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That is a word that most people dread. Everyone wants to be a success. We want to be liked and admired.
But that dreaded “F” word always pops up. Failure. This experience is strong enough to make you want to quit and start a new life.
It is no different for any entrepreneur. Or anyone trying to make something special out of their life. Whether it is getting ahead in your career or losing weight or taking items off of your bucket list.
There, I said it…..
Ask just about anybody who has become successful if they have ever failed at any aspect of their journey. Chances are you will get quite a few stories of missteps and blunders.
The difference between long-term success and failure is the reaction to it.
People who, as Charlie Sheen said many years ago are “winners,” find a way to overcome the obstacles and persevere after failure.
“Failure happens. Live with it! Learn from it!
There is a need to change the view on failure.
It is not something that needs to be avoided. It is a chance to learn something that does not work! Failure is the mother of success.
It is not always reaching the destination that defines the man (or woman), but the journey that is taken to get there. The biggest successes have gone through the biggest failures.
If you are struggling in your life…or even if you’re looking for small business opportunities… don't be afraid to try things that are “new” “different” and perhaps even fly in the face of conventional wisdom. The worst thing that can happen is failure… which is just a chance to learn and grow.
To illustrate the point, here is a list of 55 famous people who are/were successful, but…
…Experienced massive failure at one point in their lives.
Not only did these people fail, but they failed on a massive scale. Yet history still views these successful people who failed as great success stories because they bounced back and succeeded in the end.
So let's talk about the specific setbacks that these individuals experienced.
1. Thomas Edison
Chances are you have heard of Edison in relation to overcoming failure before. He was a master of trial and error. Someone who wasn't afraid to make lots of mistakes in order to succeed.
When asked about the many thousands of failures he had when trying to create the light-bulb he famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
But there is even more to it than that. As a child, he was thought to be dumb and told that he would never be a success by many of his teachers because his mind would often wander in class.
Good thing for us that the greatest inventor in history did not listen.
Want to build a success-focused morning routine? Well, watch this video to learn about the morning routine habits of the world's most successful people:
2. Elvis Presley
You do not need to be an Elvis fan to acknowledge the impact he has had on popular music. They don’t dub somebody the “King” of a form of music without a great amount of success.
But for Elvis success came after failure.
Elvis failed his music classes. He was a social misfit as a boy.
He was working as a truck driver while trying to get his recording career off the ground. After his first paying gig, his manager told him, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
But Elvis persevered. His first recordings went nowhere. He tried to join a vocal quartet and was told he, “couldn’t sing”.
But finally, his music caught a groove, and after all that failure he ended up becoming one of the most popular recording artists in history.
3. Michael Jordan
It is hard to imagine it, but the Jordan, who is arguably the greatest basketball player ever, was once cut from his high school team.
From not being on able to stay on his high school team, Jordan kept working at it and kept improving.
He made the team at North Carolina and became a star college player. Then he played for the Bulls creating an armful of titles.
Then in the middle of his career, he took a few years off to try out his dream of becoming a professional baseball player. He ultimately failed in this effort to get to the major leagues but was able to have some good games in the minor league.
But even in basketball, where he is the GOAT. He got his success through hard work after failure. As Jordan puts it:
“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
[Success takes hard work. It doesn't come easy. Get inspired for some hard work by checking this collection of hard-work quotes.]
4. Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh paintings these days sell for incredible amounts of money. Four of his paintings have sold for more than 100 million dollars.
Yet, Van Gogh is a cautionary tale. In his life, he was a failure.
He slowly began to build a “reputation” while he was alive, but he also had a ton of critics. He burned and destroyed many of his paintings out of frustration and was known to only sell ONE PAINTING.
He did not work to overcome his failure and killed himself. Soon after his death, his work began to garner intense critical and financial success.
5. Stephen King
It is my opinion that Steven King is the greatest living writer.
He is incredibly prolific. Having written over 60 novels. Many of which are quite long. He is popular. And at 72, his new releases almost always land at the top of the best-seller lists.
But King wasn't born being a writer.
He wrote stories as a teenager and college student, collecting a huge backlog of rejected stories he stored in a large crate.
King was working as a teacher in rural Maine when he wrote his first novel, “Carrie”.
By this time King had some small success selling short stories previously, but nothing that anyone could build a career around.
King submitted “Carrie” 30 times. King was rejected 30 times.
Before his 31st attempt, he threw the manuscript out.
