RuPaul, if you haven’t heard, is quickly becoming a household name. Our favorite drag queen star has risen to fame and riches beyond most of our wildest dreams and is looking absolutely fantastic doing it. Her net worth today is estimated to be at no less than $16 million. But what’s the story behind one of our most famous pop culture icons? How did she get to her current pedestal of fame? And what’s she doing with it now?

Humble beginnings

RuPaul has dabbled in pretty much anything and everything in the creative field by now, but her story starts with a single lucky break. Born in California, she moved to Georgia when she was 15 and studied performing arts before beginning her career. In the 80s she was trying to make it big as a musician and filmmaker, but wasn’t getting very far — until 1989, when she was cast as a backup dancer for the music video of “Love Shack” by the B-52s (yes, that “Love Shack”).

From there, RuPaul’s career took off like a rocket. She recorded dance singles in the ’90s that went straight to the top of the charts and made it onto MTV with her work. MAC Cosmetics even signed a deal with her, making her the first drag queen supermodel to partner with such a mainstream brand. The partnership broke through modeling norms of the time as she was featured on billboards in full drag. She went on to get her own talk show called The RuPaul Show, getting celebrity guests like Diana Ross and the Backstreet Boys and continued releasing music. Seriously, is there anything she hasn’t done?

Seeds of an empire

But what we all really want to know about is how RuPaul’s drag queen empire really got started. Between starring in movies, recording music, and hosting her talk show, you wouldn’t think she had time to do anything else. But that just wasn’t enough for RuPaul. In 2008 she started producing her first reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, which first aired the following year.

For those of us who aren’t familiar with the inner workings of the show (maybe we’ve been living under a rock or something), it’s a TV show where drag queens come to compete in front of RuPaul and a panel of other judges to be selected as the next drag queen superstar. Going from American’s first mainstream drag queen superstar to hosting a TV show centered around finding the next top drag queen? That’s pretty crazy. Talk about a role model.

RuPaul didn’t stop there. As if one nationally-acclaimed television show idolizing drag queens wasn’t enough, she went ahead and created another one due to popular demand from fans of the first show. In 2012, RuPaul’s Drag Race: All-Stars appeared on air. Similar to her first show, this spinoff featured the most popular contestants from previous years, and RuPaul returning front and center to be the main host as well as one of the judges.

Modern-day empire

RuPaul may have started off her career as a backup dancer, but today she’s anything but in the background. Her empire of confidence, self-expression, and general fabulousness has extended across just about every possible creative field. From cameos in films like The Brady Bunch Movie, and in TV shows like Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, to making the Billboard Hot 100 with her single “Snapshot”, to, of course, her widespread success as a TV talk show host as well as a judge for her “Drag Race” shows, she’s covered just about everything in radio, TV and film.

But that’s not even all she’s done. RuPaul has also written several books, like her autobiography in 1995 (Lettin’ It All Hang Out), and Workin’ It! RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style in 2010. In addition to all of that, she’s also come out with her own makeup line in partnership with Colorevolution, as well as a unisex perfume called Glamazon. Now that’s a perfume we can get behind.

In addition to all of that, RuPaul has been flexing her influence on the world enough to get noticed by one of our most prestigious magazines. Time has recently recognized our favorite drag queen superstar as one of their 100 most influential people in the world. She’s truly taken the creative world by storm since her debut on the scene in 1989, and she will likely continue to do so for years to come.

Life lessons from RuPaul

Aside from being a general icon, RuPaul has been throwing life lessons around pretty much every chance she gets. As her recent interview with Time points out, she emphasizes not taking life too seriously. What she does encourage taking seriously, however, is loving yourself. In a world where we’re constantly told that we’re not good enough, or that we need to change ourselves in order to be better, standing up for loving yourself just the way you are is a pretty strong statement to make, and an important one too.

Along the same lines, RuPaul says in an interview that you can’t allow yourself to become bitter. As easy as it may be to admit that something is really not working out well, or that people just aren’t as accepting of you as you would hope, RuPaul says it’s important not to let that get to you. You have to remember to keep loving yourself, and don’t become bitter about the world; there’s enough bitterness out there already, let’s not add to it.

And, finally, RuPaul says it’s important to find your tribe. Having a tribe of people who can mentor you, support you, inspire you, and generally just be there for and with you, is really important. She admits that her own career really took off when she started to meet members of her own tribe. Once you find your ‘people,’ you’ll feel so much more loved and confident.

From backup dancer to talk show host, from musician to drag queen superstar, RuPaul has conquered the creative, financial, and cultural worlds. She may have a net worth of $16 million, but she’s worth a lot more than that in our hearts.