“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” — Charlie Chaplin
Throughout history, there have been thousands of famous failures. Even before recorded history, people were battling with the push-and-pull created by this burning desire to succeed. This stems beyond mere survival. Survival is built into our DNA — it’s part of the very fabric that makes us into who we are.
However, human beings weren’t just made to survive; we were made to thrive. We’ve been thriving since the earliest days of our species some 200,000 years ago. With the beautiful invention of language, we’ve been able to expand our knowledge, enhance our technology and vastly improve our quality of life.
Still, while we’re suffering through the disheartening and gut-wrenching pains of failure, we’re often not thinking about thriving, we’re solely focused on surviving. When we fail, it makes us question everything, right down to the very heart of who we are and why we’ve been put here on this earth. But failure, as much as it hurts, is also a necessary part of life. It’s the pathway to our goals.
In fact, the most successful and famous people in the world have endured the most failures in life. They’ve failed repeatedly. But they’ve also gotten back up. They didn’t throw in that proverbial towel. They didn’t call it quits or head for the ropes. They got up and kept going. And that’s just what it takes to succeed.
Today, if you’ve suffered through failures in the past, or you’re going through the torrent of a failure right now, know this — failure will make you better. Failure will improve your life. It will allow you to reach new understandings and epiphanies on life, love, business and the people all around you.
Failure will make you better.
Still, it’s not enough to talk about failure in that aspect. It’s not enough to talk about the theoretical power that failure has. It’s far more beneficial to look at some of the most famous people in time who’ve failed. It’s far easier to rely on their experiences and witness what they had to suffer through, than it is to just reflect on failure itself.
In the past, I did a post about 12 famous people who failed, and what I came to realize was the importance of this material through just how much interest it received. So I decided to do another one. Below, you’ll find 48 famous people who failed at first. You’ll read their stories and realize just what they had to go through to succeed.
Remember, you’re never too old to try again. It’s never too late to take another shot. Some of these famous failures were in their 60’s when they gave it another go such as Colonel Harland Sanders, the founder of KFC, who was a wild-eyed 65-year old when he set out with nothing more than a $105 social security check in his pocket and a recipe for his now-famous fried chicken.
You get the idea? Never give up on your hopes and your dreams. Never allow someone else to tell you that you’re not good enough, smart enough or talented enough to achieve greatness in whatever capacity you’re seeking. You can do anything you put your mind to. Anything.
The World’s Most Famous Failures
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 in 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.
After graduating, he wandered, 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.
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 quantum theory.
#3 — Beyonce Knowles
Born in 1981, Beyonce’s star rose early on in life. However, achieving dizzying success wasn’t without failure for Queen Bey. For her, the failures started early in life but didn’t dissuade or discourage her from pursuing her dreams. But before her solo career and before Destiny’s Child, there was Girl’s Tyme.
Girl’s Tyme was a young all-girl group that appeared on Star Search. Beyonce was just 9-years old when the group lost, and she was shattered. The group was formed when Beyonce was just 8-years old and it stuck together for 7 long years. Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles, played a hand in managing the girls and quit his full-time job as a medical-equipment salesman, ultimately creating enormous financial pressure on the family.
Eventually, after 8 years, the group’s name was changed to Destiny’s Child, and it had been cut down from the original 6-member group, to just four. Those years were fraught with difficulties. After every setback and failure, Beyonce and the other three girls in the group, Kelly Rowland, LaTavia Robertson and LeToya Luckett, pushed forward.
In 1996, the group signed to Columbia Records and had limited commercial success. But a storm was brewing internally. Robertson and Luckett soon quit the group due to a conflict amongst the members, claiming that Mathew Knowles was favoring Knowles and Rowland. Eventually, the two were replaced, but ultimately, the fourth member was cut, leaving only three in the group, with Michelle Williams rounding out the trio.
#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 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 — Charles Darwin
Born in the same year as Abraham Lincoln, in 1809, Charles Darwin’s life was once considered a major failure by even his own father. In fact, it was due to his interest in nature that Darwin ended up neglecting his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, and in 1827, dropped out and quit school, leading his father to say, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching.”
In a second attempt at school, Darwin enrolled in Christ’s College at the University of Cambridge the following winter semester. In 1831, he realized that this wasn’t for him either, as he was too distracted to finish schooling. Once again, he quit and dropped out of college for the second time.
In his autobiography, Darwin knew that others, including his father, were displeased in him. He stated, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.” In effect, he was summed up as a failure in life, or as an “idle gentlemen,” which was another phrase used by his father.
Of course, things didn’t remain that way for Darwin. Today, he is considered as one of the most influential scientific minds of our time. His theories on natural selection and evolution have had a major impact on our understanding of species and life here on earth, along with the progress of biological organisms.
#6 — Charlie Chaplin
Born in 1889 in London, England, Chaplin’s early years were tumultuous at best. Born into poverty, Chaplin’s father abandoned them at the age of 2-years old, leaving his mother with no real income aside from the odd side job making dresses or nursing. His father provided no financial support for the family and at the age of 7-years old, Chaplin was forced to go to a workhouse, an institution in the UK where the destitute denizens of a parish are sent to work in exchange for room and board.
After returning from the workhouse for a brief period, Chaplin’s mother was committed to a mental asylum at the age of 9-years old, forcing him to go back to the workhouse again. Afterwards, a brief two years later, Chaplin’s father, a raging alcoholic at the time, died of cirrhosis of the liver.