His wife rescued it from the round file and asked him to try one more time. The rest…is history.
[One of the keys to success is continuous learning. If you desire success, why not continue your learning and read the best books on success.]
6. Fred Astaire
Many people consider Fred Astaire to be the greatest male dancer of all time. (Okay, ladies, I know…. Ginger Rogers did everything Fred did, but backward and in heels.)
Fred didn't start out a success. But he did start early. He was six years old when he began working in a vaudeville act.
By the time he was in his mid-teens, he had some measure of success in vaudeville and began to work in Broadway and musicals. He wasn't an instant success there either but slowly began to build a reputation and a degree of success.
Eventually, in his mid 30's, he tried to get into the burgeoning movie industry.
During his first screen test, an RKO executive noted that Astaire, “Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.”
Despite this initial rejection, Astaire persevered and ended up becoming one of the top actors, singers, and dancers of his generation.
Nearly 50 movies. Emmys, Grammys, an Oscar. By any measure, this balding guy, who couldn't act, sing and could dance, “a little” became a huge success in film and dance.
7. Abraham Lincoln
If Lincoln had quit when the going got tough, the world might be a very different place.
As a young man Lincoln entered military service in the Black Hawk war as a captain. Yet left as a private.
With very little formal education, Lincoln taught himself and became a lawyer and congressman.
His real rise to national prominence could also be viewed as a “failure”. In 1858 Lincoln tried for a seat in the Illinois senate. This led to a series of hotly contested debates, known as the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Lincoln lost the senate election, but really impressed a lot of the right people, even with his loss. So he kept at the politics thing.
Two years later he ran for president and won.
Thankfully he did not let lack of formal education, a spotty career of failures, or initial political failure rattle him, and he went on to become one of our greatest presidents.
[What ONE THING can you add to your daily routine to achieve greater success? I asked this question of 43 experts. See what they had to say about the best habit for success.]
8. JK Rowling
Rowling is the perfect example that success can come to anyone at any time.
She is now doing the backstroke through a pool of Harry Potter money, but that was not always the case.
Rowling always planned on being a writer. But life interfered.
She battled depression over the untimely death of her mother. Her first marriage failed and she was left trying to provide for herself and raise a young child alone while living on welfare, going to school and trying to work on a novel in her nonexistent spare time.
Rowling herself said she was the “biggest failure I knew” and credits a lot of her success to her failure.
Before Harry Potter became a success she was a divorced mother, living on welfare, going to school and trying to write a novel in her spare time.
At a Harvard commencement speech, Rowling had this to say about failure:
“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
9. Albert Einstein
If asked to name a genius, most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein. Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy. He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped.
As a teen he rebelled against his school's reliance on rote learning and failed.
He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the math and physics section…as you might expect).
Einstein buckled down, received the requisite training and applied to Zurich Polytechnic again, and of course, was accepted.
A few years later he had a Ph.D. and was recognized as a leading theorist. A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.
10. Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
When you were a child, you probably read Green Eggs and Ham and The Cat in the Hat, as well as other books written by Geisel under his pen name, Dr. Seuss. To date, over 600 million copies of his books have been sold all over the world.
Many would think that this kind of success means that all sorts of doors of opportunity were opened for Dr. Seuss. However, his first book, And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Tree, almost did not get published.
Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times, and Dr. Seuss decided to head home to burn the book’s manuscript. However, at the last minute a break came, paving the way for publication and a glowing review that transformed his first book from a candidate for the garbage bin to an instant bestseller. This ultimately paved the way for the success of his other books.
11. George Lucas
Star Wars is one of the highest-grossing movie franchises in Hollywood. Ever since the release of Episode IV – A New Hope in 1977, the franchise has remained a box office hit.
However, Star Wars almost did not make it to the big screen. Three major studios—Disney, United Artists, and Universal—all rejected it.
Fox backed the movie, hoping that it was going to be something like American Graffiti, one of the more successful movies that George Lucas had directed.
When shooting Star Wars, nobody really got Lucas’s vision. There was a lot of tension between him and the actors, the crew, and the executives. Further, Fox had to be creative in its marketing campaign to bring the movie to theaters.
However, after its first run, Star Wars instantly became a hit. It changed how movies were made, and the franchise has become a billion-dollar industry.
12. Harland David Sanders
For many of us, experiencing two or three rejections can be disheartening. Imagine how it must have been for Harland David Sanders, whose fried chicken recipe was rejected over 1,000 times.
