But don’t get discouraged if you’re currently banging your head against the wall in frustration. Some of the world’s most successful people overcame tremendous odds, too. If they could turn their lives around and make their dreams a reality, then so can you.
Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors in history — the brain behind the incandescent light bulb, the motion picture camera, and the phonograph, among many others. Modern life as we know it today would cease to exist without Edison. But, as a child, Edison’s teachers never thought he would amount to anything since his mind often wandered in class. Although they didn't know it then, Edison marched to the beat of his drum.
When asked about the thousands of hits and misses he experienced while trying to invent the light bulb, Edison famously quipped that he had just discovered "10,000 ways that will not work."
Elvis "The King" Presley forever transformed the world of rock 'n’ roll, earning legions of fans and accolades. But few people remember that the musician’s road to success was long and hard. His family moved from place to place in search of work. He worked as a truck driver while trying to make it big in music.
Presley auditioned as a singer several times and even recorded a demo disc when he was 18. However, he was told he should go back to driving a truck because he "couldn’t sing." One day, Presley caught the attention of a professional DJ, who overheard him singing a blues number. The rest is history.
Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, is no stranger to failure. It’s hard to imagine now, but the GOAT’s foray into basketball was far from easy. At 15, he was cut from the varsity basketball team and assigned to the junior team. Instead of letting failure defeat him, Jordan accepted rejection with grace and pushed himself to work harder.
He made the team at North Carolina and, at 21, officially joined the NBA as a professional basketball player for the Chicago Bulls. He went on to win six championships, redefining the game with exceptional gameplay that will likely dominate the record books for decades.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh, born in 1853, is one of the most influential artists in modern history. While his paintings go for millions of dollars today, Van Gogh sold only one painting while he was alive. Van Gogh saw himself as a failure, frequently burning his works because he thought they were inadequate. In fact, the majority of his oil paintings known to us today were done only two years before he took his own life in 1890.
The artist battled severe mental illness and spent much of his life in poverty. While Van Gogh suffered from psychosis and delusions, his bold impressionist work struck a chord with the art world.
Stephen King wasn’t born a writer. After several failures, he almost gave up on a writing career and landed a teaching job instead. Thankfully, he continued writing whenever ideas struck. During one of these moments, King conceptualized the idea for "Carrie," a story about a girl with telekinetic powers.
Reportedly, he grew increasingly frustrated, crumpling up the manuscript and throwing it away, only for his wife to retrieve it. When King finished the book, he submitted "Carrie" to 30 publishers. All 30 publishers rejected his book. He was published on his 31st attempt. There has been no looking back for one of the world’s most prolific authors since then.
"Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little." Would you believe someone once used these words to describe Fred Astaire? Astaire wasn’t enormously successful from the get-go, although he had an early start (age 6) in vaudeville and Broadway. He slowly began making a name for himself before attempting to make it big in Hollywood in his mid-30s.
He persevered despite several rejections, eventually becoming the generation’s best actor and entertainer. Astaire has an Oscar, Grammys, Emmys, and over 50 films to his name — not bad for a balding guy who can dance "a little."
The world would be different without Abraham Lincoln, especially if he had given up when the going got tough — and it was tough, alright. Lincoln did not have a privileged upbringing. He was self-taught, but the lack of formal education didn’t stop him from becoming a lawyer and a congressman.
His rise to the highest office in the country was equally unconventional. He ran for the Illinois Senate in 1858, and the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates were born. Lincoln impressed many people in the right places, even though he lost the senate race. Two years later, he ran for president and won, forever changing the course of American history.
The story of J.K. Rowling is a testament to resilience. Before Harry Potter became a wildly popular phenomenon, Rowling was a divorced mother who attended school and lived on welfare. While in survival mode, she had a big idea in 1991 and tried writing a novel in her spare time.
By then, she believed she had failed at everything and was diagnosed with clinical depression. Writing kept her going. In 1995, she completed the manuscript for "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." After 12 rejections, a literary house called Bloomsbury took a chance on her in 1996. By 2004, Rowling had legions of fans and had become the first author to earn billions through book writing.
Being a genius does not come easy, not even for Albert Einstein. He suffered from severe speech deformities as a child, leading people to believe he was disabled. Einstein did not thrive in a traditional school environment. He tried rebelling against rote learning but failed. It was a similar story at every institution he sought admission into — a string of rejections, even though he was brilliant at physics and math.
Not willing to admit defeat, Einstein decided to buckle down and learn the system. He applied to Zurich Polytechnic and was accepted a second time. He became the world’s leading theoretical physicist, a Nobel Prize winner, and the undisputed genius of the modern era.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
You probably read "The Cat in the Hat" as a child and other books by the inimitable Dr. Seuss. It is inconceivable that his first book, "And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street," almost did not see the light of day. Publishers rejected the manuscript 27 times, and Geisel almost burned it in frustration.
A publishing house thankfully came to the rescue at the last minute, with the book becoming an instant bestseller. Dr. Seuss's books have since become a global favorite for children and the young at heart. More than 600 million copies of his books have been sold to date.
Some of George Lucas’s early films bombed spectacularly, leading to massive financial losses. Even the prolific Star Wars franchise almost never made it to the big screen. George Lucas took the movie to three major studios: Universal, Disney, and United Artists, only to face rejection from all three. 20th Century Fox came to the film's rescue, hoping the film would turn out like "American Graffiti," one of Lucas's more successful films.
