pioneer “These patients are doing something right. We just get the privilege to help them. ”

David Boies Lawyer “I grew up wanting to be a lawyer because I saw Perry Mason on television.”

Joseph Stiglitz Economist “I often think it helps people to stimulate their mind by being in a very different situation.”

Simon Critchley Philosopher “The trauma of the experience erased my memory.”

FLYNN MCGARRY Chef “I, as a very precocious 10-year-old, was like, ‘I could probably do better than this.’”

SUSAN KARE Designer “I really enjoyed the structure of that kind of design challenge.”

ARMANDO Iannucci Writer “I thought, I think I know what I’m doing. Or maybe I’m just a bit older.”

DJ CASSIDY DJ “A week later I was playing Puffy’s party for the MTV Awards. ”

BOY GEORGE Musician “Sharing your inner feelings with other people is what really makes something powerful. ”

JENNIFER EGAN Writer “I don’t think I’ve ever felt more of a clear triumph, a sense of finally having crossed over a chasm.”

Misty Copeland Ballet Dancer “I wasn’t aware that what I was attempting to do was rare.”

Errol Morris Documentarian “I enjoyed the creepiness of it.”

Michael Sheen Actor “It just changed my whole brain.”

Kelli O’Hara Actor “People want to see what we as individuals have to say, as opposed to trying to copy each other.”

Jason Segel Actor “I did not feel embarrassed to display uncomfortable feelings.”

Sloane Crosley Writer “I always wrote, always kept notes for a novel, but making it my full-time job was a glacially paced process.”

John C. Reilly Actor “I was lying on the ground starting to cook like a piece of bacon.”

Nico Muhly Composer “He immediately was like, ‘We’ve got to do something together.’”

Starlee Kine Storyteller “I had to figure out a way for this to become my life.”

Guillermo del Toro Director “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this could be the greatest profession on Earth.’”

Alain de Botton Philosopher “I realized that it might be possible to be both ‘in the world’ and involved in books.”

Elvis Duran DJ “I would go door to door some days, giving out little ads that I copied off my mom’s Xerox machine at work.”

Joey Chestnut Professional Eater “I was so shy eating in front of people. It was so awkward.”

Jen Flanz Television Producer “I don’t think I want to go to law school. I want to work in TV.”

Jaron Lanier Virtual-Reality Pioneer “This feeling of finding a new way for people not to be so separate from one another was so important to me.”

Rick Harrison Pawnbroker “The lawyer eventually said, ‘Give him his license. He was the first one there.’”

David Simon ‘The Wire’ Creator “I managed to dictate about 35 clean inches from a phone booth to the rewrite woman.”

Tony Hawk Skateboarder “I thought, ‘Well, I’m already making money, you know? Why am I going to go pursue something else?’”

Jon Oringer Businessman “I needed a constant flow of imagery and I was taking those photos sometimes myself.”

Plus: Short reminiscences from 28 more people we love — Helen Mirren,, Seth Rogen, George Lucas, and more

Interviews by Jenna Marotta and Jennifer Vineyard, with additional reporting by Christopher Bonanos, Ian Epstein, Jesse David Fox, Kylie Gilbert, Devon Ivie, Boris Kachka, Vanessa Rae Kalman, Claire Landsbaum, Charley Lanyon, Shira Levine, Kelly Marino, Noreen Malone, Bennett Marcus, Jenny Peters, Trupti Rami, Abraham Riesman, Carita Rizzo, Caroline Ryder, Heather Schwedel, Renata Sellitti, Yelena Shuster, Fawnia Soo Hoo, Katie Van Syckle, Kat Ward, Kara Warner, and Soo Youn.