Even the most famous performers and prosperous entrepreneurs had to start somewhere. For many, that place is, ironically, failure. On the long road to success, failure is an inevitable step many people must take. While no one likes failing, those experiences teach us far more valuable lessons than succeeding on the first try. The key is taking what you've learned and applying it to your next attempt.
It might seem easier to give up on your dreams, but what if Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, or Michael Jordan had thrown in the towel at the first sign of trouble? Our world would be a much different — and far worse — place if they had. Because they overcame all the obstacles thrown their way, you can too.
These 10 stories of legendary innovators who learned how to fail in order to succeed will inspire you to not only believe in your dreams, but to go after them.
1. Abraham Lincoln
From his first foray into the Illinois state legislature in 1832 to his presidential election in 1860, Lincoln lost eight races for various political offices. Despite all these setbacks, he didn't quit because he was committed to making an impact on his country. Not only did his tenacity finally pay off in a successful presidential race, but it gave him the skills to lead the nation through a turbulent time. Today, many regard his four years in office as one of the most well-respected and successful presidencies in history. Without his advocacy for equal rights, many Americans wouldn't be able to vote in this year's election, proving just how long his legacy has endured.
2. Oprah Winfrey
Long before she was the world's first Black female billionaire, Oprah Winfrey was publicly fired from her first television job as an anchor in Baltimore for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories." But instead of listening to her critics, she followed her heart. After she began hosting a local daytime TV show, People are Talking, she continued to gravitate toward human interest stories that would become her trademark on The Oprah Winfrey Show and later, Oprah.
The talk show revolution she started still influences the television industry — and the world. In her 2013 Harvard commencement speech, she hoped to share some of what she'd learned over her long and successful career: "There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction."
3. Henry Ford
While you might not love your daily commute, you should still thank Henry Ford for making it, and many other forms of modern transportation, possible. After watching his first automobile business go bankrupt in a year, he easily could have quit, or at least tried to break into another industry. But he trusted his ideas enough to believe in them when no one else did. Finally, in 1903, he manufactured success in the Model A and then, most famously, the Model T in 1908.
Besides being the father of modern transportation, he also invented the modern assembly line. Though his long business career was filled with both successes and failures, he met each one with the resilience he'd taught himself from the very beginning.
5. J.K. Rowling
Today, Muggles of all ages can't imagine a world without the magic of Harry Potter but, once upon a time, J.K. Rowling wasn't so sure. Like many authors, she was no stranger to rejection. The first book of her literary sensation Harry Potter series was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury decided to take a chance on it. Rowling also recently shared two more rejection letters for a 2013 crime novel written under her pseudonym, with her Twitter followers.
She hoped that by showcasing her own shortcomings she could inspire other writers to never give up on their dreams. Case in point: look what happened when she didn't.
6. Michael Jordan
Many basketball fans and players view Michael Jordan as the ultimate game-changer. (Even non-sports fans might say he changed the game in Hollywood with the animated/live-action cinematic masterpiece, Space Jam.) But this NBA All-Star Games MVP might have never made it past his high school basketball court if he'd given up after his first failure. As a high school sophomore, Jordan was cut from the varsity basketball team. Instead of being discouraged, he motivated himself to put in extra practice time and made the team the next year. Learning this lesson of dedication early allowed Jordan to succeed later in both college and professional basketball, no matter what obstacles came his way. "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed," he famously said. "I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
7. Vera Wang
After a childhood and adolescence spent training to become an Olympic figure skater, Vera Wang realized she wasn't good enough to make the team. "So I quit. And I think quitting was a sign to me that I failed," she told The Cut. " But instead of giving into her perception of failure when her first dream died, she found a new one in fashion. Shortly after college, she began working at Vogue and spent 17 years there. Eventually, however, she was passed over for the editor-in-chief position and realized her career was at a standstill. The tireless athlete in her pushed Wang to begin her own high fashion line. "No matter how bad things get, no matter how discouraged I feel, no matter how much of a failure I feel like ... I try to believe there's a reason, there's a process, and there's a learning experience," she added. The lessons she learned from her two failures enabled Wang to succeed as one of the biggest names in wedding dress design as well as general couture.
8. The Wright Brothers
Hardly anyone can imagine a world without all the wonders of modern transportation, especially airplanes. But if the Wright brothers had given up after their first two failed attempts at flight, our world would be totally different. Their first full-sized kite glider barely got off the ground during their first two test flights at Kittyhawk in 1900 and 1901. The third time, however, proved to be the charm. In 1902, their latest glider design not only worked, but successfully completed 700 subsequent flights.
After another year of work, they added a small motor to the glider, creating the first powered flight. That plane first flew 120 feet over 20 seconds. Since then, millions of aviators have built on the Wright brothers' original idea. Neil Armstrong even carried a piece of the original 1903 Wright Flyer in his spacesuit pocket during his legendary moon landing, showing just how far we'd come in mere decades.
9. Jay Z
It's difficult, if not impossible, to imagine today's hip hop without Shawn Carter's influence. A decade ago, however, the artist, now known as Jay Z, couldn't convince a single label to give him a record deal. Instead of giving up on his dream, Carter decided that if he couldn't join 'em, he'd beat 'em at their own rap game. Believing in both his musical talent and business knack, he founded his own record company, Roc-a-fella Records, with partners Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs. In 2004, after 10 years running Roc-a-fella Records, Carter sold the imprint to its parent label Island Def Jam and became the president and CEO of Def Jam Records. Both in and out of the recording studio, Carter has had a pervasive impact on all kinds of modern music and overall pop culture.
10. Walt Disney
Everyone's heard the phrase: "It all started with a mouse," but Walt Disney's long and successful career actually started with the end to his first job. When Disney was in his early 20s, the Kansas City Star fired him because his editor thought he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Despite this criticism, Disney went on to found Laugh-o-gram Studios, which went bankrupt. To overcome these setbacks, Disney went back to the drawing board ... literally.
Even after creating the now world-famous character, Mickey Mouse, Disney couldn't find distribution for any of the first, silent animated shorts featuring Mickey. Once sound made its way into film, however, Disney created a new short, Steamboat Willie, which became an instant sensation cartoon that set into motion his lifelong success.
No matter how many obstacles life threw at these 10 inspiring people, they persevered. And once they finally did achieve success, it tasted even sweeter because it didn't come easily to them.
Strayer University offers in-demand subject areas, flexible scheduling and over 120 years of making it possible. Winter classes online and on-campus start January 3rd. Possible starts now at Strayer.edu.