I hope these Famous Failures who turned their failures into great success will inspire you to keep going and create your own success in the wake of failure.
You will notice that each of these Famous people were failures in many areas but they never QUIT!
Never Quitting is the consistent thread throughout each of these people’s lives.
15 Famous Failures That May Inspire You On Your Journey
1. Abraham Lincoln
Born in 1809, Abraham Lincoln is famously known for being the 16th President of the United States. He was a champion of equal rights, and he blazed a trail towards the freedom of slaves in America.
But Lincoln didn’t start out as a success story. He failed numerous times before attaining the highest office in the land.
In 1832, when he was 23-years old, Lincoln lost his job. At the same time, he also lost his bid for State Legislature. Just 3 years later, at the age of 26, the love of his life, Ann Rutledge died. Another three years later?
He lost his bid to become Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.
In 1848, at the age of 39-years old, Lincoln also failed in his bid to become Commissioner of the General Land Office in D.C.
Ten years after that, at the age of 49-years old, he was defeated in his quest to become a U.S. Senator. Of course, through all the
personal, business and political failures, Lincoln didn’t give up.
In 1846, Lincoln was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives where he drafted a bill to abolish slavery.
In 1861, at the age of 52, he secured the office of President of the United States and has since become one of the most famous failures to ever hold office in the United States. His face also appears on the U.S. five-dollar bill.
2. Albert Einstein
Born in 1879, the man that we all know as one of the most brilliant minds to have ever lived was once considered a major failure. In fact, Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4-years old.
Yes, four years old. In 1895, at the age of 16, he failed to pass the examination for entrance into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic school located in Zurich.
And while he did graduate from university, he struggled and nearly dropped out, doing very poorly during the course of his studies there. In fact, he was in such dire straits that at the time of his father’s death, he considered his son to be a major failure, which left young Einstein completely heartbroken.
In fact, he was in such dire straits that at the time of his father’s death, he considered his son to be a major failure, which left young Einstein completely heartbroken.
After graduating, he wondered, unsure of what to do with his life. After some time, he ended up taking a job as an insurance salesman, going door to door in an attempt to sell insurance. Eventually, 2 years later, he took a job at the Patent Office as an assistant examiner, evaluating patent applications for a variety of devices.
Eventually, 2 years later, he took a job at the Patent Office as an assistant examiner, evaluating patent applications for a variety of devices.
Of course, this is the same individual who brought us the theory of relativity, with groundbreaking work done in physics and mathematics and helped us to reach deeper understandings about how the universe works, developing several fundamentals core laws governing physics, won the Nobel Prize in 1921 and created the beginnings of the quantum theory.
3. Michael Jordan
Born 1963, Michael Jordan is a former professional basketball player and also the owner of the Charlotte Hornets team. Called “the greatest basketball player of all time,” Jordan’s professional career is something for the history books, with a game play that will likely be unmatched and unrivaled for decades to come.
Jordan is credited with once saying that ”I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
At the age of 15-years old, while a sophomore in high school, Jordan was passed up for the varsity basketball team, instead being assigned to the junior varsity team. He cried after he saw that list without his name on it. But instead of giving up, his mom convinced him to push forward. Every time he thought about stopping his training, he would picture that list without his name on it.
He was able to take failure in stride. He allowed it to push him rather than to entirely defeat him. At the age of 21-years old, he entered the NBA as a professional basketball player for the Chicago Bulls, where he would go on to win six championship titles and become one of the most impactful players to ever grace the courts.
4. Bill Gates
Born in 1955 in Seattle, Washington, Bill Gates by no means struggled as a child. In fact, he had quite the stable upper-middle-class upbringing, with a renowned lawyer for a father, William H. Gates, Sr.
It was originally intended by Gates’ parents that he follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer.
At the early age of 17-years old, Gates had demonstrated the entrepreneurial spirit, forming a company with his childhood friend, Paul Allen, called Traf-O-Data, in an effort to analyze and process raw traffic data from traffic counters and present that data in a reporting format to traffic engineers.
Their goal was to build a hardware device that could read traffic data tapes and produce the results without having to do the work manually.