When Sanders was 65 years old, he found himself bankrupt after his restaurant business had failed.
He drove around in his car, pleading with diner and restaurant owners to use his fried chicken recipe. The deal was that for every piece of chicken sold, they were to give him a nickel as a commission.
He was turned down 1,009 times before a restaurant agreed to use his recipe, which he called Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Today, Colonel Sanders is an iconic figure representing one of the tastiest fried chickens in the world, proving that you're never too old to find success.
13. Charles Schulz
The well-known comic strip Peanuts has touched countless hearts for several generations.
However, for Schulz, the path to success was a challenging one.
When he was younger, his high school yearbook staff rejected every cartoon he submitted. He was lousy at sports, and flunked 8th grade.
When he was a bit older, he submitted his cartoons to several studios and publishing firms. Again, he was met with rejection.
Had he given up, we would never have known Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and the rest of the gang.
14. Walt Disney
When you look at how Disney’s animated movies have become a household name, you would find it difficult to imagine that their creator once faced rejection.
When Walt Disney was 22, he worked for a newspaper firm in Missouri. Disney was fired from his job. The reason? He lacked creativity, according to the newspaper editor.
Disney disproved this, however, by winning more than 30 Academy Awards for his animated film featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The rest is history.
To learn more about him, here are 83 quotes from Walt Disney.
15. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
He was a musical prodigy, composing music by the age of 5. And during his lifetime, he wrote over 600 pieces of musical pieces. People today acknowledge Mozart as a genius composer.
However, when he was still alive, he was met with failure several times: He was dismissed as a court musician, an archduke called his piece The Marriage of Figaro “noisy,” and his last three compositions flopped massively.
16. Jack Canfield
Have you read any of the books from the Chicken Soup series? What if we were to tell you that those books were almost never published?
Chicken Soup for the Soul was the first book that Jack Canfield sent to 144 publishers. All of them rejected his pitch.
Still, he persevered, and eventually found a publisher willing to bring his book to the world.
We are glad somebody did!
If you'd like to learn about how Jack Canfield perservered when others didn't, check out his book The Success Principles, which 67 action steps you can use to be more successful in life.
17. Jack London
The Call of the Wild, written by Jack London, is considered one of the best novels ever written. This book must truly be a significant piece of literature, because it appears on the reading lists of high school English classes all over the US.
London’s storytelling is very compelling, so it might surprise you to learn that he received 600 rejections before his first story was ever published.
18. Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier changed the way African-American people were perceived in the film industry when he won an Academy Award in 1963 for his role as Homer Smith in Lilies of the Field.
But when Poitier was first starting out as an actor, he auditioned for a role and ended up flubbing his lines. His Caribbean accent was so thick that the director stopped him and told him that he was better off getting a job as a dishwasher.
The rejection propelled him to work harder, and all that hard work paid off when he became the most well-paid actor of his time.
19. Mark Cuban
Mark Cuban owns the Dallas Mavericks, and has a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion in 2019.
However, Mark Cuban failed at almost every job he ever held. He couldn’t seem to get anything right.
This did not stop him from trying.
He eventually found a niche in startups. He decided to start his own company, which was eventually acquired by CompuServe. He then created another company that was acquired by Yahoo! for $5.7 billion.
20. Soichiro Honda
Soichiro Honda was the man behind Honda Motor Co.
Before establishing his multinational company, he was in the foundry business, manufacturing piston rings. But h had a difficult time securing a contract with Toyota for his innovation on these piston rings.
When he finally got the contract, WWII happened, and a bomb hit his factory. After rebuilding the factory, an earthquake hit, leveling the building.
But he never stopped innovating (including embracing the Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement) , and eventually created a motorized bicycle that became the precursor of the Honda motorcycle and ultimately, the Honda car company that we know today.)
21. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah is a media executive with a net worth of $3 billion. She owns the multimedia empire Harpo, and is considered to be one of the world’s most influential women.
However, she was publicly fired from her first job as a TV news anchor.
The reason? The show’s execs said that she was too “emotionally invested” in the stories that she reported on.
22. Vera Wang
Wang is known throughout the world as the designer of iconic wedding dresses. Her current net worth is estimated at over $400 million.
However, before she became one of the world’s most sought-after fashioner designers, she had her sights on making it onto the 1986 Olympics figure-skating team. She didn’t make the cut.
She ultimately got an editorial job at Vogue, and stayed there for 17 years. She then tried another career for 15 years, but didn’t find much success there. It wasn’t until she started designing wedding dresses that things turned around for her.
23. Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford is an iconic hero, thanks in part to his portrayals of Indiana Jones and Han Solo.
So you might be surprised to learn that the film executives of the first movie he starred in told Harrison Ford that he didn’t have the “star factor.”
As it turns out, his career has spanned six decades, with yet another upcoming movie in the Indiana Jones franchise. He has definitely proved his critics wrong.
24. Terri Gross
The voice and host of the long-running NPR show Fresh Air, Terri Gross has over five million listeners around the globe.
But when Gross graduated from college, her first job was as a teacher at an inner city junior high school. She was fired after six weeks.
She eventually discovered that she was best suited for radio, and her career eventually took off.
25. Lady Gaga
Her style, persona, and talent have captured the world’s attention, and Lady Gaga is now one of the best-selling artists of her era.
She has received numerous awards and widespread recognition for her talent. Furthermore, she has been recognized as one of the most influential women in the world.
Nevertheless, when she was starting out, she had her fair share of disheartening experiences. A major record label signed her on, but after three months, she was dropped from their roster of artists.
But it’s a good thing for her that they let her go. Lady Gaga ended up experimenting and developed her style further, creating the iconic performer and artist that she is today.
26. Sir James Dyson
We have Sir James Dyson to thank for the bagless vacuum cleaner that has added more convenience in the way we do our household chores.
But just how many prototypes did he have to go through to arrive at the perfect vacuum cleaner? According to Sir James, he created 5,126 prototypes and cleaned out his savings in the process of creating the perfect cleaning machine.
27. Isaac Newton
From the get-go, it was clear that Isaac Newton was not cut out for farm work. He was more of a contemplative type than a hard worker.
But the family needed someone to handle their affairs at the farm, and convinced Isaac to do it. And he failed. Miserably.
It was this epic failure that convinced his family to let him finish his studies instead—and the whole world benefited from it, as his contributions have help us understand how the world works.
28. Claude Monet
Monet founded the French Impressionism movement, and his works fetch record-breaking prices at art auctions. Recently, one of his paintings was estimated to have received between $20 million and $30 million at an art auction.
There was a time, however, when the world was not all that excited about Monet’s work. In fact, the Paris Salon, a small but influential group of Parisian artists, completely rejected Monet’s style.
The group has long been dissolved, but Monet’s paintings continue to fascinate art collectors all over the world.
29. Rudyard Kipling
Rudyard Kipling introduced us to Mowgli in The Jungle Book, and the powerful Djinn in Just So Stories. In 1907, he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
So you may find it surprising that Kipling was fired from his role as contributor to a newspaper. The editor’s reason: Kipling “doesn’t know how to use the English language.”
Although it may have stung, Kipling didn’t let the editor’s comment affect him. He continued to write, and became one of the greatest authors of his time.
30. William and Orville Wright
The Wright brothers changed the way we travel, and their efforts and struggles serve as an inspiration and symbol for soaring to great heights.
Their main goal was to create a flying machine that stayed up in the air for a sustained period of time. They put in countless hours to create prototypes, and many of them didn’t work as intended, crashing on the sand at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Those crashes led to the creation of better versions of the brothers’ flying machine, until that day in December 1903, when Wilbur was able to sustain powered flight for more than 10 seconds.
The world would never be the same again.
31. R. H. Macy
Who would have thought that the founder of the biggest department store chain in the country and one of the largest retailing operations in the world encountered numerous failed retail ventures at the beginning of his career? The setbacks would have discouraged others, but Rowland Hussey Macy just moved on and continued to invest his resources in order to discover the right formula for drawing customers to his stores.
Eventually, his innovations paid off and people came flocking to America’s first shopping establishment that offered a one-price system for goods and cash-only payment. Soon after, Macy’s store window displays became iconic, and the store earned a place in American culture for its Thanksgiving Day Parade spectacle every year.
R. H. Macy left a legacy through a store chain that continues to introduce new innovations in shopping and provide a wide range of products at reasonable prices.
32. Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden was born Florence Nightingale Graham, and went on to establish one of the most influential companies in the beauty industry. However, success did not come easily.
Before she found her niche in the beauty industry, Elizabeth Arden experienced several failures. She dropped out of nursing school after realizing that the responsibilities depressed and even frightened her. Afterwards, she tried a number of different careers, such as being a receptionist, bank teller, and secretary. However, all of these fizzled out too.