Chaplin’s mother battled mental illness for several years after that, until she was permanently committed to an asylum where she stayed until her death in 1928. In the meantime, Chaplin and his brother, Sydney, were on their own, oftentimes going without food for days while trying to survive in the wake of all the familial turmoil.
During this time, Chaplin partook in stage plays and enhanced his comedic talents along with his step-dancing abilities. Ultimately, he found his way to Hollywood, California where Chaplin was famously turned away and snubbed, only later to become the greatest silent-film actor to have ever lived.
#7 — Chris Gardener
The story of Chris Gardener was chronicled in one of the most inspiring movies in present-day history, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, in 2006. Gardener wrote his autobiography to shed light on his early struggles and failures in life, which resulted in an immense amount of pain.
Born in 1954, Gardener had a rough upbringing. With a father that wasn’t present, his mother and siblings suffered abuse at the hands of his stepfather. In and out of the foster care system, Gardener was at the mercy of an unstable childhood
In 1977, Gardener married Sherry Dyson. But after a 3-month affair with another woman who became pregnant with his child, he decided to leave his first wife. In 1981, his son, Christopher Gardner Jr. was born while working as a research lab assistant at UCSF, which didn’t pay enough to help support his family. This led to the decision to become a medical-equipment salesman.
If you’ve seen the movie, you likely already know how this turned out. Gardener struggled, but was committed to living a better life, one that didn’t involve so much struggle and turmoil. He met a man driving a red Ferrari who ultimately led him on a career path to become a stockbroker. But, during that journey, he suffered through an eviction and homelessness, jail and an eventual divorce. But that didn’t stop him. Not whatsoever.
#8 — Colonel Harland 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.
#9 — Curtis Jackson A.K.A. 50-Cent
Born in 1975, in Queens, New York, Curtis Jackson, professionally known as 50-Cent, had a tumultuous past and a precarious upbringing. Growing up in poverty isn’t easy on anyone, especially in the Projects in New York’s roughest neighborhoods. Not only were drugs and crime all around him, but his own birth mother, Sabrina, was a drug dealer.
At the ripe young age of just 8-years old, his mother, however, died in what’s been coined a “mysterious” fire. His father left, leaving only his grandmother to help raise young Jackson, who started dealing drugs at the age of 12-years old during what’s been labeled the “crack epidemic,” in the 1980’s.
In 1994, at the age of 19-years old, after a string of run-ins with the cops and a subsequent arrest for possession of drugs and a firearm, he was sentenced to serve 3 to 9 years in prison, but was instead sent to a bootcamp where he spent just 6 months, earning his GED in the meantime.
It was after his release that he adopted the name 50-Cent as a moniker for change, naming himself after a local bank robber by the same name. He states that he chose that name “because it says everything I want it to say. I’m the same kind of person 50-Cent was. I provide for myself by any means.”
In 2000, he was infamously shot 9 times at close range by an assailant outside his grandmother’s home and left for dead. While in the hospital, he signed a deal with Columbia records, but was subsequently dropped from that label and even blacklisted within the recording industry due to a song entitled, “Ghetto Qu’ran,” forcing him to go to Canada to record over 30 songs and release a mixtape.
In 2002, Eminem heard his song, “Guess Who’s Back?” and ultimately signed him to his label, Shady Records. He was coached by both Eminem and Dr. Dre, and released his first studio album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, which later went 6-times platinum in the United States and Jackson has since become one of the world’s most famous and best-selling rappers.
#10 — Dr. Seuss
Born in 1904 as Theodor Seuss Geisel, he took on the name of Dr. Seuss in 1927 during his stint at Dartmouth and Lincoln College, Oxford, where he enrolled with the intention of earning his PhD in English Literature. But he gave up in his career pursuits at the behest of Helen Palm, whom he met at the college, encouraging him to take up a career in drawing instead.
In 1928, they married, and he worked drawing advertisements for years for a variety of notable companies such as NBC, Standard Oil and General Electric. In 1937, 9 years after he married his sweetheart, he wrote his first manuscript entitled, And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street.
That initial manuscript was famously rejected 28 times prior to being accepted by Random House/Vanguard Press. Ultimately, it led John O’Hara, who once held the office of President of the company to remark that “I’ve published any number of great writers, from William Faulkner to John O’Hara, but there’s only one genius on my authors list. His name is Ted Geisel.”
By the time of Geisel’s death in 1991, he had sold over 600 million copies of his books, which had been translated into 20 different languages, making him by far one of the most famous failures to have ever lived. His persistence carried him through, allowing him to succeed where others might have thrown in the towel and given up.
#11 — Elizabeth Arden
Canadian, Elizabeth Arden, born Florence Nightingale Graham in 1878, was a business magnate who overcame failure to achieve tremendous success, creating an unprecedented beauty empire by 1929 that included 150 salons throughout the United States and Europe, and eventually selling over 1000 products across 22 separate countries. At the height of her success, during her lifetime, she was also considered to be one of the wealthiest women in the world.
However, in 1909, at the age of 31-years old, Arden failed in business after a 6-month stint when she formed a partnership with Elizabeth Hubbard. One year later, in 1910, at the age of 32-years old, she pieced together the name Elizabeth Arden with the name “Elizabeth” used in an effort to save money on a sign for her salon, and “Arden,” which stemmed from the name of a nearby farm, thus giving birth to that name, the same year that she opened up the Red Door Salon, in New York City.
In 1912, she traveled to France where she would learn beauty and facial techniques. Upon her return, she joined forces with a chemist to begin developing what would become a vast arsenal of beauty products, lending a hand in catapulting the makeup industry into a widely acceptable practice that moved beyond the upper classes.