On the big day of the reveal, a supervisor from the County of Seattle’s traffic department came to see it and the device failed to work. The business failed before it had much of a chance to get off the ground, giving Gates an invaluable lesson that he would carry forward with him.
In 1973, Gates enrolled in Harvard University after scoring a near-perfect SAT score of 1590 out of 1600.
However, it was the following year that Gates dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft with his partner, Paul Allen. The decision, while contentious at the time, was okayed by his parents after much discussion. Obviously, it was the right move.
5. Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison is an American inventor and entrepreneur born in 1847 in Milan, Ohio, one of seven siblings in a very large family. Edison was home schooled by his mother and developed hearing problems early on in life. He was trained to use the telegraph after a train almost struck the son of a station agent who was so grateful that he taught Edison how to use the system, eventually leading to a job working for Western Union.
In 1877, at the age of 30-years old, Edison invented the phonograph, an invention that was so magical that it made the public dub him with the name “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” In 1878, just a year later, Edison began working on a commercially-viable incandescent lightbulb that would be both long-lasting and highly efficient by not drawing too much energy to operate.
Thomas Edison went through thousands of iterations to make this dream a reality. In fact, he failed over 10,000 times trying to invent a commercially-viable electric bulb. At one point, when asked by a reporter whether he felt like a failure after so many failed attempts. He said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”
Edison had a huge impact on society, holding 1,093 patents to his name at the time of his death. His work in a number of fields created the basis for much of the technologies that we enjoy today and take for granted. However, like anyone else, he suffered through failure numerous time, but where others quit, he persisted.
6. Steve Jobs
Born in 1955, the late Steve Jobs was an iconic billionaire, inventor, and entrepreneur responsible for one of the most renowned and successful companies to have ever been created — Apple Computers. Yet, Jobs’ life was filled with failure. Before fame ever graced him and his name become synonymous with success, he suffered through an enormous number of setbacks.
In his earliest days, Jobs felt unwanted. He was put up for adoption by his mother and was raised by a blue-collar couple in Palo Alto, California. He dropped out of college and started taking the courses that were most interesting to him rather than trying to complete his degree. Afterwards, he opted to travel the world and see places like India where he would study Zen Buddhism.
In 1976, Jobs co-founded Apple Computers with his friend, Steve Wozniak. The company was highly successful. However, in 1983, Jobs hired John Scully from Pepsi to helm the company as CEO, which ended up being one of the worst decisions he had ever made. After a disagreement with Scully, and a foiled plan by Jobs to oust the new CEO, Jobs resigned from Apple and quit, taking 5 employees with him to start his new business venture, NeXT.
That disheartening period helped to embolden Jobs. While Apple was fledgling and would eventually be on the verge of bankruptcy, NeXT thrived. Ultimately, NeXT was acquired by Apple in 1997 bringing him back into the fold of a now-struggling company.
7. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi to a single teenage mother. Winfrey grew up in a sheer state of utter poverty for most of her childhood life, living with her grandmother during those years. When she was 6-years old, she moved in with her mother in Wisconsin, about the time her mother had another daughter, becoming Winfrey’s half-sister.
During those early years, Winfrey says she was sexually molested by her cousin, her uncle, and a family friend. At the age of 13-years old, she ran away from home. At 14-years old, she was pregnant and gave birth prematurely to a baby that died shortly after birth.
At the age of 17-years old, she won a beauty pageant and interned at a radio station, creating a love for the media, and eventually landing a job after college as a news anchor in Nashville. After college, she moved to Baltimore to co-anchor the news but was later removed by the producer for being unfit for television.
In 1983, at the age of 29-years old, she relocated to Chicago and took over a fledgling show called, AM Chicago, which would ultimately become the Oprah Winfrey Show. She became the highest-ranked talk show in Chicago. Today, she is a multi-billionaire and has had a major impact on a large part of the world.
Oprah was able to overcome multiple failures in her life but didn’t give up. Because of it, she reached international fame and is known around the world as a household name.