Getting a studio to support the film was only half the battle. While filming Star Wars, nobody understood Lucas’ vision, causing friction among the cast, crew, and executives. Lucas persisted, and Star Wars became the highest-grossing film in history, surpassing the wildly popular "E.T." at the time.
Harland David Sanders
Harland David Sanders was 65 years old when his restaurant business failed, leaving him bankrupt. He found himself having to start from scratch at a time when most of us dream of retirement. Sanders may have suffered colossal losses, but he still had his secret fried chicken recipe.
He drove around, begging restaurant owners to use his fried chicken recipe. All he asked for in return was a nickel commission for every piece of chicken sold. Sanders faced rejection 1009 (!) times before a restaurant agreed to use the recipe, calling it Kentucky Fried Chicken. Colonel Sanders is one of the world’s most iconic figures today and proof that you’re never too old to start again and succeed.
Charles Schulz gave us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang. Our world is richer for it. He drew 17,897 Peanuts comic strips in his lifetime — a deeply resonant comic strip considered among the best in history. Schultz’s road to success was difficult, though. He submitted cartoons to his high school yearbook, and the staff rejected each one.
Schulz later sent his cartoons to several publishing houses and studios, only to face rejection again. Schulz's big break came in 1947 when he sold a cartoon feature called "Li'l Folks" to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In 1950, Schulz met with United Feature Syndicate, and in October of that year, "Peanuts" debuted in seven newspapers.
Born in 1901, Walt Disney was the beloved founder of the Walt Disney Company. The man whose films won hearts worldwide had a rough start to his career. He was fired from a local newspaper in 1919, ironically for lacking imagination. Disney found some success later working for "Laugh-O-Gram," but the good times were short-lived. The company declared bankruptcy in 1923.
He moved in with his brother, Roy, and together they established the Disney Brothers Studio, which later became the Walt Disney Company. In 1928, the studio unveiled a beloved character called "Mickey Mouse," marking the epic start of more magic in the world.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Johannes Chrystostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was a music prodigy who started composing music at age 5. People today acknowledge Mozart as a genius composer, but he faced rejection many times. Mozart failed to become a court musician — a coveted honor at the time.
When he performed the Marriage of Figaro in Vienna, the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria despised the piece, calling it far too "noisy." On top of that, his last three compositions were considered colossal flops. But failure did not deter him. Mozart wrote over 600 musical pieces in his lifetime and became the most gifted musician in the history of classical music.
Jack Canfield is a motivational speaker and author of the incredibly popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. What if we told you that the books were nearly never published? Canfield was 48 when he and co-author Mark Victor Hansen first decided to write a collection of stories inspiring people to go for their dreams.
Nothing went as planned. The authors received 144 rejections over 14 months. A publisher mocked the authors for hoping the book would sell at least 500,000 copies. Finally, a small publishing house in Florida came on board, and nobody saw what was coming. Chicken Soup for the Soul became a cultural phenomenon across the globe.
Jack London is a novelist best known for "The Call of the Wild." He grew up with a mentally unstable mother and received most of his love and care from his wet nurse/nanny. Even later in life, when he tried reaching out to his biological father, he denied ever having a son.
The disheartened London then tried his luck in the Klondike gold rush, hoping to later start a career as a writer. Despite working hard, London got rejection letters from every magazine and newspaper. In 1899, he published his first story thanks to a boom in the printing press and magazine industries. It was only in 1903, at age 27, that his most celebrated novel, "The Call of the Wild," was published.
Sidney Poitier won an Academy Award for his role as Homer Smith in "Lilies of the Field" (1963) and changed the portrayal of African-Americans in the film industry. When Poitier first began his career as an actor, he auditioned for a role and flubbed his lines. His strong Caribbean accent also got in the way. The director stopped him mid-audition and suggested he find a job washing dishes instead!
The rejection pushed Poitier to work harder. By the 1950s, Poitier was a force in Hollywood, shattering color barriers in the film industry. The multiple-award-winning actor also worked behind the camera as a director and producer.
Mark Cuban is a celebrated entrepreneur, the star of the hit television show "Shark Tank," and the owner of the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban had always been a tinkerer at heart. He worked several odd jobs — bartending, cooking, and selling — but couldn't find anything in which he excelled.
At 25, one year after arriving in Dallas, he decided to launch his own company, MicroSolutions, which sold software, provided training, and configured networks and computers. He grew the company to $30 million in revenue before CompuServe acquired it in 1990. This helped him launch Broadcast.com in 1995, a company that Yahoo acquired in 1999 for $5.7 billion in stock, making Cuban exceedingly wealthy at 41.
Soichiro Honda is the founder of Honda Motor Co. While the company today has grown to rival even long-time competitor Toyota, Honda’s early days were anything but peachy. Before establishing a multinational corporation, Honda worked in a foundry, producing innovative piston rings.
After much struggle, he secured a contract with Toyota for his piston ring business, but World War II broke out before things could take off. His factory was bombed. Later, an earthquake struck and leveled the reconstructed building. Despite bad luck and tragedy, Honda never stopped innovating. He eventually created a motorized bicycle, which was the precursor to the Honda motorcycle and the car company the world knows and loves today.
Oprah Winfrey is a multimedia executive, talk show host, actress, writer, and philanthropist. Her success is built on a legacy of human connection and empathy. She had a knack for understanding people’s struggles, having experienced poverty, abuse, and discrimination herself.
