Isn’t it fascinating that so many successful people failed before rebounding with tremendous success? What can we learn from failure and it’s relationship to success? In my recent article, Hurricanes, Destruction and Rebuilding: The Only Constant is Change! I explained how to address the challenge when your brand isn’t working. I explored how people can learn from businesses that have redefined their unsuccessful brand and succeeded? It’s clear both for companies and for individuals that creativity and innovation often follows failure.
Not getting a promotion may feel like the end of the world. Or worse, being laid off after many years of dedicated service can make you question the value of hard work. Most people’s identity is closely tied to their work and if they lose their job, it’s natural that their self-worth plummets and many begin to despair. Some take comfort knowing that they’re not alone in their struggle. Many people attribute their current success to having switched gears after a major disappointment; falling in one career only to rise in another.
We may never know if there is a “higher purpose” for every experience in life, but we can exercise our free will to make a choice and learn what we can and try to grow from every hardship. Though it’s hard to be positive during difficult times, there comes a point where you have to say to yourself…”enough is enough!” I’m not going to allow this setback to destroy any future possibility for success. I am going to stop whining and look at my situation through a new lens and reach out for help so I can rebound from my fall. My energies are focused on moving forward, trying to reignite my youthful sense of idealism (albeit infused with a bit more realism from my life experience). I will commit myself to overcoming my fear of failure and to acquiring the skills and abilities I’ll need to actualize my goals. If things don’t work out the way I hoped, I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience and try a different avenue and not stop until I find the place where I can apply my skills and add value.
Some of the world’s greatest success stories, from movie stars to scientists, experienced massive failure that could have easily led them to give up pursuing their goals. We remember all of these people for their monumental successes and seldom do we focus on their setbacks and hurdles they overcame to reach their fame. For the sake of encouragement when it feels like you’ll never make it to the top (let alone have a secure job) we’ll focus on their failures.
Business Insider writers Ashley Lutz and Noah Plaue identified 26 Successful people Who Failed At First. This list suggests that no matter what field you’re in, there was someone before you who failed miserably and who had plenty of naysayers telling them to throw in the towel. It’s clear that if they hadn’t persisted, our world would be radically different and short-changed of great innovation and talent.
Winston Churchill failed the 6th grade and he was defeated in every public office role he ran for. Then he became the British prime minister at the age of 62.
Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.” Edison went on to invent 1,000 light bulbs before creating one that worked.
Harland David Sanders, the famous KFC “Colonel,” couldn’t sell his chicken. More that 1,000 restaurants rejected him. But then one did, and today there are KFC restaurants bearing his image all over the world.
R.H. Macy had a history of failing businesses, including a dud Macy’s in NYC. But Macy kept up the hard work and ended up with the biggest department store in the world.
Steven Spielberg was rejected from his dream school, the University of Southern California, three times. He sought out an education somewhere else and dropped out to be a director.
Marilyn Monroe’s first contract with Columbia Pictures expired because they told her she wasn’t pretty or talented enough to be an actress. Monroe kept plugging away and is one of most iconic actresses and sex symbols of all time.
Soichiro Honda was passed over for an engineering job at Toyota and left unemployed. But then he began making motorcycles started a business and became a billionaire.
Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure-skating team. Then she became an editor at Vogue and was passed over for the editor-in-chief position. She began designing wedding gowns at 40 and today is the premier designer in the business, with a multi-billion dollar industry.
A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Several more of his businesses failed before the premiere of his movie Snow White. Today, most childhoods wouldn’t be the same without his ideas.
Albert Einstein didn’t speak until age four and didn’t read until age seven. His teachers labeled him “slow” and “mentally handicapped.” But Einstein just had a different way of thinking. He later won the Nobel prize in physics.
Charles Darwin was considered an average student. He gave up on a career in medicine and was going to school to become a parson. But as Darwin studied nature, he found his calling.
Sir Isaac Newton was tasked with running the family farm but was a miserable failure. Newton was sent off to Cambridge University and became a physics scholar.
Dick Cheney flunked out of Yale twice.
George W. Bush once joked: “So now we know –if you graduate from Yale, you become president. If you drop out, you get to be vice president.”
The first time Jerry Seinfeld went onstage, he was booed away by the jeering crowd. Eventually, he became a famous comic with one of the most-loved sitcoms ever.
In Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the judges wrote: “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” Astaire went on to be the most famous dancer of all time and won the hearts of American women forever.
After Sidney Poitier’s first audition, the casting director instructed him to just stop wasting everyone’s time and “go be a dishwasher or something.” He went on to win an Academy Award and is admired by actors everywhere.