Her company, Elizabeth Arden, Inc., has surpassed $1 billion in annual sales, making it one of the most successful beauty businesses ever started still to this day.
#12 — Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley, born in 1935, is a famous American musician who’s sold over 1 billion records worldwide. Yet, while Presley’s fame is often celebrated, his failures are usually overlooked. The family lived in a shotgun house for several years until hard financial times forced them out due to an inability to maintain the payments.
In 1948, at the age of 13-years old, Presley’s family moved to Memphis, Tennessee from their home in Mississippi. They lived in boarding houses, which were temporary rooms that could be rented in a larger home where the common areas were usually maintained, before being able to afford a two-bedroom apartment in a public-housing complex.
In 1953, when he was 18-years old, he walked into Sun Records, where he recorded a demo disc. Nothing came of it. One year later, in 1954, he walked back into Sun Records to record another demo, which he also failed to make any traction with. The same year, he failed an audition to become part of a vocalist quartet called the Songfellows. When asked by his father what had happened, Presley stated, “They told me I couldn’t sing.”
He was so frustrated, that he decided to take up a job as a truck driver. Through a friend named Ronnie Smith, Presley met Eddie Bond, who led Smith’s professional band. Turned out they were looking for a vocalist. They arranged some more recordings, which nothing came of until months later when Presley randomly launched into “That’s All Right,” Arthur Crudup’s 1946 blues number. That got the attention of a professional DJ, and the rest, as they say, is history.
#13 — Emily Dickinson
One of the most famed authors of modern times, Emily Dickinson largely considered herself a failure for much of her life. As a fiercely-devote introvert, she was reluctant to embrace many face-to-face relationships, opting instead for correspondence rather than in-person meetings.
She was born in 1830 in Amherst Massachusetts and led a rather reclusive life for much of her years, being called reclusive and eccentric by the locals who had come to know her. She never married. She spent much of her time writing poems about dystopian subjects such as death, but also wrote vehemently about immortality, things she would also often discuss with “friends” through correspondence.
While Dickinson became one of the most renowned poets in history, less than a dozen poems were actually published during her lifetime. And, when poems were published, they were usually altered significantly because their style departed so much from the norm of the day with their lack of titles and odd capitalization and punctuation throughout.
While Dickinson might have been categorized as a failure during her lifetime, it was likely due to her reluctance to meet or correspond with many people about her work. However, after her death, her sister discovered a significant cache of poems totaling upwards of 1,800 that were eventually published, helping her to ultimately gain international notoriety and fame.
#14 — Fred Astaire
Born in 1899, in Omaha, Nebraska, Fred Astaire is one of the most famous failures to grace the entertainment business. In 1905, the family moved to New York City to allow Fred and his sister, Adele, to pursue a career in entertainment, and they focused their energies solely on the musical and dancing education of their children.
The two performed together in acts for some time, even touring the New York City Broadway circuit, and on to London as well. This helped to drastically improve their talent, but Fred shined during this time, with a set of charisma and charm that shone through even at the dimmest of times.
However, in 1932, the sister-and-brother act split, when Adele wed her husband. Fred continued his career despite that. And, according to legend, he was famously rejected during a Hollywood screen test when it was said that he “Can’t act. Slighty bald. Dances a little,” which came as a major disappointment at the time.
Yet, that didn’t stop him. Fred Astaire’s career in the entertainment industry lasted a mind-boggling 76 years, he appeared in 31 musicals, television shows and recordings. Gene Kelly once stated that “the history of dance on film begins with Astaire.” This was clearly a nod to the musical and dance genius that Astaire was.
#15 — George Lucas
Born in 1944, George Lucas is an American-born filmmaker, producer and entrepreneur behind some of the most successful films made in history such as the Star Wars trilogy and Raiders of the Lost Ark, amongst many others. Before Lucas ever got interested in filmmaking, however, he was obsessed with race car driving. But after a terrible car crash that nearly killed him, he abandoned that obsession.
After completing his graduate degree in film at the University of Southern California, Lucas set out to make movies. THX 1138, a story about a dystopian future where android police control the population, suppressing both their emotions and primal urges for things like sex, which has been outlawed, through the use of drugs, was, financially a failure for the studio, amounting to a loss of money.
Lucas was undeterred. His next project, American Graffiti, which he directed, was a huge success, giving him major clout and credibility in Hollywood. However, that wasn’t enough when he presented his next project, Star Wars, to two different studios. In fact, he was turned down for Star Wars by United Artists, and later by Universal, both rejecting the movie.
Still, that didn’t deter Lucas from continuing to pitch it. Eventually, 20th Century Fox picked up the script, later saying that “I don’t understand this, but I loved ‘American Graffiti,’ and whatever you do is okay with me.” Star Wars was the highest grossing film of all time, surpassing the then-highest-grossing film of E.T.
#16 — Harrison Ford
While many people know Harrison Ford for his blockbuster roles in films that are now part of American culture and history, he was also considered a personal and professional failure at several times in his life. Clearly, he’s one of the most famous people to have ever worked in the movie business, commanding top-dollar for his performances. But his life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Born in 1942 in Chicago, both of Ford’s parents had a connection to the entertainment industry. His father was a former actor and his mother a former radio actress. It seemed as though acting was in his blood. After graduating from college in Wisconsin, at the age of 22-years old, Ford headed to Los Angeles to try his hand in voice-overs. He failed to secure that job but ended up staying in the area.