Her propensity to dig deeper got her into trouble in the past. She was publicly fired from her first job as a news anchor for being too "emotionally invested" in the stories. She was unfit for television, they said. At age 29, Winfrey moved to Chicago and took over a new show called "AM Chicago," which eventually became the eponymous "Oprah Winfrey Show."
Vera Wang is known for her haute couture collections and luxury bridal gowns. You can’t have a Hollywood wedding today without Vera Wang. Yet the world's most sought-after designer didn’t always aspire to a career in fashion.
A young Vera Wang dreamed of making the figure skating team at the 1986 Olympics but failed to make the final cut. She pivoted into fashion as an editor at Vogue and an accessories designer at Ralph Lauren. At 40, Wang opened a New York bridal shop and debuted her line of wedding gowns. Vera Wang today is a mega-successful global business spanning fashion, jewelry, homeware, and beauty.
Harrison Ford is a Hollywood icon, thanks to his roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Yet, the star was considered a professional failure at several junctures. Ford was born in Chicago in 1942 to parents who worked in the entertainment industry. It appeared that acting was in his blood, but life wasn't all rainbows and sunshine.
Ford worked numerous odd jobs for two years before landing his first uncredited role as a bellhop in "Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round." He was 24 years old. It took him nine more years to land his breakthrough role in George Lucas' 1973 film "American Graffiti" — a role that propelled him to stardom.
Terri Gross, the voice and host of the long-running NPR show "Fresh Air," has over five million listeners worldwide. Gross's first job after college was as an inner-city junior high school teacher. She was fired after six weeks — a setback that turned out to be a blessing as she realized she was best suited for radio. Gross began her radio career in 1973 at New York's public radio station WBFO.
In 1975, she joined WHYY-FM in Philadelphia as the producer and host of "Fresh Air" — a local daily interview and music program. Since then, "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" has won several awards, including the 1994 Peabody Award for its "probing questions, revelatory interviews, and uncommon insight."
Many people were surprised by Lady Gaga's vocal chops when she performed her "Sound of Music" tribute at the Oscars. Critics assumed she was all drama and no talent. How wrong they turned out to be! The talented, disruptive star is one of the best-selling artists of her generation.
She’s had her share of vicious bullying, however, whether in school or from the music industry. Gaga attributes the bullying to her drive to overcome it and her work ethic. She describes herself as an artist who wants "to make music" with no scores to settle. Lady Gaga has never underestimated the importance of studiousness and has dedicated her life to it.
Sir James Dyson
Sir James Dyson is the genius behind the bagless vacuum cleaner, which has made everyone's lives better. The inventor said he created a dizzying 5,126 prototypes of the perfect cleaning machine and spent all his savings in the process. His wife, who was working as an art teacher at the time, supported him then.
By 1991, he had a great product but couldn't persuade any of the major retailers to sell it. The vacuum bag replacement industry was too prominent. No retailer wanted to disrupt the status quo. Instead of losing hope, he founded Dyson, Inc. in 1993 at age 46. Today, the brand has become synonymous with value-driven and impeccably manufactured products.
Isaac Newton was always a deep thinker. He wasn't cut out for farm work, but his family needed someone to look after its daily affairs. Newton tried and, as expected, failed. His heart was elsewhere. Newton persuaded his family to let him complete his studies, and the world benefited tremendously as a result.
Newton was the brain behind three of the greatest scientific discoveries: calculus, the theory of universal gravitation, and the nature of white light. He was at the forefront of the philosophical revolution known as the Enlightenment, and he was both enigmatic and unassuming. He believed his abilities were "ordinary," but his success came from "application."
Claude Monet was the father of the French Impressionism movement. His ethereal paintings command exorbitant prices at art auctions today, going for anywhere between $20 million and $30 million per piece! However, there was a time when the art world derided his work.
Monet painted the world as he saw it. His style was unusual for the time and received criticism from established artists. The Paris Salon, a small but influential group of Parisian artists, rejected his style. Monet was never dissuaded. The Paris Salon disbanded not long after, but Monet’s paintings became a tour de force, transforming 19th-century French painting. His work continues to captivate collectors and enthusiasts worldwide.
Born in British India in 1965, Rudyard Kipling was arguably among the most well-known Victorian writers of his generation. Things did not come easy for him, despite coming from a family of influence. He experienced vicious bullying at school. He was fired from his job at a newspaper for not knowing "how to use the English language."
Kipling's work as a journalist inspired him to write brilliant poetry and prose. When he returned to England in 1889, his reputation as a literary genius was on par with that of Alfred Lord Tennyson. Kipling wrote classics like "The Jungle Book" and the revered poem "If," and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1907.
Wilbur and Orville Wright
The Wright brothers revolutionized aviation. Their efforts symbolize the long, hard, and lonely road to (literally) reaching extraordinary heights. Wilbur and Orville had a clear goal and dream — to build a flying machine that could stay in the air for an extended period. Sleepless nights and countless prototypes later, the brothers had nothing to show for their efforts apart from crash landings and debris on the sand.
Giving up was never an option. They learned from failure to build improved versions of their dream flying machine. In December 1903, Wilbur successfully maneuvered a powered flight for more than 10 seconds. Travel has never been the same.
Rowland Hussey Macy
Rowland Hussey Macy was an American entrepreneur and founder of Macy's, the leading name in department store chains. Before starting the store, Macy tried seven different retail ventures, all of which failed. Succeeding in business was no mean feat in the 19th century, but Macy’s tenacity and hard work paid off. He continued looking for innovative ways to make his stores appealing to consumers.
