The quote, “You’re only as good as your last success” should actually be rephrased to, “You’re only as bad as your last failure.” You can’t possibly be a failure every single time. You’ll find success if you work hard, plan well, and don’t give up—like the 10 most successful failures of all time.
10. Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan failed getting into his varsity basketball team during sophomore year because he was clumsy and was only 5 feet 11 inches tall. High school and college sports performances are what NBA recruiters look into when scouting for talent, but Jordan had failed right from the start. So he locked himself up in his room to cry.
But he tried out again the next year and got into the junior varsity team. He practiced the game every day and grew taller by a few more inches until he honed his skills to an unbelievable level. Years later, he became the NBA’s most famous MVP and the greatest basketball player of all time.
9. Lucille Ball
Lucille was booted out of New York’s John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts for being too scared to perform. After that, she kept going back and forth New York as a fashion model and actress, getting fired from at least two stage productions. She went to Hollywood, got a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but her best efforts got her only in B-movies.
Eventually she found her way into radio then television, a new entertainment medium back in the 1940s and 1950s. She and her husband Desi Arnaz launched the “I Love Lucy” show on CBS, which went on to become one of the longest-running TV shows in history, and making her a famous comedienne.
8. Steven Spielberg
As a dyslexic young man, Spielberg’s application to the University of Southern California’s School of Theater, Film, and Television was rejected thrice. He went to California State University in Long Beach instead, but ended up dropping out of it anyway.
His directorial debut was “Sugarland Express”—praised by critics, but a box office failure. Nevertheless, Spielberg forged ahead and was given the chance to film big-budgeted hits such as “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “ET,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Jurassic Park.” But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences snubbed him for years, and avoided giving him the Best Director award until 1993, when he made “Schindler’s List.” From then on, he was recognized as an A-list Hollywood director and a major artistic force in film history.
7. Walt Disney
Walt Disney was once a young artist whose editor fired him because he reportedly “lacked imagination” or “good ideas.”
Disney wanted to start a company creating animated short films. But his first few tries failed; at one point he even lost some of his employees and the rights to his own animated character (Oswald the Rabbit) to Universal Pictures. But eventually, he built a gigantic entertainment empire that churned out classic characters (Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse) and ground-breaking animated films like “Snow White,” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
TV’s queen of talk grew up with poverty and child abuse. She tried her hand at being a television reporter. But she was fired from her TV job because she wasn’t considered fit for TV. Emotional problems stemming from childhood had made her eat obsessively, creating her weight problem. She also tried smoking crack cocaine, and had a number of disastrous romantic relationships.
But she reinvented herself as a talk show host, producing and starring in her own “Oprah Winfrey Show.” She changed the way talk shows were conducted by focusing on geopolitics, health, spirituality, and charity. Her show went on to become the most viewed talk show on the planet, turning Oprah into a billionaire.
5. Winston Churchill
Churchill was a rebellious boy who never did well in school, even failing sixth grade. He had a lisp and a stutter. He tried his hand at building a military and political career, but he failed at nearly every election he ran in. In later years, he was politically isolated from even the British Conservative party he worked with, his political reputation so in tatters that he exiled himself temporarily from Parliament and the House of Commons.
But Churchill was among the first to see the dangers of Nazi Germany, and managed to become Britain’s Prime Minister at age 62 during World War II. His steadfastness helped inspire British resistance against Hitler, all the way to the defeat of the Nazis, securing him the title of “Greatest Briton of All Time.”
4. Albert Einstein
People thought Einstein was a “slow” young man. He hated the regimented ways of school. At the age of 16, he failed the entrance exams at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich, and had to a smaller school instead. Though he managed to get a teaching diploma from the Swiss Polytechnic later on, it took him two long years to find any job at all. And when he did, it was for the Swiss Patent Office as an assistant examiner for patents.
But he tried writing his own scientific papers and thesis from 1901 to 1905 (including one on the theory of special relativity), which were so groundbreaking that by 1909 he became recognized as a leading scientist and one of the most brilliant minds in human history.
3. J. K. Rowling
At one point, the famous author of the Harry Potter books was a broke, unemployed, and depressed divorced mother feeding her children through welfare. She was cradling a baby even as she wrote her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in a café, trying to write, eat, and get her child to sleep. Her book proposal was rejected by no less than twelve publishing houses.
But after the Bloomsbury publishing house agreed to publish the book, it won so much acclaim and sold so many copies that Rowling could afford to write the rest of the Harry Potter series—becoming even richer than Britain’s Queen.
2. Steve Jobs
Jobs redefined the way the world used personal computers, through the company he founded, Apple, Inc. He created Mac computers and the GUI (Graphical User Interface). But he rubbed a lot of people the wrong way with his driven personality. By age of 30, the board of directors of the very company he built “fired” him, leaving him humiliated and depressed.
But he started another company (NeXT Computer), which developed the next-generation personal computer technology, and bought Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division and renamed it Pixar. When a failing Apple, Inc. asked Jobs to return to their helm, he again took over and eventually made Apple, Inc. one of the most innovative and profitable companies on the planet.
1. Abraham Lincoln
The 16th President of the United States who was responsible for ending slavery in his country was the self-educated son of a country frontier family. He tried starting his own businesses and a political career, but because of the lack of education, powerful connections, or money, he failed at two businesses and in eight elections. When he got married to Mary Todd, they had four sons, but three of them died early on from illness—triggering clinical depression in Lincoln.
But by 1860, Lincoln got nominated to be the Democratic candidate to the presidency. He won the elections, and as President of the United States oversaw the Civil War to its very end, with the emancipation of African-American slaves.