8. The Beatles
The Beatles were an English rock group that formed in 1960 and have since gone on to sell over 1.6 billion records worldwide, with over 600 million records being sold in the United States, and are considered to be one of the most popular musical groups in history. Its members were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
However, The Beatles once considered themselves failures. On New Year’s Eve in 1961, the group drove in a snowstorm to Decca Recording Studios to lay down 15 tracks based on songs that they were already performing, which was a mashup of R&B and Rock tunes.
Still, it was Dick Rowe, an A&R that was there to hear their sound, who stated that they would never succeed. Specifically, he said that “guitar groups were on their way out.” Five months later, the group received the big break they had been hoping to receive. and signed with George Martin from Parlophone and released their first in a string of hits late that year entitled, Love Me Do.
While others might have gotten discouraged during the rejections and the failures faced by the group, they didn’t falter. They didn’t throw in that proverbial towel. They knew deep down inside that they were bound to be famous and that it was just a matter of time as long as they didn’t give up.
9. Marilyn Monroe
Originally born, Norma Jeane Mortenson, in 1926, in Los Angeles, California, Marilyn Monroe is an American actress and model who achieved extraordinary fame in Hollywood. Monroe never knew her biological father and had a sister and brother that she didn’t know about until she was 12-years old.
Monroe’s mother suffered a mental breakdown in 1934 and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. She was in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life and Monroe had become a ward of the state, moving in and out of foster homes for the next several years, where she was sexually abused, became withdrawn and also developed a stutter.
In 1936, her mother’s family friend, Grace McKee Goddard, became her legal guardian, but she was molested by Goddard’s husband, Doc. She was in and out of homes again subsequent to that and eventually attended Van Nuys High School, but dropped out in 1942 at the age of 16-years old, marrying the son of a neighbor in order to stay in the state after the Goddard’s had to leave to West Virginia.
In 1946, after a stint of appearances on the covers of 33 magazines, she secured a contract with an acting agency, and ultimately, a 6-month contract with 20th Century Fox. During that time, she procured no work, and instead focused on taking dancing, acting and singing lessons while also spending time in the studio to observe others acting. Her contract wasn’t renewed when it came to an end, but she was determined to make things work.
However, in 1948, at the age of 22-years old, she was signed to Columbia Pictures and starred in a low-budget movie called, Ladies of the Chorus. Still, her contract at Columbia was also not renewed. Later that same year, she signed with the William Morris Agency, with the persistent attitude to never give up.
Still, her big breakthrough didn’t come until 1950, when she had appearances in a couple of critically-acclaimed films. Since then, her films went on to gross over $200 million, and subsequently turning her into a pop culture icon and sex symbol.
10. Walt Disney
Walt Disney, born in 1901, is the beloved founder of the Walt Disney Company, quite possibly one of the most famed companies in the world throughout history. However, Disney’s road towards success wasn’t easy; it was paved with a number of failures and setbacks that included bankruptcy.
1919, Disney had taken a job with the Kansas City Star, the local newspaper, when he was fired by the editor for lacking imagination and having no good ideas. Later Disney started a company called Laugh-O-Gram, producing cartoon animations. His biggest client at the time was Newman’s theaters, one of the largest theater chains. His cartoons were shown at the start of the films at Newman’s theaters and were dubbed the “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams.”
However, his success with Laugh-O-Gram was short-lived. The money earned didn’t provide enough income to keep the company afloat, and in 1923 it declared bankruptcy. Subsequently, Disney moved to Hollywood in 1923 when he was just 22-years old, where his brother Roy was living at the time.
With the help of Roy, they formed the Disney Brothers Studio, which later became called the Walt Disney Company. The company was formed to produce animated films. However, it wasn’t until 1928, five years later, when Disney created Mickey Mouse, when things really started to take off, but not before experiencing a number of gut-twisting failures and setbacks.
11. Henry Ford
Born in Greenfield Township, Michigan, in 1863, Henry Ford was the industrialist who started Ford Motor Company, which has been one of the most profitable automotive companies in the world over the years, making him into one of the richest and famous individuals on the planet. However, while Ford celebrated many successes later on in life, he also failed often in his earlier years
In fact, it wasn’t until 1891, when Ford was 28-years old, that he decided to become an engineer, working for the Edison Illuminating Company and earning a promotion in 1893 at the age of 30, to Chief Engineer. It was around this time when he started experimenting with gasoline engines.