He opened a dry goods shop in New York in 1858 and gradually expanded into different neighborhoods. Beautifully illuminated windows, exhibits, and Thanksgiving Day parades — no other store did publicity like Macy’s. The store chain continually exceeds expectations, even today.
Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1878, overcame multiple failures to establish an influential beauty empire by 1929. She dropped out of nursing school because the enormity of the responsibilities scared her. Following that, she tried a variety of jobs, including receptionist, secretary, and bank teller, which all fizzled out.
Her first business venture also failed. Arden then took a loan to set up her next business venture — a cosmetics and beauty salon company. After a 1912 trip to France to learn about beauty techniques, Arden collaborated with a chemist to create a range of superior beauty products accessible to everyone. Elizabeth Arden, Inc. has since surpassed $1 billion in annual sales.
Jerome Allen Seinfeld, better known as Jerry Seinfeld, is a prolific stand-up comedian, actor, producer, and writer. Not many people know that his first stand-up act lasted only three minutes. The audience unceremoniously booed him off the stage. Seinfeld kept doing what he loved, taking his observational humor to clubs, improvs, and open mics in New York City.
In May 1981, Seinfeld made his first appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," and everyone loved him. He appeared frequently on the show and others, such as "Late Night with David Letterman." He and Larry David co-created and co-wrote the sitcom "Seinfeld" — one of the greatest sitcoms in TV history.
Richard Branson is one of the world's wealthiest people, but his foray into entrepreneurship had numerous struggles. Because he was dyslexic, high school was more difficult for him than for others. In 1971, Branson opened a record store but got into tax evasion trouble for labeling records sold as export stock. The Virgin Records store was ultimately successful, allowing Branson to launch his record label.
Branson founded Virgin Megastores and Virgin Atlantic at the age of 42 but running the airline was prohibitively expensive. A distraught Branson had to sell the record label (his first business venture) to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat. Despite the setback, Virgin Atlantic became an enormous success due to his resilience and tenacity.
Madonna dropped out of school to become a professional dancer in New York City. The Big Apple wasn’t kind or welcoming initially. She was physically attacked, robbed at knifepoint, and had her home broken into several times. She was not broken by any of these experiences.
Madonna continued dancing and supplemented her income with side hustles. She landed small gigs performing with bands like the Breakfast Club, eventually catching the attention of Seymour Stein, founder of Sire Records. At 24, she released her first single, "Everybody," followed by "Burning Up," which became a massive club hit. Following the release of her self-titled album, "Madonna" (1982), she became one of the most influential musicians and dancers of all time.
Peter Dinklage is perfect as Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones." The legendary role may have catapulted him to cult-level stardom, but the road to fame wasn’t easy. Dinklage battled rampant discrimination and dwarfism stereotypes in his career. He had limited options in film.
Studio executives would only offer him demeaning roles, usually leprechauns. Dinklage had to find other work unrelated to acting to support himself. He chose to do data entry rather than take on insulting roles for the sake of acting. Sticking to his guns paid off when the stars aligned and Tyrion Lannister happened.
Jack Ma was born in 1964 in China, then culturally and economically isolated from the world. Ma was a frail child, often bullied for his small stature by the bigger kids. He believed that education was the key to a better life, so he studied hard. It took him three attempts before he could clear his university entrance exams and attend the Hangzhou Teachers Institute.
Finding work after graduation was no mean feat. Ma was rejected from dozens of schools before finding a job as an English teacher. He launched his business venture, which also failed. A few years after his first failed business venture, Ma founded an e-commerce company called Alibaba — a smashing success and the entrepreneur's answer to Amazon.
Maya Angelou’s voice and writing brought hope to the suffering, marginalized, or oppressed. Angelou’s childhood was fraught with trauma, with divorced parents and surviving domestic violence at age 7. When she was older, Angelou found work in the nightclub district to make ends meet.
She married twice, and both marriages ended in divorce. Her intense love for the written word kept her going. In Maya Angelou’s words, "Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it." It's no secret that Angelou lived by her mantra. Angelou wrote seven acclaimed autobiographies, taught at prestigious universities, wrote soul-stirring poems and screenplays, and received numerous honors, including the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Robert Downey Jr.
Years ago, the film industry dismissed Robert Downey Jr. as unhireable, a lost cause. He'd been in and out of programs meant to help him with his destructive habits and had been arrested several times by that point. His vices cost him several acting jobs, including his role on the popular sitcom "Ally McBeal." The turning point came when his then-wife gave him an ultimatum.
The actor underwent a 12-step program and a combination of therapy, yoga, and meditation. Downey Jr. is a classic Hollywood comeback story. He is today one of the most bankable and highly sought-after actors in show business, starring as the beloved Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Milton Hershey had several failed ventures when he was first starting. He worked as a printer’s apprentice but was fired after dropping his hat into the printing machine. Hershey then went into business, only to fail twice. He was broke by the time he was 26. He did, however, have a dream and went back into the business to establish a caramel candy factory. The goal was to find a recipe for the perfect milk chocolate that anyone could afford.
When he perfected his formula, Hershey sold his candy factory and concentrated on making milk chocolate, which would eventually become the world-famous Hershey’s chocolate.