It took Ford two years of working odd jobs and small-time bits before he landed his first uncredited role as a bellhop in the movie, Dead Heat on a Merry-Go Round, in 1964 at the age of 24-years old. However, studio execs were rough on young Ford, telling him that “he would never make it in this business.”
But Ford refused to give up. It took him until 1973, 9 years later, when he landed his breakthrough role in George Lucas’s film, American Graffiti. It was that role, and his relationship with Lucas, that would help catapult him into stardom. Lucas later cast Ford in Star Wars and the Indian Jones series.
#17 — 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 most 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 this 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.
Afterwards, 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 in the automotive industry with cars everywhere.
#18 — Howard Schultz
Born in 1953, Howard Schultz is the famous American entrepreneur behind the wildly-successful coffee company, Starbucks. However, his early life, like many other famous people who failed at first, started off in extreme poverty, growing up in Canarsie Bay, part of the New York City Housing Projects. In 1975, he graduated with a Bachelor in Arts from the Northern Michigan University, which he attended on a sports scholarship.
After graduation, Schultz headed to Xerox Corporation and he was quickly promoted to become a full sales representative. After Xerox, in 1979, at the age of 24-years old, he headed to s Swedish coffeemaker called Hammerplast as the general manager in a small company comprising just 20 employees. However, it was the company’s client, Starbucks, that led him on the next leg of his journey in life.
In 1982, at the age of 29-years old, he joined Starbucks, after being so impressed with the company, as their Director of Marketing. The year later, in 1983, after a trip to Italy, Schultz, realizing the prevalence of the coffee culture there and the country’s 200,000 coffee bars, he convinced the owners of Starbucks to role out the concept across the company’s stores. Previously, they just sold coffee beans and not actual coffee drinks.
While the owners resisted at first, he was persistent and was allowed to open a coffee shop in one of the new stores in Seattle, which debuted in 1984. It was an instant success. But the owners didn’t want to continue with the concept. They didn’t want Starbucks to get too big. In 1985, Schultz left Starbucks to open his own coffee bar, naming it Il Giornale, Italian for ‘The Newspaper.’
However, the story clearly didn’t end there. After two years, Schultz had achieved great success with his coffee shop, but he was thinking even bigger. He proposed buying the Starbucks company, which at the time carried a hefty price tag, so he needed help with the transaction. Attempting to raise the capital to purchase the company, Schultz famously stated that he “was turned down by 217 of the 242 investors I initially talked to. You have to have a tremendous belief in what you’re doing and just persevere.”
#19 — Jack Canfield
Born in 1944, in Fort Worth, Texas, Jack Canfield is the celebrated author and motivational speaker behind the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. As a Harvard-educated person, Canfield clearly possessed the intelligence for crafting such a book, however, it was his tenacity to see things through that helped him to catapult that book to success.
In fact, it wasn’t until the age of 48-years old, with the help of his co-author, Mark Victor Hansen, that he set out to write that book, a collection of stories to help inspire and motivate people to achieve their dreams. Yet, things didn’t exactly go according to plan once the book had been completed.
Canfield and his co-author suffered through 144 rejections from publishers over the course of a 14-month period. When one publisher claimed that it wouldn’t even sell 20,000 companies, Canfield replied that he had hoped it would sell 500,000 copies at the least. The publisher laughed at Canfield.
Eventually, they convinced one small-time publisher in Florida that they would at least have some nominal success with the book. Little did they know what was in store for them. Chicken Soup for the Soul is an internationally-acclaimed brand that’s sold over 500 million copies in over 20 languages. Canfield’s determination and unwillingness to give up speaks volumes about the characteristics that allow famous people who failed at first to keep pushing forward no matter what the situation.
#20 — James Dyson
Born in 1947, James Dyson is an English inventor and entrepreneur who launched the wildly-popular Dyson brand of products. In the late 1970’s, Dyson had the idea of using cyclonic separation to create a vacuum cleaner that wouldn’t lose suction. At the time, he was supported by his wife, who had to start working as an art teacher to make ends meet.
Dyson states that, “There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem.”
By 1991, he had a great product, but was unable to convince any of the major retailers to sell it since the vacuum bag replacement industry was so large and none of the retailers wanted to buck that trend. So, Dyson created a company after his namesake, Dyson, Inc., in 1993. He was 46-years old at the time.
However, through Dyson’s failures, he never lost hope. By 2005, Dyson had become the market leader in United States by volume sold, allowing him to launch a range of other products that are notoriously well-manufactured and work extremely efficiently, delivering a value-driven concept that the brand has become synonymous for.
#21 — Jerry Seinfeld
Born in 1954, in Brooklyn, New York, Jerry Seinfeld is a famous American comedian and actor best known for his role in the hit television series by his own namesake, Seinfeld, which aired from 1989 through 1998. However, it’s Seinfeld’s earliest failures that are most notable when speaking about his success in life.
In 1976, at the age of 22-years old, after graduating from Queens College, Seinfeld tried his hand at standup during an open-mic night in New York City where he froze on stage, forgetting the joke. From the second row, a heckler asked, “Is this your first time?” He was booed off the stage and felt miserable about the failure. But he didn’t stop. He simply kept going.
He continued his stint of standup acts over the next three years, which eventually led to an appear on an HBO Special for Rodney Dangerfield, and afterwards, to a role on the sitcom, Benson. In 1981, Seinfeld appeared adjacent to Johnny Carson on, The Tonight Show.