However, it wasn’t until 1898, when Ford was 35-years old when he designed and built a self-propelled vehicle that he showed off to people, winning the backing of William H. Murphy, who, at the time, was a lumber baron in Detroit. Subsequently, Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company a year later in 1899.
In 1901, however, that company failed after an inability to pay back a loan to the Dodge brothers and due to inefficiencies in the design of the vehicle; the company ceased operations, dealing a stealthy blow to Ford. However, subsequently, Ford convinced one of his partners to give him another chance. With mounting pressure, it was agreed that he would try again. But after disagreements, this venture also flopped.
It wasn’t until 1903 when Ford would give it one final shot. At the age of 40-years old, after two separate failures, he tried again, incorporating the Ford Motor Company. Even after the failures, Ford found an unconventional backer who he made agree not to meddle in the business. He found this in Malcolmson, a Scottish immigrant who had made his fortune in the coal industry.
Afterward, what transpired is one of the most famous stories of an individual who went from failure to success in the grandest way. The Ford name is synonymous with the automobile. In fact, while the assembly line existed prior to Ford’s arrival on the scene, so to speak, he created a car that was affordable by the everyday family, helping to develop what was to become the largest boon to the automotive industry with cars everywhere.
12. Colonel Sanders
Born in 1890 in Indiana, Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), is famous not only for his chicken recipe, but also his numerous failures in life and in business. At the ripe young age of 5-years old, his father died, leaving only his mother to fend for and support three children, including Harland.
While his mother left for days on end, Harland was forced to help take care of his siblings and became a proficient cook during this time, learning how to make bread and vegetables and advancing in his knowledge of cooking and preparing meat by the age of just 7-years old. By 10-years old, he was already working as a farmhand.
In 1902, at the age of 12-years old, his mother remarried, subjecting the children to an arduous environment that ultimately forced Harland to leave home the following year. By 14-years old, he began working as a farmhand at another farm in Southern Indiana.
Sanders worked odd jobs for years, never really able to make anything stick. He owned a ferry boat company on the Ohio River, sold tires in Winchester Kentucky, and later, in 1930, opened a restaurant inside a Shell Oil Company-owned gas station in North Corbin Kentucky where he began serving chicken dishes. He was 40-years old at the time.
In July 1939, he came to own a motel and a restaurant, which was destroyed by a fire just 4 months later. But it wasn’t until 1940 when he began to finalize his so-called “secret” chicken recipe, at the age of 50-years old. However, in 1942, during the war, he sold his business and subsequently got divorced in 1947.
In 1955, another one of his restaurants failed after an Interstate route that led traffic past that restaurant, was changed. That year, with just a $105 social security check to his name, at the age of 65-years old, he set out to sell his franchised-chicken model to restaurants across the country. He was famously rejected by 1,009 restaurants before one agreed to his idea.
13. Stephen King
Born in 1947, Stephen King is one of the most famous and successful authors of all time. He’s sold over 350 million books but had an unorthodox start to his writing career. In fact, after a subsequent string of failures, Stephen King was all but ready to give up on his hopes and his dreams of becoming a published author.
King was so passionate about writing, that he worked tirelessly to get his worked published. He was rejected so often, however, that by the time he turned 14-years old, a nail supporting his rejection letters on the wall, could no longer bear their weight. Eventually, he replaced the nail with a spike and continued to hang his rejection letters.
After completing his studies at the University of Maine in 1970, at the age of 23-years old, he got himself a teaching certificate, but he was unable to find any work teaching. Instead, he worked for a laundry service while his wife went to work at Dunkin’ Donuts, writing short stories in his spare time.
In 1973, King finally secured a teaching job, however, he continued to write when an idea came to his mind. When the idea for his first book, Carrie, a story about a girl with telekinetic powers, first came to him, he had envisioned creating it as a short story for a magazine like Playboy. But after beginning the story, he realized it was going to need to be longer than the format would call for in Playboy.