Marshall Bruce Mathers III
Marshall Bruce Mathers III, a.k.a. Eminem, was always an outsider. He grew up in a rough neighborhood, and after failing the ninth grade three times, he decided to drop out of school. Mathers loved hip-hop and began rapping at age 14. Although he had built a solid reputation for his artistry in the hip-hop community, people weren’t ready for a white rapper.
Mathers worked hard and proved himself, eventually catching the attention of Dr. Dre, who took him under his wing. He signed a contract with Interscope Records, which signaled the arrival of the phenomenon known as Eminem, one of the most successful rappers in history.
Ludwig van Beethoven
One of Ludwig van Beethoven's teachers once told him that he had no future as a composer. His father (a court musician in Bonn) had a drinking problem and frequently ridiculed his piano playing and harmed him. Beethoven later relocated to Vienna, where he made a name for himself playing at salons. In 1800, he performed his first symphony to great acclaim. Around 1796, he began to hear buzzing noises. By 1801, he had lost 60% of his hearing.
The composer considered taking his own life but remarkably turned things around. Beethoven went deaf but continued to compose music by using the vibrations of the piano. His late works, including Symphonies 2, 3, and 4, were born thanks to his determination to overcome deafness.
Ariana Huffington is the editor-in-chief of HuffPost and founder of Thrive Global. She’s enormously successful and an inspiration to women everywhere. It’s hard to believe that someone as influential as her could face rejection. Before launching the HuffPost empire, Arianna Huffington attempted to publish a book and was turned down by 36 publishers. The 37th time was the charm!
What’s more, when she first launched HuffPost, she received a ton of negative feedback and hate. People questioned its credibility and quality. Little did they know that HuffPost would become the most trusted and successful news aggregator online.
"The Pursuit of Happyness," starring Will Smith, is based on the life of Chris Gardner. Gardner grew up in a troubled, low-income household. He joined the Navy after finishing high school and started a business afterward, only to fail. His marriage didn’t work out. Gardner struggled with homelessness while raising his son as a single father. He couldn't afford to rent an apartment because of a low-paying trainee job at a stock brokerage.
Despite failures that would have broken anyone, Gardner excelled at his job and to rented a home for himself and his son. In 1987 he founded his investment firm, Gardner Rich LLC. Gardner is today worth $60 million and travels the world as a motivational speaker.
Hugh Herr was a highly competitive mountain climber as a teenager until age 17 when tragedy struck. While on a mountain expedition in 1982, Herr suffered severe frostbite and eventually had both legs amputated below the knees. The experience led him to devote his life to helping improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Today, Dr. Herr is a world-renowned biomechatronics researcher and head of the Biomechatronics Research Group and the Center for Extreme Bionics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His research programs aim to advance technologies that enhance mobility and accelerate the merging of body and machine.
It’s been a long road for Queen Bey, from her days in the group Girl Tyme (later named Destiny’s Child) to becoming the most powerful woman in music. Those early years were fraught with difficulties, but Beyonce and the group's other members — Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams — overcame adversity. The new Destiny’s Child became one of the most successful female groups in music history.
Beyonce released her first solo album, "Dangerously in Love," after Destiny's Child took a hiatus. It sold 11 million copies, reached number one, and earned her five Grammys. There was no turning back. She released another solo album, went on tour, appeared in movies, and married Jay Z.
At 17, Bill Gates formed a company called Traf-O-Data with his childhood friend, Paul Allen, to manufacture devices that could read and process results from traffic data tapes without manual labor. When a Seattle traffic department official came to see the device, it refused to work.
Before taking off, Gates's company had failed. Still, his passion for entrepreneurship burned brighter than defeat. In 1973, he enrolled at Harvard University but dropped out the following year to start Microsoft — a decision not taken lightly, no matter how ludicrous it seemed. Fast forward to today, and it’s evident Gates made the right move.
Charles Darwin’s life was once considered a failure, even by his father. Darwin preferred observing nature over his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh. He dropped out of medical school in 1827. Darwin gave college another chance, studying theology at Cambridge, but this, too, wasn’t for him.
His passion was natural history. He voyaged as a naturalist aboard the British Royal Navy ship HMS Beagle in 1831 to survey South America's coastline. Darwin spent a lot of time on land collecting samples of plants, animals, rocks, and fossils. Darwin's analysis of his collections led him to wonder how species form and change over time, convincing him of his most famous scientific contribution: natural selection and evolution.
Chaplin was born in 1889 in London, to parents who were talented singers and actors. Chaplin's father abandoned them when he was two years old. At age seven, Chaplin had no choice but to enter a workhouse in exchange for room and board. His mother was committed to an asylum for battling mental illness. Chaplin realized acting was his best chance to finance himself.
Chaplin’s first legitimate acting job came when he was about twelve years old, playing "Billy," the page boy, in different productions of "Sherlock Holmes." He also became a vaudeville comedian, which eventually took him to the US in 1910. Audiences loved him. In 1912, he was offered a motion picture contract, and the rest is history.
Curtis Jackson (aka 50 Cent) grew up in a rough neighborhood. He was arrested in 1994 for several criminal charges and eventually sent to a boot camp for 6 months, where he earned his GED. Upon his release, Jackson adopted the moniker "50 Cent". In 2000, he was shot nine times at close range outside his grandmother's house.
He signed a deal with Columbia Records while in the hospital but was later blacklisted within the industry for his song, "Ghetto Qu'ran." In 2002, Eminem heard his song "Guess Who's Back?" and immediately signed him to his label. Both Eminem and Dr. Dre took him under their wings, and his debut studio album went platinum six times in the United States.