In 1988, at the age of 34-years old, Seinfeld created the semi-fictional series about his life with co-creator, Larry David and pitched it to NBC. It was originally named, The Seinfeld Chronicles, but was later changed to simply read, Seinfeld. In 2002, TV Guide ranked it as the greatest show of all time, then subsequently ranked it the second greatest show of all time in 2012.
#22 — Jim Carrey
Born in 1962 in Ontario, Canada, Jim Carrey is a renowned comedian, actor and entrepreneur, and quite possibly one of the most famous comic minds of our time. However, his early years were distraught with a string of failures, with a childhood steeped in poverty, which didn’t help his cause or because his family was unable to help Carrey support his ambitions.
In 1977, at the age of just 15-years old, Carrey’s family ran into severe financial problems, forcing them to move to a Toronto suburb where they all worked at the Titan Wheels factory. Carrey took a job as a janitor, doing 8-hour shifts after school had let out. However, after they left their factory jobs, they lived out of a VW camper van until they could afford enough money to move back into a house.
Once Carrey’s family had financial stability, he made his standup debut at a Toronto comedy club called Yuk Yuk’s. Supported by his dad who made the drive to help aid his son to follow his dreams, he bombed during his first time on stage. However, he didn’t give up, even after the painful failure that it caused to be heckled and booed off stage, much like Jerry Seinfeld experienced initially.
Carrey kept at it. In fact, he dropped out of high school to pursue his passion. Eventually, in 1979, at the age of just 17-years old, Carrey moved to Los Angeles, and found his way into a regular standup gig at The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. However, after a failed marriage, and 5 years had passed, Carrey threw himself into acting roles. Initially, it didn’t pan out, but he kept at it.
In 1990, after 11 years of trying to pursue his dreams, he got his break to appear on a show called, In Living Color. But it wasn’t until 1994, at the age of 32, when he got his biggest break to star in the film, Ace Ventura, 15 years after arriving in Hollywood. It was that role that helped to catapult him into stardom. While he suffered through major failure along the way, Carrey’s fame is now much talked about around the world.
#23 — 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 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 afterwards, 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.
#24 — Jack London
Born in 1876, Jack London is an American novelist who penned the poignant classics, The Call of the Wild and White Fang. He was put up for adoption by his biological mother who had attempted suicide at the time. She shot herself after news of the pregnancy after William Chaney, her husband at the time, demanded that she have an abortion.
At the age of 21-years old, in 1897, while in attendance at the University of California in Berkley, London wrote to his father, Chaney, who denied that he was the boy’s dad, instead sending him a letter that chastised him and his biological mother. Completely distraught by this, London quit Berkley and moved to the Klondike to live in the wilderness for a year.
Upon returning, he had committed to mastering the art of writing, deciding to write at least 1,000 words per day no matter what the situation. Realizing that mastery would come only through this method, he followed through with his goals, working from sunup until sundown, every single day without fail.
Yet, with every piece that he would mail to a newspaper or magazine, with the enthusiasm that he would get published, failure after failure returned in the envelopes that were sent back. No one was willing to publish his writing. After some time, he tired of the feeling of failure and rejection.
However, by 1899, after the rise of lower-priced technologies for printing presses that resulted in a boon for magazines, his first story had been published. In that year, he had earned a respectable $2,500 through his writing, equivalent to about $70,000 in today’s dollars when accounting for inflation.
Yet, London suffered through more than 50 separate rejections during a 5-month period of sending out his manuscripts and writing to various publishers. Just a few short years later, in 1903, at the age of 27-years old, London’s celebrated novel, The Call of the Wild had been published, and he had reached a dizzying height of success in his career.
#25 — Jon Hamm
Born 1971, Jon Hamm is an American actor most famous for his role in the hit television series, Mad Men, which aired from 2007 through 2015. However, it’s Hamm’s early failures, and how he overcame desperation in his career to achieve success, that’s the most notable here.
Interestingly enough, after he had moved to Los Angeles, he couldn’t land a single gig. It was so bad, in fact, that his talent agency in Hollywood cut him. Distraught, Hamm began working as a waiter and had contemplated giving up entirely on the acting business, considering himself a major failure at the time.
During that period, he gave himself an objective — either he would find stable work before he reached the age of 30, or he would entirely quit the acting business. To his delight, he found work on Mel Gibson’s Vietnam War story, We Were Soldiers, deciding to then stick it out in show business.
Good thing he did. This famous failure would eventually land the role of a lifetime in 2007’s Mad Men, turning him, not only into a famous actor, but also a cultural icon. When he was cast as Don Draper, he states that he was at “the bottom of everyone’s list.” It just goes to show you what people can accomplish when they refuse to give up on their hopes and their dreams.
#26 — Katy Perry
Born in 1984 in Santa Barbara, California, Katy Perry is an American singer and songwriter best known for her hit, I Kissed a Girl. Perry experienced a seemingly-sudden rise to fame. But did she really? In fact, Perry experienced numerous heart-wrenching failures on the path towards stardom before she ever became a household name.
In her childhood, her family faced severe struggles, oftentimes living in poverty, having to use food stamps just to get by, which had a big impact on Perry’s upbringing. From an early age, she realized that things weren’t easily obtained, and that she would have to work hard for it, something that clearly stuck with her through the failures.
Growing up, her and her siblings listened to Gospel music often. At the age of 13, she was gifted a guitar, and shortly thereafter she began performing the songs that she wrote using that very guitar. However, she was far from famous. In fact, fame was going to elude her for quite some time.
In 1999, at the age of 15-years old, she dropped out of high school after completing her GED in order to pursue music full time. She moved to Tennessee where she signed with Red Hill Records and debuted a Gospel record entitled, Katy Hudson in March, 2001 at the age of 17-years old. It sold only 200 copies before the label ceased its operations a few months later.
