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8 Famous Failures and How They Overcame Their Setbacks

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If there’s anything we can take away from the following failure-to-success stories, it’s never give up. But the real question is, how did the 8 people below overcome rejection and failure? Possible answers below…


Stephen King
King’s first book (Carrie) was rejected 30 times. One publisher said, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” King was understandably over it and tossed the Carrie manuscript in the garbage. His wife Tabitha retrieved it from the trash, he submitted it once more, and it went on to sell 30 million copies.


Bill Gates
He’s one of the wealthiest people in the world now, but Gate’s first venture (Traf-O-Data, a gadget that read and analyzed traffic tapes) failed incredibly. He learned from that failure and created Microsoft’s product a couple years later.


Albert Einstein
Einstein started off slow—he wasn’t able to talk until he was almost 4–his teachers said he’d “never amount to much.” They reported, from elementary school to college, that he was lazy, sloppy, and insubordinate. (He was actually just bored with basics like rote memorization.)


Steve Jobs
You probably don’t remember this product, but Jobs was behind an early Apple computer called Lisa. It was a commercial failure and in 1982, it was the latest in his string of professional hiccups. In 1985, Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he started in 1976 only to return in 1996 and brought Apple from near bankruptcy by 1998.


Walt Disney
Disney started out bad from the very beginning. At 22, he declared bankruptcy after his cartoon company, Laugh-O-Gram Studios, went bust. He sold his only valuable possession (a camera) and moved to Hollywood with $40 in hopes of making movies.


J. K. Rowling
Rowling considered herself as “the biggest failure [she] knew.” She had no job, she had just ended an allegedly abusive marriage, she was diagnosed as clinically depressed, she also had a baby, and she was living off welfare benefits. But to her, her failure was liberating, “I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”


Oprah Winfrey
Winfrey is a little different from the rest of the people on this list in that her failures and pitfalls happened before her career started. She had numerous family problems (too horrible to list here), she ran away from home at 13, had a baby at 14 (which died soon after). But she won Miss Black Tennessee at 17, got a radio broadcasting job at 18. What she says of failure? “There is no such thing as failure,” she recently said in her Harvard commencement speech. “Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”


The Beatles
The band was famously rejected by Decca Recods. The record company stated, “Guitar groups are on the way out.” We all know how that turned out. They kept playing the club circuit until five or so months after the Decca rejection, they were signed to EMI.

So how did these 8 people overcome rejection, failure, and ultimately succeed? Rick Newman, the chief business correspondent at U.S. News & World Report,  has done a lot of research on the subject and he breaks their attributes in his book Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success

1. They accept failure and recognize their own mistakes.
2. They compartmentalize their emotions and they don’t internalize bad feelings.
3. They have a bias toward action responding aggressively to a challenge.
4. They change their minds sometimes: the need to discard old thinking and reprogram a dream.
5. They prepare for things to go wrong–rebounders are not necessarily optimists.
6. They’re willing to accept inconveniences as long as it leads them closer to an important goal.
7. They’re willing to wait–overnight success is deceptively untrue.
8. They have heroes: rebounders set and meet higher standards when inspired by others.
9. They have more than passion–success requires drive, too.

Photo credits: Getty Images

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