Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Not everyone who's on top today got there with success after success. More often than not, those who history best remember were faced with numerous obstacles that forced them to work harder and show more determination than others. Next time you're feeling down about your failures in business and leadership keep these fifty famous people in mind and remind yourself that sometimes failure is just the first step towards success.
I've got a list of 23 of the 50 famous examples to inspire and encourage you to greatness. If you want to pick up the full PDF check it out HERE.
Take the next 10 min and be inspired by these 23 real stories then write your own.
These businessmen and the companies they founded are today known around the world, but as these stories show, their beginnings weren't always smooth.
1. R. H. Macy: Most people are familiar with this large department store chain, but Macy didn't always have it easy. Macy started seven failed business before finally hitting big with his store in New York City.
2. Akio Morita: You may not have heard of Morita but you've undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony's first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn't cook rice so much as burnt it, selling less than 100 units. This first setback didn't stop Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion dollar company.
3. Harland David Sanders: Perhaps better known as Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, Sanders had a hard time selling his chicken at first. In fact, his famous secret chicken recipe was rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant accepted it.
Scientists and Thinkers
These people are often regarded as some of the greatest minds of our century, but they often had to face great obstacles, the ridicule of their peers and the animosity of society.
4. Albert Einstein: Most of us take Einstein's name as synonymous with genius, but he didn't always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social.
Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. It might have taken him a bit longer, but most people would agree that he caught on pretty well in the end, winning the Nobel Prize and changing the face of modern physics.
5. Robert Goddard: Goddard today is hailed for his research and experimentation with liquid-fuelled rockets, but during his lifetime his ideas were often rejected and mocked by his scientific peers who thought they were outrageous and impossible. Today rockets and space travel don't seem far-fetched at all, due largely in part to the work of this scientist who worked against the feelings of the time.
6. Robert Sternberg: This big name in psychology received a C in his first college introductory psychology class with his teacher telling him that, "there was already a famous Sternberg in psychology and it was obvious there would not be another." Sternberg showed him, however, graduating from Stanford with exceptional distinction in psychology, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa and eventually becoming the President of the American Psychological Association
These inventors changed the face of the modern world, but not without a few failed prototypes along the way.
7. Thomas Edison: In his early years, teachers told Edison he was "too stupid to learn anything." Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. Even as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Of course, all those unsuccessful attempts finally resulted in the design that worked.
8. Orville and Wilbur Wright: These brothers’ battled depression and family illness before starting the bicycle shop that would lead them to experimenting with flight. After numerous attempts at creating flying machines, several years of hard work, and tons of failed prototypes, the brothers finally created a plane that could get airborne and stay there.
From politicians to talk show hosts, these figures had a few failures before they came out on top.
9. Winston Churchill: This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn't always as well regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and failed the sixth grade. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.
10. Abraham Lincoln: While today he is remembered as one of the greatest leaders of our nation, Lincoln's life wasn't so easy. In his youth he went to war a captain and returned a private (if you're not familiar with military ranks, just know that private is as low as it goes.) Lincoln didn't stop failing there, however. He started numerous failed businesses and was defeated in numerous runs he made for public office.
11. Oprah Winfrey: Most people know Oprah as one of the most iconic faces on TV as well as one of the richest and most successful women in the world. Oprah faced a hard road to get to that position, however, enduring a rough and often abusive childhood as well as numerous career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was "unfit for tv."
These faces ought to be familiar from the big screen, but these actors, actresses and directors saw their fair share of rejection and failure before they made it big.
12. Sidney Poitier: After his first audition, Poitier was told by the casting director, "Why don't you stop wasting people's time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?" Poitier vowed to show him that he could make it, going on to win an Oscar and become one of the most well-regarded actors in the business.
13. Charlie Chaplin: It's hard to imagine film without the iconic Charlie Chaplin, but his act was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because they felt it was a little too nonsensical to ever sell.
14. Lucille Ball: During her career, Ball had thirteen Emmy nominations and four wins, also earning the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kennedy Centre Honours. Before starring in I Love Lucy, Ball was widely regarded as a failed actress and a B movie star. Even her drama instructors didn't feel she could make it, telling her to try another profession. She, of course, proved them all wrong.
Writers and Artists
We've all heard about starving artists and struggling writers, but these stories show that sometimes all that work really does pay off with success in the long run.
15. Emily Dickinson: Recluse and poet Emily Dickinson is a commonly read and loved writer. Yet in her lifetime she was all but ignored, having fewer than a dozen poems published out of her almost 1,800 completed works.
16. Theodor Seuss Giesel: Today nearly every child has read The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham, yet 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss's first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
17. Stephen King: The first book by this author, the iconic thriller Carrie, received 30 rejections, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to resubmit it, and the rest is history, with King now having hundreds of books published the distinction of being one of the best-selling authors of all time.
While their music is some of the bestselling, best loved and most popular around the world today, these musicians show that it takes a whole lot of determination to achieve success.
18. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart began composing at the age of five, writing over 600 pieces of music that today are lauded as some of the best ever created. Yet during his lifetime, Mozart didn't have such an easy time, and was often restless, leading to his dismissal from a position as a court musician in Salzberg. He struggled to keep the support of the aristocracy and died with little to his name.
19. The Beatles: Few people can deny the lasting power of this super group, still popular with listeners around the world today. Yet when they were just starting out, a recording company told them no. They were told "we don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out," two things the rest of the world couldn't have disagreed with more.
20. Ludwig van Beethoven: In his formative years, young Beethoven was incredibly awkward on the violin and was often so busy working on his own compositions that he neglected to practice. Despite his love of composing, his teachers felt he was hopeless at it and would never succeed with the violin or in composing. Beethoven kept plugging along, however, and composed some of the best-loved symphonies of all time–five of them while he was completely deaf.
While some athletes rocket to fame, others endure a path fraught with a little more adversity, like those listed here.
21. Michael Jordan: Most people wouldn't believe that a man often lauded as the best basketball player of all time was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Luckily, Jordan didn't let this setback stop him from playing the game and he has stated, "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."
22. Stan Smith: This tennis player was rejected from even being a lowly ball boy for a Davis Cup tennis match because event organizers felt he was too clumsy and uncoordinated. Smith went on to prove them wrong, showcasing his not-so-clumsy skills by winning Wimbledon, U. S. Open and eight Davis Cups.
23. Babe Ruth: You probably know Babe Ruth because of his home run record (714 during his career), but along with all those home runs came a pretty hefty amount of strikeouts as well (1,330 in all). In fact, for decades he held the record for strikeouts. When asked about this he simply said, "Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."