In 2004, at the age of 20-years old, she signed with another label called Java, which was associated with The Island Def Jam Music Group, to work on her solo record. However, after Def Jam dropped Java, the record was shelved. Afterwards, Perry signed with Columbia Records, and recorded new music over the next two years. But before the record was completed, she was dropped from that label as well.
However, her big break came in 2007 when she signed with Capitol Records. In 2008, when she released the would-be-hit song, I Kissed a Girl, Perry was 24-years old. What seemed like an overnight success actually took 9 years to accomplish from the time that she had dropped out of high school.
#27 — Keanu Reeves
In 1964, the world welcomed Keanu Reeves, one of the most famous, gifted, kind-hearted and generous actors to have ever graced the Silver Screen. However, Keanu’s life was wrought with failures, most of which were completely out of his control and his hands. To say that Keanu suffered through a monumentally-difficult upbringing would be an understatement.
In fact, nothing about Keanu’s life was straightforward, nor was it common. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, where his mother, who is of English descent from Essex, met his father, an American from Hawaii, while working in the country. At the age of 3-years old, however, his father abandoned the family. Reeves kept in touch with him for the next few years, but then didn’t see him again until he was 13-years old.
His childhood was spent in multiple locations. Initially, it was in Australia, but then, he was led to Canada. His mother had married and divorced 4 times and he had been to four separate high schools in a 5-year period. When he was 17-years old, he dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles, obtaining a green card through his stepfather, Paul Aaron, a Hollywood director.
In 1998, Reeves married Jennifer Syme with whom he fathered a baby, who unfortunately was stillborn at eight-months old, which led to the disintegration of the couple’s relationship. Tragically, 18 months after the relationship ended, Syme died in a car accident.
Reeves starred in numerous minor roles in films prior to his breakthrough role in River’s Edge, which led to the role in the widely-popular film, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Ultimately, however, it was his role in the 1999 blockbuster movie, The Matrix, that resulted in an unprecedented rise to fame.
#28 — Madonna Ciccone
Born in 1958, Madonna Veronica Ciccone, who goes by the stage name, Madonna, is an American pop culture icon who’s often referred to as the Queen of Pop. Born in Michigan, where her father worked as an engineer in the automotive industry, Madonna lost her mother early on to breast cancer at the age of just 5-years old, which had a great impact on her life.
In 1978, while attending the University Michigan School of Music on a dance scholarship, she dropped out to move to New York City to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional dancer. With little money to support herself, she took a job at Dunkin’ Donuts. However, after an incident that occurred shortly after she was hired, where she squirted jelly on a customer accidentally, she was fired.
With only $35 in her pocket on arrival in New York City, Madonna searched for other work. She took random jobs where she could, primarily dancing as a backup dancer for modern dance troupes. One night, when she was returning home after a rehearsal, she was robbed at knife point by two men, leaving her scorned and fearful about her choices to abruptly move to New York City.
However, instead of giving up, even through all the failure and setbacks, she pushed forward. She landed small parts singing and performing with bands such as the Breakfast Club, and eventually she caught the eye of Sire Records founder, Seymour Stein. In 1982, at the age of 24-years old, she debuted her single, Everybody, followed by, Burning Up, both which became huge club hits.
Subsequently, she released her self-titled album, Madonna, and has since become one of the most famous singers to have ever lived, influencing many other modern-day singers and professional dancers.
#29 — 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.
#30 — Mark Cuban
Born in 1958 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Mark Cuban is an American entrepreneur and pop culture icon, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of the hit television show, Shark Tank. However, things weren’t always so rosy for Cuban. He learned failure the hard way, by failing numerous times, again and again before he ever attained any semblance of fame.
In his earliest years, Cuban was always a tinkerer with an entrepreneurial spirit. From selling garbage bags to running newspapers and everything in between, Cuban learned early on how the mechanics of business worked, but that didn’t mean he didn’t experience the gut-wrenching pain of failure along the way.
In 1982, at the age of 24-years old, he moved to Dallas, Texas, on the word of some of his college friends, in a 1977 Fiat X19 that had a hole in the floorboard. Upon his arrival, he worked numerous odd jobs. He simply couldn’t find something that he was good at.
He failed at bartending because he couldn’t open a bottle of wine without the cork falling in. He failed at short-order cooking because he never knew when the food was ready unless he cut off a piece and tasted it. And he failed as a salesman at a computer distributor when he was fired after less than a year on the job.
Cuban simply couldn’t get anything right. At the age of 25 years-old, one year after he arrived in Dallas, he decided to start his own company, MicroSolutions, selling software, doing training and configuring networks and computers. He grew that company to $30 million dollars in revenue, and it was later acquired by CompuServe in 1990 at the age of 32-years old.
That gave him the ability to create Broadcast.com in 1995, at the age of 37-years old, a company that was later acquired by Yahoo in 1999 when it was sold for $5.7 billion in stock. Cuban was 41-years old, famous and wealthy beyond measure. Although he had failed numerous times and been through the ringer, he never gave up.
#31 — Mark Zuckerberg
There’s little need in the way of an introduction to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, what can be considered as the world’s most successful site that reaches nearly the whole connected world. He was also the inspiration for the popular movie, The Social Network.
However, while Zuckerberg is considered wildly famous, rich and popular today, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, shortly after starting up Facebook, which started as thefacebook.com, Zuckerberg was sued by Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda, resulting in an enormous level of frustration and stress. That case was later settled for 1.2 million Facebook shares.