Her first business venture also failed, but this failure did not deter her from going after her dream. She took a loan in order to set up her next business venture—a cosmetics and beauty salon company—and it was a success. These days, Elizabeth Arden Inc. earns around $1 billion every year.
33. Jerry Seinfeld
The first time Jerry Seinfeld did a stand-up act at a comedy club, he lasted only three minutes, and was booed off the stage. However, that experience of failure and rejection did not deter him.
He continued doing what he loved, performing stand-up acts all over New York until he landed a role in the 1980s sitcom Benson. Seinfeld went on to become one of the greatest American comedians of all time. He is best known for starring in the hit sitcom Seinfeld, which is a fictionalized version of his own life.
34. Richard Branson
With a net worth of $4.2 billion in 2020, the man at the helm of the Virgin Empire is one of the most financially successful people in the world. However, Richard Branson’s foray into entrepreneurship was riddled with numerous failures, some of which got him into trouble with the law.
As a self-professed dyslexic, Branson had more difficulties than the average student in his academic life, and dropped out of high school.
The Virgin record shops he opened ran into financial problems, and he was charged with tax evasion in connection with the issue. Later, many of the products under his brand never took off. However, Branson kept moving forward, and eventually found enormous success.
Known for pushing the boundaries both in her career as a musical artist and in her personal life, Madonna is one of the most influential and best-selling female musicians of all time. The road to her fame, however, was paved with pain.
Dance became an escape for her when her father remarried and she had to pitch in with the chores and take care of seven younger siblings. She eventually dropped out of college to become a professional dancer in New York City.
Madonna went through several unfortunate events in her early days in New York, including being held at gunpoint and raped. Her apartment was also broken into three times. But despite the challenges, she pursued her dancing career and made a living by waitressing and doing gigs as a nude model for art classes.
Her tenacity was instrumental in her survival during those harsh days. Success finally came in 1982, with the release of her self-titled album, and with her single Holiday making it to the Billboard Top 20. The rest is history.
36. Peter Dinklage
His most recent role as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones may have catapulted Peter Dinklage into international stardom, but things were not handed to him on a silver platter.
Dinklage worked very hard to break the stereotype of the roles people with dwarfism get cast in movies. In the past, this meant that he didn’t have a lot of acting work. He often had to resort to working on jobs not related to acting in order to support himself. One such job required him to do data entry—something he chose to do for years rather than be cast as a leprechaun in a beer commercial.
His refusal to take demeaning roles eventually paid off, as playing Tyrion Lannister opened up new opportunities for him both on and off the screen.
37. Jack Ma
The rags to riches story of Alibaba founder Jack Ma will inspire you to never give up on your dreams. Born as Ma Yun in 1964, he was the second child in a family of three. At that time, China was isolated from the rest of the world, and Jack Ma was often bullied for being scrawny. He’d get into fights because he never backed down from bigger kids who harassed him.
Ma figured that education was his gateway to a better life, but he failed his university entrance exams twice. He did pass on his third try, and ultimately attended Hangzhou Teachers Institute.
Finding a job after graduating from university was also a challenge. He experienced dozens of rejections before a local university hired him as an English teacher. After that, he launched his own business ventures that failed.
But Jack Ma wasn’t deterred by failure. Just a few years after his last failed business venture, he founded Alibaba, an e-commerce business and Ma’s answer to Amazon. This time, the business was a resounding success. According to Forbes estimates, as of July 2020, Jack Ma’s net worth is around $45.9 billion.
38. Maya Angelou
She used her voice to bring hope, joy, and liberty to the oppressed and marginalized, but Maya Angelou’s childhood was fraught with painful events. Her parents divorced, and she and her siblings were sent to live with relatives. She suffered sexual abuse at the age of seven, and her abuser was arrested and later murdered after being released from prison. This experience made her mute, believing that it was her voice that killed the man who abused her.
Growing up, she worked in the nightclub district. She married twice, with both marriages ending in failure. Through it all, Maya Angelou held on to her passion for the written word, and her literary works were eventually recognized internationally. The strength she possessed that allowed her to go through all the difficulties in her life is an inspiration to many who are fighting for their rights even today.
39. Robert Downey, Jr.
Years ago, Robert Downey, Jr. was given up as a lost cause in the movie industry. At that point in his career, he had been arrested multiple times and gone to rehab on several occasions for his drug and alcohol abuse.
