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.