Before launching thefacebook.com, Zuckerberg created Facemash, a system that allowed students to pick the better looking person from a set of photos, either male or female. However, students complained that the photos were being used without their consent, and it was later shut down by Harvard, forcing Zuckerberg to issue apologies and for the student paper to call the site “completely improper.”
However, Facebook’s success in undeniable. Zuckerberg is now amongst the world’s richest individuals, far surpassing anything he might have envisioned his success to be.
#32 — Mary Kay Ash
Born in 1918, Mary Kay Ash, born Mary Kathlyn Wagner, was the founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, a direct-selling, multi-level marketing cosmetics company based in Addison, Texas. After marrying early on in life, in 1935, at the age of 17-years old, she became a housewife, had two children, and would later go on to sell books door-to-door when her husband was fighting in the war.
However, in 1945, she divorced, and eventually went to work for a company called Stanley Home Products. Yet in 1963, at the age of 45-years old, she retired. She had been passed up for a promotion and instead of continuing what she felt to be a dead-end career, she decided to write a book instead. That book turned into what would be her business plan for the business she intended to start with her new husband, Mel Ash.
However, Mel died just a month before the new business was set to start. One month after he died, she took the plunge by taking a $5,000 investment from her eldest son, Richard Rogers. She opened up her first storefront in Dallas and created the company to help empower women to succeed in a marketplace that was very much in favor of men.
Mary Kay Cosmetics grew beyond her wildest dreams. Today, the company has over 3 million consultants around the world with sales topping $3 billion annually. By 1968, the company had gone public, but was later taken private again after 17 years as a public company.
#33 — 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.
#34 — Milton Hershey
Born 1857, Milton Hershey is the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company located in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was early on in life, while working on the family’s farm, that he learned the values of persistence and hard work, carrying that with him throughout his life during his elder years.
Milton Hershey left school after just two-and-a-half years, instead opting to apprentice with a local printer. One day, he dropped his hat on accident into one of the machines there and was subsequently fired from that job. That was 1871 and Hershey was just 14-years old at the time.
After working for a candy factory near Lancaster, he decided to start his own business, opening a candy store close to Philadelphia. That business failed. He left town and headed to New Orlean’s and then Chicago. Unable to find the right opportunities, he continued moving around until he settled in New York City where he started working for Huyler’s, a candy and restaurant chain.
After a few years on the job, he quit and decided to sell candies on the street in New York City but was also unsuccessful at that as well. Disheartened by failure, Hershey moved back to the farm where he grew up, experimenting with chocolates and candies, considering he had a large supply of fresh milk from the dairy cows. It was here that he learned how to make delicious chocolates from condensed milk.
In 1893, at the age of 36-years old, he established the Lancaster Caramel Company, which he eventually sold for one million dollars seven years later in 1900, giving him the ability to start the Hershey Chocolate Company. When Hershey Chocolate Company first opened its doors, Hershey was 43-years old. Success didn’t come early for Hershey, nor did it come easy. But Hershey’s chocolates are still today one of the most famous and best-tasting brands of chocolate in the world.
#35 — Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi to a single teenaged 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 talkshow in Chicago. Today, she is a multi-billionaire and has had a major impact on a large part of 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.
#36 — Richard Branson
Richard Branson, born in 1950, is an English billionaire entrepreneur and business magnate well known around the world for being one of the most famous and successful individuals at the helm of a global brand, Virgin Group, with businesses in a wide variety of fields such as music, telecom, hospitality and travel.
In the late 1960’s, Branson started the Student magazine, where he interviewed prominent people. He also started to sell records through the magazine at a discounted rate, helping it result in an overnight success. Branson opened a record shop in 1971, but was labeling records sold as export stock, and thus had to pay a hefty fine and unpaid taxes. His mother had to re-mortgage the house to help his son pay the settlement cost with the government.
Ultimately, however, the Virgin Records store was a success, and it allowed him to create his own record label. By 1992, at the age of 42-years old, he had created Virgin Atlantic and the Virgin Megastores. But in order to keep the airline afloat, he was pressured into selling the record label or have to suffer a major financial failure and loss in the airline industry. He sold the label to EMI for £500 million and was completely distraught after this because the record business was his first foray into the business world.
Eventually, the airline succeeded and the Virgin brand today is synonymous with value and customer service, also making Branson one of the richest people on the planet. He simply refused to give up, even through all the failures and the setbacks.
#37 — Robert T. Kiyosaki
Born in 1947, Robert Kiyosaki is an entrepreneur, investor and the wildly-popular author who wrote the Rich Dad Poor Dad series. He also founded the Rich Dad Company, which provides financial education to children and adults, along with creating the Cashflow board game, which helps to instill the same educational concepts as much of the books in a game format.
Yet before all that fame, Kiyosaki faced a number of failures along the way. His road to fame and wealth was wrought with a number of setbacks and defeats. In 1977, at the age of 30-years old, Kiyosaki started a company that sold surfer’s wallets, with nylon and velcro, but failed to intellectually protect the products. Facing stiff competition, that company eventually went bankrupt.
Afterwards, he started a company selling t-shirts and hats and other licensed products for heavy metal rock groups. That company also went bankrupt in 1980. He was 33-years old at the time. In 1985, at the age of 38-years old, he started a financial education company to teach investors and entrepreneurs various strategies for investing in real estate and other financial products. In 1994, at the age of 47-years old, he sold that company and began his investing and writing career.