Emily Dickinson, one of the most famous literary figures of modern times, saw herself as a failure for much of her life. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, in 1830 and lived a largely reclusive life, being labeled eccentric by the locals who had come to know her.
As a dedicated introvert, she preferred correspondence over in-person meetings. Dickinson never married and spent her time writing poetry. She only had a few poems published during her life since her style deviated from the norm — no titles, odd punctuation, and capitalization. Any poems that were published were heavily edited. After her death, her sister discovered a cache of over 1800 poems, which ultimately catapulted Dickinson to fame.
Henry Ford was the industrialist and force behind the Ford Motor Company. While Ford achieved many successes, he experienced failure frequently in his early years. Ford’s first big idea — a self-propelled vehicle — came to fruition only in 1898, at age 39.
A year later, in 1899, he established the Detroit Automobile Company, but it ceased operations in 1902 due to vehicle design inefficiencies and an inability to repay loans. Ford persuaded his partners to give him another chance. At age 40, Ford found an unconventional backer named Malcomson, who trusted his vision. What happened next goes down in history as the most spectacular success story. Ford created a car the average family could afford, spearheading the automotive industry's biggest boon.
Howard Schultz is the entrepreneur behind the enormously successful Starbucks coffee chain. After graduation, Schultz worked as a sales rep. At the time, Starbucks only sold coffee beans. Recognizing the prevalence of the coffee culture, Schultz convinced the owners of Starbucks to sell drinks at the company's stores. While the owners initially resisted, he was persistent and was allowed to open a coffee shop in Seattle in 1984. The owners didn’t want Starbucks to get too big and discontinued the concept.
Schultz eventually left Starbucks to open his own coffee bar, but after two years, he proposed buying the Starbucks company. Schultz famously stated that he faced rejections from 217 of the 242 investors he initially talked to.
Few things are as iconic as Jim Carrey in "The Mask," widely considered among this generation's best comedic minds. His road to success was no laughing matter, however. Carrey had a poverty-stricken childhood, and his early career was marred by failure. He made his stand-up debut at Yuk Yuk’s, a comedy club in Toronto, where he was heckled off the stage.
After 11 years of trying to make it in comedy, Carrey got his break in a show called "Living Color" (1990). But it wasn’t until he turned 32 that he landed the role that would change his life. Ace Ventura made Carrey a Hollywood sensation and a household name. We can’t imagine Hollywood without Jim Carrey, can you?
Jon Hamm said that while auditioning for Don Draper in "Mad Men", he was "at the bottom of everyone's list." At the time, Hamm had been unable to find work after moving to Los Angeles and had already experienced a string of rejections.
His Hollywood talent agency dropped him, and Hamm started working as a waiter. He decided to set a goal for himself: find steady work before turning 30 or leave the acting business. Thankfully, he stayed in show business after finding work on Mel Gibson's Vietnam War drama, "We Were Soldiers." The role led him to bigger things, making Hamm not just successful but a cultural icon.
Before becoming a pop sensation, Katy Perry endured heart-breaking failure. Her family faced severe challenges, often relying on food stamps to get by. Perry dropped out of high school at 15 to pursue music full-time. She relocated to Tennessee, where she signed with Red Hill Records, but the label went out of business soon after. Later, she signed up with Java to work on a solo record, but the project was eventually shelved.
Things began looking up when she secured a deal with Columbia Records. She spent two years recording new music, only to be dropped from the label. Her big break finally came in 2007, when she signed with Capitol Records and released "I Kissed A Girl" in 2008.
Reeves was born in Beirut, Lebanon, where his English mother, met his father, a Hawaiian American. His father abandoned the family when he was three. At 17, he dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles, obtaining a green card through his stepfather and Hollywood director, Paul Aaron.
In 1998, Reeves married Jennifer Syme. The couple had a child who tragically passed away at the age of eight months. Syme died in a car accident 18 months later. Reeves appeared in several minor roles before his breakthrough role in "River’s Edge" and later in "Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure." In 1999, he played the incomparable Neo in "The Matrix," signaling the arrival of Keanu Reeves in Hollywood.
Marilyn Monroe, originally Norma Jeane Mortenson, was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1926. She spent her childhood in and out of harmful foster homes. Monroe became increasingly withdrawn as a child and developed a stutter. Later, she decided to try modeling and appeared on the covers of 33 magazines. An acting contract with 20th Century Fox came next, but she could not find work.
In 1948, at age 22, she signed with Columbia Pictures and starred in a low-budget movie called "Ladies of the Chorus." Her big breakthrough didn’t arrive until 1950 when she appeared in a few critically acclaimed films. Since then, her films have grossed over $200 million, turning her into a pop culture icon.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg needs no introduction. However, while Zuckerberg is now one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the world, this was not always the case. Shortly after launching Facebook, Zuckerberg was sued by Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra from Harvard. They claimed Zuckerberg had stolen their idea for a networking site (HarvardConnection, later renamed ConnectU) to create Facebook.
The parties later settled for $1.2 million in Facebook shares. Facebook's success today is undeniable, exceeding expectations that even Zuckerberg may have had for its success.
Mary Kay Ash
Mary Kay Ash was the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, a direct-selling, multi-level marketing cosmetics company based in Addison, Texas. Kay is best known for helping empower women to succeed in a market dominated by men. When she got passed over for a promotion, she quit her job at age 45 and decided to write a book instead. The book became the blueprint for a business she planned to start with her second husband, Mel Ash.
