Success through failed experience.
Notable people throughout history who we all admire and look up to have interesting stories that will inspire you. Just like you and I they have at some point gone through difficult times, some broken, exhausted, tired, faithless and depressed. But they found success through failure, happiness in worry, gained speed when they faced mountains, embraced hope when down and learned ways to conquer their fears. You too can learn from their stories and draw inspiration from their problem-solving perspectives.
“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” — Charlie Chaplin
Failure will make you better.
Abraham Lincoln – 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. 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.
Albert Einstein – The man that we all know as one of the most brilliant minds to have ever lived, was once considered a major failure. 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. 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. He later 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.
Beyonce Knowles – This star rose early on in life. Achieving dizzying success wasn’t without failure for Queen Bey. 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.
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.
Bill Gates – Seattle, Washington, His hometown, Gates by no means struggled as a child. 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. 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. It was definitely the right move.
Charles Darwin – in the same year as Abraham Lincoln Darwin was born, in 1809, Darwin’s life was once considered a major failure by even his own father. 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. He later 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.” He was often summed up as a failure in life, or as an “idle gentlemen,” which was another phrase used by his father.
Things didn’t remain that way for Darwin. He is today 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.
Charlie Chaplin – From 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.
Chris Gardener – Gardners’ story 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.
Colonel Harland Sanders – 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. 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. With just a $105 social security check same year 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.
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 died in what’s been coined a “mysterious” fire. His father 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.
J.K. Rowling – Largely regarded as 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.
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.
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.
Now you know you’re not the only who’s been through a lot and you know also that you have no excuse to succeed in life. Dust yourself, pick the pieces you have left and live the life you desire.
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