These days, however, he is one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, largely due to his role as Tony Stark, the billionaire who dons the Iron Man suit. The Iron Man trilogy has grossed $2 billion to date. Robert Downey, Jr’s charisma has seen critics and admirers alike comment that the role of Tony Stark was tailor-fit for him.
40. Milton Hershey
When Milton Hershey was just starting out, he experienced numerous failed endeavors. First, he worked as a printer’s apprentice, and that didn’t go well. The story goes that he dropped his hat into the printing machine and was fired.
Then he went into business, only to fail in two ventures. By the time he was 26, he was penniless. But he had a dream. He once again ventured into business, and established a caramel candy factory. What he really wanted to make, however, was milk chocolate that was affordable to everybody. When he finally perfected his formula using boiled milk, cacao, and sugar, he sold his candy factory and focused on producing milk chocolate.
His sweet success left a legacy that we all enjoy in the form of Hershey’s chocolates.
41. Marshall Bruce Mathers III
The song Lose Yourself garnered multiple awards, such as the Academy Award for Best Original Song and Grammy’s Best Rap Song award, and is on Rolling Stone’s list of Top 50 Hip Hop Songs of All Time. But life was not always easy for Marshall Bruce Mathers III, a.k.a. Eminem. He grew up in a tough neighborhood where the color of his skin made him feel like an outsider. He failed 9th grade three times, and dropped out after his third failure.
Mathers’ passion was rap, and he started when he was 14. By the time he was 17, he had made a name for himself in the hip hop community. However, it was hard for people to accept a white rapper, and he had to prove himself over and over again to get respect as an artist.
Eventually, Dr. Dre discovered him and took Eminem under his wing, and he landed a contract with Interscope Records. Today, he is considered one of the most successful rappers in history.
42. Ludwig Van Beethoven
Beethoven’s compositions are familiar to virtually everyone, and he is one of the most admired and respected composers of Western music of all time. However, when Beethoven was younger, he was awkward with the violin and often neglected his practice, leading his teachers to believe that he had now future as a violinist or composer.
He ended up proving them wrong and went on to compose awe-inspiring symphonies—works that are now pillars in the repertoire of classical music.
43. Arianna Huffington
You probably wouldn’t believe that someone as successful and influential as the editor-in-chief of HuffPost and founder of Thrive Global was rejected by more than 30 major publishers. However, before Arianna Huffington created the HuffPost empire, she tried to have a book published, and was turned down by 36 publishers. It was only on her 37th attempt that someone accepted her book for publication.
Moreover, when she started HuffPost, it was flooded with negative review. Some questioned its credibility and quality. However, the outlet has proven its detractors wrong. HuffPost continues to thrive and provide reliable aggregated news on the web, with Arianna Huffington at the helm.
44. Chris Gardner
If you’ve seen the movie The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, you were probably touched by the story of how one man struggled and experienced numerous failures before he finally achieved success. That movie was inspired by the life of an actual person. His name is Chris Gardner.
Chris Gardner grew up in a poverty-stricken household. In his home, he witnessed and experienced the effects of domestic abuse, alcoholism, and illiteracy.
After he finished high school, he joined the Navy. He then established a business, only to see it crumble. His marriage failed, and he became a single father to his son.
However, Gardner never gave up on his dreams, and his efforts eventually paid off. He is the founder and CEO of Gardner Rich LLC, and currently one of the top motivational speakers in the world.
45. Hugh Herr
Hugh Herr is an avid rock climber. In 2011, TIME magazine hailed him as the “Leader of the Bionic Age” for his creation of bionic limbs that mimic the function and movement of natural limbs.
When Herr was 17, he had a rock-climbing accident that led to the amputation of both his legs, right below the knee. Herr used his knowledge of robotics and human physiology to design life-changing bionic limbs. His creations improve the quality of life of those who have physical disabilities.
As for Herr himself, he now has a set of customized, robotic legs that he uses for rock climbing.
46. Bill Gates
Before becoming the founder of Microsoft, entrepreneur Bill Gates formed a company at 17 with his childhood pal, Paul Allen. The goal was to build a company called Traf-O-Data. They made hardware to analyze and record traffic data and produce results electronically to traffic departments.
This would save departments time and money from manually producing the information. However, when the day came to reveal the device to the traffic department of Seattle County, the technology didn't work. As a result, the business failed.
After getting a near-perfect score on his SATs, Bill went to Harvard University but dropped out of school after one year to start Microsoft. It didn't seem like the wisest move then, but as we now know, it was one of the best decisions he could have made.