Mel died just a month before the launch of the new company. A month after his death, she borrowed $5,000 from her eldest son and opened her first storefront in Dallas. Mary Kay Cosmetics grew beyond her wildest dreams.
Robert T. Kiyosaki
Robert Kiyosaki, born in 1947, is an entrepreneur, investor, and best-selling author of the "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" series. His journey to fame and fortune was not without setbacks and defeats. At 30, Kiyosaki founded a company that sold nylon and velcro surf wallets in 1977. He neglected intellectual property, and the company went bankrupt due to stiff competition.
Other failed ventures followed, including a financial education company in 1985 that taught various strategies for investing in real estate and other financial products. He sold the company in 1994 and focused on his writing career. Kiyosaki achieved international recognition only at age 50 when he penned "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." The book has sold over 26 million copies worldwide.
Before achieving fame and fortune, Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z, overcame extraordinary odds. Carter grew up in the Marcy Houses housing projects in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He developed an early interest in music, appearing on several early recordings by artists such as Big Daddy Kane and Jaz-O but no record label was interested in signing him.
Finally, the enterprising Carter co-founded his label, Roc-A-Fella Records. He struggled to find a distribution partner but persisted. Jay Z’s debut album, "Reasonable Doubt," peaked at number 23 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum, with the Rolling Stones naming it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Before his name became synonymous with success, the late Steve Jobs endured numerous setbacks. For starters, he dropped out of college and began taking random courses that piqued his interest. In 1976, he co-founded Apple Computers with his friend Steve Wozniak. The company was a huge success until 1983 when Jobs hired John Scully from Pepsi as CEO — one of his worst career decisions. After losing a boardroom battle with Sculley, Jobs felt compelled to leave the company he founded.
Several Apple employees followed him to start NeXT Inc., a new computer company. Jobs returned after selling NeXT to Apple for $400 million in December 1996. Apple officially announced Jobs as its interim CEO on September 16, 1997.
Steven Spielberg is the creative force behind cult films and franchises in Hollywood, including "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Jaws," "E.T.," "Jurassic Park," "Schindler’s List," and "The Color Purple." As a child, Spielberg struggled with dyslexia. His condition invited ridicule from peers and teachers alike. Movies were his refuge. Spielberg studied film at California State University but dropped out after one semester.
Following the screening of the aspiring director's short film "Amblin," Universal Studios offered him a seven-year directing contract. After a series of hits and misses, Spielberg worked on "The Sugarland Express," his first theatrically released film that put him on the map. This led to an offer to direct "Jaws," one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
Sylvester Stallone moved to New York City in the 1970s to become an actor but lived in poverty and faced thousands of rejections. A heartbroken Stallone had to sell his dog for $25 to pay the electricity bill. He became homeless and resorted to sleeping at the New Jersey Port Authority bus terminal.
Two weeks later, Stallone saw a boxing match between Mohammed Ali and Chuck Wepner, which inspired him to write the script for "Rocky." He attempted to sell it and received an offer of $125,000 for the script. But he only had one request: to star as Rocky. The studio thought he "looked funny and talked funny” but finally agreed – probably the best decision they ever made.
The Beatles are music legends who have sold over 1.6 billion records worldwide. Yet John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr considered themselves outliers for a long time. In 1961, the band members drove to Decca Recording Studios in the middle of a snowstorm to record and meet Duck Rowe, an A&R rep. Rowe dismissed their sound, stating that guitar bands would soon be obsolete.
A few months later, The Beatles signed with George Martin, releasing several of their many hits, including "Love Me Do," that year. What followed was worldwide Beatles hysteria and a new era in music history.
Churchill is arguably one of the UK’s most influential prime ministers, credited with leading Britain to victory in World War II. Churchill is also the source for famous quotes about failure, such as "Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." He spoke from personal experience. He applied to the Royal Military College in 1893, failing the exam twice and passing on the third attempt.
Politics didn't start great, either. He lost his first election, followed by three back-to-back losses from 1922 to 1924. Churchill also struggled with clinical depression and severe speech impediments. None of it prevented him from becoming "the greatest statesman of the 20th century."
Growing up, Sara Blakely’s father encouraged her to fail. Every week at dinner, her father would ask what she had failed at since failure meant one was trying. This mantra would later serve her. Blakely found a job selling fax machines, for which she needed to look professional. Her problem? She couldn’t find undergarments that didn't show through her clothes or ride up uncomfortably.
Blakely improvised by cutting holes in her pantyhose, which gave her the idea for a new product. She pitched the idea to several manufacturers, who thought she was crazy. After several rejections, a manufacturer who had said no initially reached out to her. His daughters loved her product. That’s how her successful brand, Spanx, was born.
Jeff Bezos may be one of the world's richest men today, but not without "billions of dollars of failures" first. Does anyone remember zShops? Amazon launched zShops in September 1999, allowing individuals, small manufacturers, and mega-conglomerates to sell products online. The project failed spectacularly. Bezos joked that only his parents and he had ever visited zShops. The idea behind zShops was similar to why Amazon created an auction platform modeled after eBay.
While both ideas failed, Amazon persisted and perfected its online marketplace — one where sellers didn’t need an online storefront but sold products on Amazon alongside Amazon.
