As achievers ourselves, we are enamored by the wildly successful. And rightfully so. Their accomplishments serve us as both targets and measuring sticks along our own success journey.But, digging deeper into most of these people’s backstories will often reveal even greater inspiration. With little exception, their end success was preceded by a mountain of heartache, rejection and even epic failure. Relentless pursuit of their goals and dreams despite so much defeat has been a driving force behind these icons.
Here are 6 ultra-successful people that failed forward to success:
1. Fred Smith
While attending Yale in 1962, Smith wrote a paper for an economics class outlining the idea for a worldwide, overnight package delivery service. The professor returned the paper to him and commented that, to earn better than a C grade, the idea would have to be feasible. Ignoring this rebuke, Smith went on to form FedEx, the world’s first overnight delivery company.
2. Michael Jordan
Jordan was cut from his high school’s basketball team as a sophomore. Within 2 years though he not only came back to make the team, but was also named high school All-American his senior year. In his professional career he lost over 300 games and missed over 9000 shots, 26 of them were potential game winners. Yet, Michael Jordan lead his team to 6 NBA championships, was named league MVP 5 times and became only the second player ever to score 3000 points in a single season!
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
3. Abraham Lincoln
Perhaps one of the best examples of failing forward to success is the 16th president of the United States. Abraham Lincoln lost no less than 9 bids for various public offices prior to his presidency. He was fired from multiple jobs, failed at least twice as a business owner and even went bankrupt. But, At 52 years of age Lincoln was elected president and led the nation through its bloodiest war to preserve the union and abolish slavery.
4. Lucille Ball
From the age of 15, she wanted to act even though her drama school teacher once wrote to her mother, “Lucy’s wasting her time and ours…”. Ball went on to be fired from her first two Broadway acting gigs and became nicknamed “Queen of the B’s” for the number of second rate films she had roles in.
Today though we know Lucille Ball as the redheaded firecracker from the TV show, I Love Lucy, named in a 2012 ABC News survey as ‘The Best TV Show of All Time’. Her career persistence resulted in 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, 4 Emmy Awards, and many other TV and Film honors. She is arguably the most recognized female actress of the 20th century.
“I don’t suppose that hard work, discipline, and a perfectionist attitude toward my work did me any harm.”
5. Theodor S. Geisel
Geisel worked as an illustrator and cartoonist during the Great Depression. But his love was for children’s books. His first manuscript was rejected by 27 publishers with responses such as, “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling”. Only a chance meeting with an old college friend saved the pages from being burned. The book was published in 1937 opening the door for Geisel to become one of the most popular children’s book authors of all time, selling over 600 million copies. He penned most of his works under his pseudonym, Dr. Seuss.
6. Thomas Edison
Edison’s grade school teachers deemed him “too stupid to learn anything”. He was fired from jobs for being “non-productive”. He persisted in inventing but failed in gaining traction with most items. In fact, the thing Thomas Edison is most remembered for was not even his invention but rather the refinement of an existing idea… the light bulb. And even in that, it took him 10,000 tries to perfect it!
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Thousands more of these failing forward stories exist. In them, lessons abound. Grit, determination, persistence, and even some luck are clearly all part of the achievement recipe. But, there’s no denying that failure is something likely, and even useful, along the road to success.
Thank you for reading my article! Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.
What is Motivation?
The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.
Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).
Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.
However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals.
How to Get Motivated
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.
This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.
4 Ways to Make Starting Easier
1. Schedule it
One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it.
When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.
An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
2. Measure something
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.
3. Extrinsic motivation
This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.
4. Make it public
Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.
How to Stay Motivated Long Term
When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.
These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:
1. Stay in your goldilocks zone
The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging.
The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.
2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals
Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within.
For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.
3. Use “chunking”
Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.
Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.
For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.
4. Be flexible
We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.
5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion
Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.
This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.
Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.
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