Oprah Winfrey was fired from her television-reporting job because they told her she wasn’t fit to be on-screen. But Winfrey rebounded and became the undisputed queen of television talk shows. She’s also a billionaire.
Lucille Ball spent many years on the B-list and her agent told her to pursue a new career. Then she got her big break on I Love Lucy.
After his first film, Harrison Ford underwhelmed the producer and was told he would probably never succeed. But today Ford is the third highest-grossing actor of all time.
Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his entire life, to a friend. He sometimes starved in order to create the 800 paintings he’d eventually do. Today, his works are priceless.
27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’ first book. He’s now the most popular children’s book author ever.
Henry Ford’s first auto company went out of business. He abandoned a second because of a fight and a third went downhill because of declining sales. He went on to become one of the greatest American entrepreneurs ever.
While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. But the 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is the best-selling vacuum cleaner in the United States.
J.K. Rowling was unemployed, divorced and raising a daughter on social security while writing the first Harry Potter novel. J.K. Rowling is now internationally renowned for her 7 books Harry Potter series and is the first person to become a billionaire from writing.
Stephen King was initially so frustrated with his first novel, Carrie that he threw it in the trash. King’s wife found the manuscript in the trash and took it out. To date his 49 novels have sold 350 million copies
You’ve seen people who changed the world despite having experienced initial failure. The take home message is that sometimes our biggest obstacle to overcome is our own unwillingness to confront the worst case scenario and our fixation on the outcome which is outside of our control; We try desperately to control the outcome and forget that all we can control is our own effort. We can’t stand living with uncertainty in our lives so instead we’re willing to settle for what’s familiar, even if it results in stagnation; short-changing us from accomplishing our true purpose.
As Oliver Burkeman wrote in his recent WSJ article, The Power of Negative Thinking, ”Just thinking in sober detail about worst-case scenarios can help to sap the future of its anxiety-producing power.” I agree with Steve Jobs famous declaration; “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” Ironically, we waste our time when we worry about not achieving our goals and in the end it’s the worrying and fear that limit us most from pursuing them.
I suggest you start out by envisioning what the worst-case scenario will look like if you don’t succeed and in doing so you could alleviate any anxiety about how bad it will be if you don’t achieve your goals. In other words, if you confront what failure might feel like and deal with its ugly head as a part of the process for initiating an endeavor; you might see that even if it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world! If you are one who becomes paralyzed by your fear of a negative outcome, I suggest you adopt the following motto; Plan for the worst and hope for the best and have a sense of humor about the roller-coaster called life.
Once you harness your fears, you’ll have more room to focus on strengthening the necessary skills and abilities that will enable you to achieve your goals. You need to recognize that the naysayers in your life combined with the set-backs you experience are only a test; your success or failure moving forward will depend upon how committed you are to your project and how truly motivated you are to identify the areas in which you need to improve to get the job done.
Many successful people contend that the satisfaction they derived from their success was not entirely from the outcome but from all the obstacles they overcame to reach their goals. The success that follows hard work and overcoming resistance tends to be the most lasting.
I completely agree with motivational speaker and author John Maxwell’s assertion; “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential. “Success is… knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.” “Seven Steps to Success” 1) Make a commitment to grow daily. 2) Value the process more than events. 3) Don’t wait for inspiration. 4) Be willing to sacrifice pleasure for opportunity. 5) Dream big. 6) Plan your priorities. 7) Give up to go up.”
Once we stop comparing ourselves to our neighbors and friends, we can begin making progress towards what we’re meant to accomplish in life. The winners will have an optimistic attitude and persist when the going gets tough. They tend to focus more on possibilities and growth opportunities rather than on the difficulties. The old adage, “nothing good comes easy” is still relevant. Nothing great and lasting in life comes without roadblocks, struggle and failures. The winners don’t allow their fear of failure to override their desire to try something new and deal with the uncertainty of it coming to fruition. I suggest that the next time you experience a career set-back, keep in mind you’re in great company and go back to the drawing board!!! You’re persistence, resilience and positivity may help you rise above your failure and achieve your ultimate career and life goals.
Beth is Founder and President of Get Hired, LLC. She advises students on how to bridge the gap from school to career. Beth is the co-author of From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career (available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/1461087082) Her coaching assists students to successfully match their needs, interests, passions, skills, and personal goals with the needs of a sustainable industry in a sustainable location. Beth is also a resource for print and online media and offers workshops for University Career Service Departments, Executive Recruiters, Outplacement Services, College Guidance Counselors and College Alumni Associations. See website for more details about Beth’s services www.fromdiploma2dreamjob.com You can follow Beth on twitter @BethKuhel