Nick Woodman realized he wanted to be an entrepreneur early on. Despite breaking the mold with ventures such as FunBug, a gaming and marketing platform, and EmpowerAll, which sold electronics, Woodman didn't have much success. He decided to find inspiration in the things he loved the most — surfing and traveling.
While on a surfing tour, he realized there was nothing on the market that allowed him to record surfing videos while surfing, so GoPro was born. Nick Woodman's net worth is now estimated at $300 million.
Sophia Amoruso is no stranger to public failure. Her successful online shop, Nasty Gal, began as an eBay store. Her account was suspended, prompting her to open her online store, and so she founded Nasty Gal, a women's fashion retailer that was named one of Inc. Magazine's "fastest growing companies" in 2012. Forbes named her one of the world's richest self-made women in 2016.
Nasty Gal declared bankruptcy in 2017, but Amoruso bounced back and established Girlboss Media. The company creates relatable, inspirational content for millennial women. Her 2014 autobiography, "Girl Boss," became a Netflix television series of the same name.
Akio Morita is the man behind the electronics company Sony. Today, everyone recognizes Sony as a technological force. This, however, did not happen overnight. Sony's first product was a rice cooker that burned rice rather than cooking it, selling less than 100 units.
This initial setback did not deter Morita and his partners from their goal. They worked harder and became more inventive. When materials became scarce during World War II, Morita sourced mimeograph paper with immense difficulty. He had it cut into strips with razor-sharp steel, leaving enough metal for Sony's first device — the world’s first portable radio. It wasn’t long before Sony became a technological force to be reckoned with.
Lucile Ball’s legacy in Hollywood is legendary. The world remembers her as the first woman to run a major television studio (she took over Desilu Productions in 1962). She also received nearly every major entertainment industry award, including four Emmy wins and 13 Emmy nominations. Her success did not happen overnight, though.
Ball's first few films bombed spectacularly at the box office. Critics went so far as to call her the "Queen of the B's" in the 1930s and 1940s. Her fortunes changed with "I Love Lucy," the beloved show that helped pave the way for women in the entertainment industry.
Before the Twilight series shattered worldwide sales records, author Stephanie Meyer faced rejection several times. Meyer revealed that she was "nave about publishing" when she started. The labyrinth of letters, agents, and submissions was intimidating, and she almost gave up.
Meyer sent 15 letters to literary agencies, out of which she received 14 rejections. Thanks to one literary agent who took her on, she would soon have eight publishers competing for the rights to her now insanely-successful saga. Meyer pushed forward for the love of her story. The author almost lost faith in her talents, but she wanted the world to discover and love her characters as much as she did.
In 1995, Amy Adams moved to Los Angeles from Minnesota and performed theater plays. Adams made guest appearances in popular sitcoms, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Charmed," but she struggled to find substantial work. In 2004, she was fired from a television show called "Dr. Vegas" for not being sexy enough. It was the third show she had been fired from, and Adams started to doubt her abilities.
Fate intervened in 2005 in the form of "Junebug" and "Enchanted" the following year. Adams later appeared in massive blockbusters such as "Man of Steel" and "American Hustle" (for which she won the 2014 Golden Globe). Time magazine named her one of the most powerful actresses in the industry.
In April 1995, Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay on the ABC show "Ellen." Right-wing groups condemned DeGeneres and ABC for it. The show was canceled after that fifth season. DeGeneres returned to stand-up after being burned by the experience.
She starred in "The Ellen Show," a short-lived CBS sitcom. Ellen Richmond, her character, was also a lesbian, which may have had something to do with CBS canceling the show after only 13 episodes. It wasn't until 2003 that DeGeneres made a comeback. She launched "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and voiced Dory in "Finding Nemo," which became a massive success. As a host, DeGeneres was funny, grounded, and empathetic, firmly cementing her reputation as an icon for the LGBT+ community.
Emma Stone, who in 2017 won her first Academy Award for her role in "La La Land," hasn't always been in the spotlight. Before her breakthrough performance in the 2007 comedy "Superbad," she was a high school dropout and struggling actor in Los Angeles. In ninth grade, the aspiring actor made her parents a PowerPoint presentation explaining why they should let her leave school to pursue acting.
The pitch was called "Project Hollywood," and she succeeded. She went to auditions regularly for three months and got absolutely nothing. A dejected Stone took a side job at a dog-biscuit bakery to pay the bills. Her big break came only years later as Jonah Hill’s love interest in "Superbad."
The legendary Vogue editor-in-chief is one of the most successful people in the fashion industry, but even Anna Wintour isn’t immune to failure. She was fired from her junior editor position at Harper's Bazaar in 1975 because her photo shoots were too "edgy" — a dismissal she cherishes to this day since it opened doors she didn’t know existed or were needed.
Wintour believes that there is no such thing as perfection and that everyone should be fired at least once in their careers. She once told a publication that setbacks are a reality of life and a "necessary" experience.
Ruth Fertel loved to cook, but she preferred cooking up a storm in her restaurant. In 1965, she realized the need to earn more money to send her sons to college. Fertel bought Chris's Steak House after seeing an ad in the newspaper. She had no experience running a business, but she jumped into her new venture anyway. Although the restaurant was a success, a tragic fire forced Fertel to rebuild it.
She couldn't use the original name for legal reasons, so she changed it to Ruth's Chris Steak House. A regular customer approached her in 1975 and asked if she was interested in franchising. Fertel agreed, and by 1995, the steakhouse had grown to more than 80 locations.