47. Colonel Harland Sanders
Colonel Harland Sanders had humble beginnings and many setbacks before becoming KFC's (Kentucky Fried Chicken's) founder. He learned to cook at a young age.
His father died when he was 5, and his mother would leave for days trying to find consistent work. As the oldest, he cooked and took care of his younger siblings.
After his mother remarried, things became troublesome at home, and Harland left home by the age of 13. At 14, he started working as a farmhand and continued the years following, working various odd jobs to make a living. By age 40, he started selling chicken out of a gas station.
By 1939, at age 49, he owned a hotel and restaurant, but they were both destroyed in a fire 4-months later. Later, in his 50's, he perfected his secret chicken recipe. He opened another restaurant but unfortunately had to sell his business while also going through a divorce.
By 1955, at age 65, with only a few dollars to his name, he set out to sell his chicken franchise idea to restaurants across the country. After being rejected over 1,000 times, he finally found someone who bought into his vision; the rest is history.
48. Curtis Jackson (50 Cent)
You may know him as a platinum hip-hop recording artist, movie star, and producer. But long before the success we see today, 50 Cent had to defy the odds of an impoverished upbringing surrounded by the worst circumstances.
As a child, his mother was a drug dealer who died in a house fire. Afterward, his father left, leaving only his grandmother to raise him.
50 Cent got into drugs as a teenager and, by age 19, was arrested for drug possession and a gun charge. After being sentenced, he was sent to boot camp, where he later earned a GED. After his release, he began to go by the name 50 Cent, after a local bank robber.
At age 25, he was shot 9 times and left for dead in front of his grandmother's home. He later signed for Columbia Records but was dropped from the label and blackballed from the industry over a song called “Ghetto Quran.”
He recorded dozens of songs in Canada before signing with Eminem and Shady Records in 2002. This was the opening he needed to achieve all the success he is now famous for.
49. Henry Ford
No one would have ever thought that Henry Ford would be the founder of one of the most profitable automotive companies in the world (the Ford Motor Company). He became an engineer in 1891, and within a few years, he started experimenting with gasoline engines.
By 1898, when he was 35, Henry gained the attention and financial backing of William Murphy, a lumber baron in Detroit, MI. By 1899, Ford started the Detroit Automobile Company.
However, his company took a harsh blow. It stopped its operations when they were unable to pay back a loan received from the Dodge Brothers. This was due to a fact that there was a flaw in the design of the automobiles and disagreements between him and his partners about the company's direction.
Not one to give up, Henry Ford would give the automotive industry one more try as a 40-year-old entrepreneur. He later found a backer, a Scottish immigrant who made his wealth in the coal industry.
Because of his consistent efforts and new financial supporters, Ford was finally able to produce affordable family vehicles that are still thriving in the car industry today.
If you want to learn more about other famous failures, then check out this video:
50. Emily Dickinson
Another inspiring story of failure to famous is the story of Emily Dickinson. She was considered a failure most of her life. Many thought she wouldn't amount to much because she was an extreme introvert unwilling to meet people face to face.
Emily spent most of her time writing poems viewed as angry, dark, and sad. Her neighbors in Amherst, Massachusetts, considered her a recluse and a bit eccentric.
Emily only published about a dozen poems in her lifetime, but her notoriety didn't come until after her death. Then, her sister found over 1800 poems that she had written and eventually published them, leading to the celebrity and fame she has today.
51. Sylvester Stallone
When Sylvester Stallone first pursued acting in the 1970s, he was told he couldn't act and that he walked and talked funnily. He faced rejection at every turn. With no money to his name, he was even forced to sell his dog at the time for $25 just to pay his electric bill.
As he continued to pursue acting, Sylvester would sit for hours waiting for a meeting from talent scouts, ultimately being rejected. 1500 times, Stallone was rejected by talent agents in the entertainment industry. Eventually, he became homeless.
Sylvester's fortunes seemed to turn around when he was offered as much as $325,000 for the script to the movie Rocky, under the condition that he not be the movie's star. However, holding on to his acting dreams, Stallone turned offers down repeatedly as others made similar offers.
After a while, he accepted an offer that allowed him to be in the film, which paid $35,000 and a percentage of the movie sales. This paid off handsomely for him because the movie grossed over $200 million in box office sales.
Many movies and TV shows later, Stallone currently has over 400 million dollars in net worth.