However, it wasn’t until 1997, at the age of 50-years old, when he penned the Rich Dad Poor Dad book, that he achieved international notoriety. The book has since sold over 26 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 51 languages.
#38 — Shawn Carter aka Jay-Z
Born in 1969, Shawn Carter, also known as Jay-Z, is an American singer, songwriter and entrepreneur who’s sold over 100 million records and rose up against extraordinary odds to succeed in life. While quite possibly considered as one of the most famous and successful rappers of all time, his early life was dominated by a string of failures and unstable family life that led to a career of dealing drugs.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Carter grew up in the housing projects known as the Marcy Houses in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. After his father had abandoned the family, it was his mother that raised him and his three siblings. He became passionate about music early on, appearing on several early recordings of artists such as Jaz-O and Big Daddy Kane’s, Daddy’s Home.
However, while wanting to pursue a record career, he realized that no label wanted to sign him, so he opted instead to selling CDs out of the trunk of his car. Every major label had turned him down, so he did what any enterprising young individual would do that was committed to succeeding — he co-founded his own label called Roc-A-Fella Records.
Once the label had been setup, he sought out to find a distribution partner, which was no easy task. Ultimately, after finding one, Jay-Z released his debut album entitled, Reasonable Doubt, which reached number 23 on the Billboard 200, and it eventually hit platinum status, with Rolling Stones calling it one of the 500 greatest albums of all time. This was the start of a long and very successful career.
#39 — 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.
#40 — 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.
#41 — Steve Jobs
Born in 1955, the late Steve Jobs was an iconic billionaire, inventor and entrepreneur responsible for the 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.
#42 — Steven Spielberg
Born in 1946, in Cincinnati, Ohio, Steven Spielberg is an American Academy Award-winning director, producer and entrepreneur responsible for some of the biggest and most successful movies and movie franchises in history such as E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jaws and Jurassic Park.
After his parents’ divorce, Spielberg moved to Los Angeles, California with his father where he applied to the University of Souther California’s film school, but was rejected for his poor grades, instead opting to attend the less-prominent California State University at Long Beach.
In 1979, Spielberg released a film that flopped, entitled 1941. He had been riding high on the success of his previous films such as Jaws. Although 1941 was not a financial failure, it was a critical failure, and resulted in the loss some of Spielberg’s notoriety at the time.
Ultimately, however, Spielberg refused to give up, even after that major failure. He could have called it quits, but he refused to do so. He pushed forward, and because of it, we’ve had some incredible blockbusters such as Schindler’s List, The Color Purple, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and so many more.
#43 — Sylvester Stallone
Born in 1946, Sylvester Stallone is an American actor and director best known for his role as Rocky Balboa in the hit boxing film, Rocky. Stallone moved to New York City in the 1970’s to pursue his dream of being an actor. However, all he seemed to face was rejection, failure and a string of people telling him he talked funny, walked funny and couldn’t act.
He was broke at the time. It was during this period that he was forced to sell his dog for $25 just to pay for his electricity bill. He had been rejected 1,500 times by talent scouts, agents and everyone in the film industry that he could get a meeting with. He would sit for hours on end in offices just to wait to the see the person who would ultimately reject him again. He did this repeatedly, over and over.
Eventually, this wore on Stallone. He was broke and homeless. He lived and slept in the New Jersey Port Authority bus terminal for three weeks while trying to scrimp and save money together for another apartment. He was just about as desperate as anyone could be in their lives.
After writing the script for Rocky, he was offered a tremendous amount of money with one caveat — that he not star in the film. The offer was raised as high as $325,000 with the condition that he not act in the film. He refused time and again. Eventually, he accepted just $35,000 and a percentage of the film’s sales. That film grossed over $200 million in the box office!
#44 — 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.
#45 — 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.
#46 — Vincent Van Gogh
Born in 1853, Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most influential painters in modern history, and is accredited with painting some of the most notable works of art in all time. Throughout his life, Van Gogh created 2,100 various pieces of art, which included 860 oil paintings, most of which were painted within the last 2 years of his life.
However, during Van Gogh’s brief 37 years of existence, prior to committing suicide in 1890, he had only sold a total of one painting. Yes, just one painting. For the most part, Van Gogh considered himself a failure and didn’t feel that life was worth living. That also could be because much of his life was lived steeped in poverty and battling mental illnesses.
While Van Gogh suffered through psychosis and delusional states, his bold impressionist work and dramatic brushstrokes have resonated with the art community. While he only sold one piece of art prior to his death, he had only begun the bulk of his oil paintings just two years prior to committing suicide.
Still, it’s clear that Van Gogh was a true genius, with an unending imagination and talent to transform the pictures in his mind into wild landscapes and portraits filled with illustrative brushstrokes and bold impressionistic vibrancy.
#47 — 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.
#48 — Winston Churchill
Born in 1874, Winston Churchill is famously known as being the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from October 26th, 1951 through April 6th, 1955, and is often credited with several very popular quotes about failure such as “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts,” and, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
In 1893, Churchill applied to attend the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. He failed that exam 2 times, and on the third try, he succeeded, but only after changing from the infantry division to the cavalry division, which had a lower threshold for entrance. However, he excelled during his tenure there.
During his political career, he lost a total of 5 elections, including his very first one, which included three elections in a row during the years of 1922 through 1924. Throughout his life, he battled clinical depression. He also had a severe lateral lisp, and had trouble speaking and making speeches at times, having dentures manufactured to help repair the impediments his speech caused.
However, Churchill was also one of the most successful and renowned politicians to have ever lived.