One day, after being so frustrated with the story, he crumpled it up and threw it into the garbage, only later to be retrieved by his wife, telling him that he should continue the work and finish it. Upon completion, 30 publishers rejected the book. Eventually, he got published by Doubleday and received a $2,500 advance. A short time after, he was told that he would receive $200,000 for the rights to that book.
14. Soichiro Honda
Born in 1906, Soichiro Honda was a Japanese inventor and industrialist who created the automotive empire by his namesake — Honda Motor Company. However, while Honda’s company has certainly grown to rival even that of Toyota, Honda’s earliest days were anything but easy. Yet, it was his perseverance and his tenacity to never give up that kept him going and helped him to ultimately succeed.
Without any formal education to his name, at the age of 15-years old, Honda left home to head for Tokyo to search for work, which he later found at an auto repair shop where he apprenticed and worked for the next 6 years before returning home to open up his own automotive shop.
During the Great Depression, in 1937, at the age of 31-years old, he founded, Tōkai Seiki to create piston rings for Toyota. He toiled and labored night and day to create these, but to no avail. With little cash and bleak chances for survival, he had to pawn his wife’s ring just to make ends meet. He failed ultimately and was told that the rings didn’t meet Toyota’s specifications.
However, he refused to give up. He went back to school and continued to search for ways to improve upon his prior designs. Eventually, after two more years of designing and trying, he succeeded and successfully secured a contract with Toyota to create the piston rings.
But shortly thereafter, his factory that he built to build the products was hit by a bomb during WWII when a B-29 bomber run carpeted the area. After he rebuilt the factory a second time, an earthquake leveled it. But he refused to give up. Instead, he created a motorized bicycle that would become the start of the Honda motorcycle.
15. J. K. Rowling
Quite possibly one of the most famous and renowned former-failures of our time, J.K. Rowling is the author of the wildly-popular Harry Potter series of books. Born in 1965, she grew up with a tumultuous childhood that included a difficult and oftentimes-strained relationship with her father and dealing with the illness of her mother.
In 1982, at the age of 17-years old, she attempted to gain acceptance to Oxford University. She failed and was rejected, instead of enrolling at the University of Exeter where she received her Bachelor of Arts in French and Classics. After graduating from university, at the age of 21-years old, she moved to London to work for Amnesty International in 1986.
After London, she moved to Manchester with her boyfriend. It was there, in 1990, at the age of 25-years old, while on a 4-hour-delayed train, when the idea of a young wizard popped into her mind, later stating that it came “fully formed,” and all she needed to do was flesh out the details.
However, it was just a few short months after that her mother, Anne, died from Multiple Sclerosis, leaving her extremely distraught and upset. In the wake of her mother’s death, only a few months afterward, she moved to Porto, in Portugal, to teach English. There, she met a man, got married, got pregnant, and gave birth to her daughter, who was born in 1993.
The relationship was a very strenuous one, with reports of domestic abuse, resulting in a separation and eventual divorce. With only three chapters of Harry Potter completed, at the end of 1993, when she was at the age of 38-years old, she moved to Edinburgh, to live with her sister.
At that point, she considered herself a major failure. She had failed at just about everything she had ever attempted to do in life. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and was suicidal. Two years later, in 1995, five years after the initial idea had come to her, she managed to finish the manuscript for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She located an agent, but after one year of trying to get it published, all 12 major publishing houses had rejected her book.
It wasn’t until 1996, when a small literary house in London named, Bloomsbury, gave the green light and a very small advance of£1500, only due to the behest of the owner’s daughter, that the book was published. In 1997, seven years after the initial idea for the young wizard, the first Harry Potter book was published. By 2004, Rowling had become the first author to become a billionaire through book writing, according to Forbes.
15 Famous Failures That May Inspire You On Your Journey
15 Famous Failures That May Inspire You On Your Journey – Summary
In conclusion, DON’T QUIT!
Your are going to experience failures along your journey as we all do.
Use those as learning tools and continue to fail forward!
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