52. Jim Carrey
With an upbringing steeped in severe poverty and Jim Carrey’s many failures, all success we see today didn't seem likely. His family's financial problems were so bad that he worked 8-hour shifts as a janitor after school at age 15. At the time, his family lived in a camper, and it took a while for them to gain financial stability.
Carrey's father was supportive and sought to help him achieve his dreams. So, he took Jim to his first stand-up comedy opportunity at the Yuk Yuk's comedy club in Toronto. Unfortunately, Jim was booed off stage.
Determined not to give up, Carrey dropped out of high school at age 17 to chase his dreams. Which led him to Los Angeles, where he found a consistent stand-up gig on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood at The Comedy Store.
After 11 years and a failed marriage, Jim got a break into acting on the show In Living Color. Four years later, Carrey received his most significant opportunity to become a star with the film Ace Ventura Pet Detective.
Though he had ups and downs, Jim Carrey stayed motivated and is now an A-list name and actor, talked about worldwide.
53. Marilyn Monroe
Before becoming a pop-culture icon and sex symbol, actress and model Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson. Unfortunately, she had a rough upbringing. She didn’t know her father and wasn't introduced to her siblings until age 12.
Her mother suffered a mental breakdown when Marilyn was only 8 years old and was in and out of mental institutions. As a result, Monroe became a foster child, moving around into various foster homes. And unfortunately, she was mistreated and sexually abused.
Because of her childhood trauma, Monroe became withdrawn and even developed a stutter. She later dropped out of high school at the age of 16.
By age 20, Marilyn appeared on over 30 magazine covers and had a 6-month contract with 20th-Century Fox, an acting agency. Sadly, she could not secure any work with them, so she dedicated herself to dancing and taking acting and singing lessons.
Monroe signed with Columbia Pictures at age 22, where she starred in her first low-budget film. After Columbia failed to renew her contract, she landed with the William Morris Agency two years later.
There, she experienced a significant breakthrough in the film industry and starred in critically acclaimed movies. Her films have grossed over $200 million.
54. Keanu Reeves
Before all the success, Keanu Reeves spent his childhood in various locations, starting in Beirut, Lebanon, Australia, and later Canada. His father left him and his mother when Keanu was 3, and they didn't see each other again until Keanu was a teenager.
Amid the transition from country to country, Reeves' mother married and divorced four times, and he attended four different high schools in five years. After dropping out of high school at age 17, Keanu moved to Los Angeles after obtaining a green card through his stepdad, Paul Aaron, a Hollywood director.
By 1998, at age 34, Keanu got married, and the couple was expecting a baby. Unfortunately, it was stillborn in the eighth month of her pregnancy. Soon after, their marriage fell apart, and the couple's relationship ended. To make matters worse, his ex-tragically died in a car accident shortly after the divorce.
Keanu’s breakout into the film industry came with his role in the popular films River's Edge and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. In 1999, Reeves's starring role in the blockbuster hit The Matrix got the ball rolling to the success and fame he enjoys today.
55. Steven Spielberg
Before hitting it big in the movie industry and becoming an award-winning director, producer, and entrepreneur, Steven Spielberg was a child who made poor grades in school.
His poor academics led him to be turned down to attend the University of Southern California's film school. So, he attended California State University in Long Beach, CA, instead.
After Steven experienced some success with the movie Jaws, in 1979, he wrote a film called 1941 that failed miserably and caused him to lose some notoriety in the industry.
Because he refused to quit, Spielberg eventually produced great blockbuster films like Indiana Jones, The Color Purple, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, ET, and many other award-winning films.
Final Thoughts on Successful People Who Have Failed
Obstacles are out there, but they are meant to be overcome.
No adventure worth undertaking is easy. Everyone who achieves success faces obstacles. What makes (or breaks) a person is how they react to the obstacles and roadblocks in their life and what they do (or do not do) to overcome these setbacks.
Perhaps these famous failures have inspired you to take action in your life. Even though they are all world famous now, they once encountered challenges just like you. (One habit many famous and successful people is keeping a journal.)
If you'd like to achieve more success in your life, then you can learn how by reading some of the other blog posts on this website:
- 12 Principles to Be Successful in Life
- 51 Quotes About Success
- 20 “Must Read” Books on Achieving Success
- 11 Inspiring Famous People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
- 9 Successful People with Dyslexia
- 32 Successful People Who Didn’t Go to or Finish College
So if you feel stuck, then I'd recommend taking time today to review this three information-packed articles.
Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.