Thought Catalog

15 Wildly Successful People Who Completely Failed Before Achieving Their Dream

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1. JK Rowling

Twitter / SBTV News
Twitter / SBTV News
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” — JK Rowling

JK Rowling was living off of welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. Even after the draft was completed, however, she struggled to find a publisher who’d be willing to take a chance on it. She struggled with depression, was a single mother, and had no idea where to go next. But, finally, at Bloomsbury publishing, an editor’s daughter got ahold of the manuscript and begged to be able to read the whole thing.

In 1997 the first Harry Potter book was published. In 2004, JK Rowling became the first billionaire author.

2. Marilyn Monroe

Flickr / Siddhesh Mangela
Flickr / Siddhesh Mangela
“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” — Marilyn Monroe

One of Monroe’s first agencies turned her down, and recommended she find a job in the secretarial field because she’d never succeed as a model.

3. Thomas Edison

Wikimedia / Louis Bachrach
Wikimedia / Louis Bachrach
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” — Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison’s teachers openly told him that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He probably began to think they were right when he set off to build the world’s first viable lightbulb, but 10,000 tries later, he finally nailed it and that’s why we all have electric light today!

4. Stephen King

Twitter / Jon Winokur
Twitter / Jon Winokur
“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.” — Stephen King

You couldn’t pay anyone to take Stephen King’s first manuscript.

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell,” one publisher told him.

King was eventually driven to the point where he threw the entire typed-out text into the trash can. His wife retrieved it for him, and urged him to keep trying. He did.

5. Henry Ford

Wikimedia / Newsweek
Wikimedia / Newsweek
“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” — Henry Ford

Henry Ford got financial backing for his first automobile company in 1900. Production of his new vehicles was taking longer than expected, however, and his investors dumped him after only a year and a half.  He received another chance a few years later, but once again failed to produce a viable automobile. Henry Ford was down and out.

However, he eventually received backing to try a third time. It was this company that produced the Ford Model-A, the forerunner to the Model-T, and all other Ford vehicles to come over the next century.

6. Bill Gates

Flickr / OnInnovation
Flickr / OnInnovation
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” — Bill Gates

A college drop-out and owner of a failed business, nobody would have expected young Bill Gates to go anywhere.

He eventually tried starting a new company called “Microsoft” and the rest is, as they say, history.

7. Colonel Sanders

Wikimedia / Edgy01
Wikimedia / Edgy01
“You got to like your work. You have got to like what you are doing, you have got to be doing something worthwhile so you can like it – because it is worthwhile, that it makes a difference, don’t you see?” — Colonel Sanders

Sanders’ early career was plagued with failure. He was a failure tire salesman, the gas station he managed closed during the Great Depression, and his North Carolina storefront had burned to the ground. Even at the age of 65 his one successful chicken restaurant was going out of business because of a new highway route.

Despite all this, he never ever quit. He began franchising out his chicken, and eventually made a fortune with “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

8. Will Smith

Flickr / Walmart
Flickr / Walmart
“Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.” — Will Smith

Will Smith owed the IRS over 2.8 million dollars in 1989. Seeing his finances fall apart around him, he desperately looked for a new avenue to support himself. He found it when he was signed as the Fresh Prince.

9. Steven Spielberg

Wikimedia / DoD
Wikimedia / DoD
“You have many years ahead of you to create the dreams that we can’t even imagine dreaming. You have done more for the collective unconscious of this planet than you will ever know.” — Steven Spielberg

Because his grades didn’t hit the mark, Speilberg was rejected from the Southern California School of Cinematic Arts not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions.

Decades later, he is now a trustee at the university.

10. Albert Einstein

Wikimedia / World-Telegram photo
Wikimedia / World-Telegram photo
“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein

Einstein didn’t speak much more than a word until he was nine years old, causing many adults and teachers to assume he was mentally slow. He was expelled from school for his disrespectful and rebellious attitude, and was denied entrance to another.

Today his name is synonymous with “genius.”

11. Michael Jordan

Wikimedia / Gapvenezia
Wikimedia / Gapvenezia
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” — Michael Jordan

Jordan was rejected from his high school basketball varsity team because he just didn’t make the cut. He worked up from there, however, and eventually became one of the best basketball players…ever.

12. Dr. Seuss

Wikimedia / Al Ravenna
Wikimedia / Al Ravenna
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” — Dr. Seuss

Over twenty publishers refused to accept Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book. He know has published dozens upon dozens and is a household name for anyone with kids, or for anyone who was once a kid themselves.

13. Oprah Winfrey

Flickr / Alan Light
Flickr / Alan Light
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” — Oprah Winfrey

Oprah was fired from her first anchoring job because the station thought she got “too emotionally invested in her stories.”

14. Orville and Wilbur Wright

Wikimedia / John T. Daniels
Wikimedia / John T. Daniels
“The airplane stays up because it doesn’t have the time to fall.” — Orville Wright

Pretty much everyone told them what they wanted to do was impossible, and the skeptics were proven right every single time. Until that one fateful day at Kitty Hawk when they weren’t.

15. Harrison Ford

Wikimedia / Mireille Ampilhac
Wikimedia / Mireille Ampilhac
“I’ve always been somewhere down from the top, so I’ve never had to suffer being knocked off the top.” — Harrison Ford

After his first movie role, a producer told Harrison Ford that he should get out of the show biz, because he’d never have success there. He eventually began working part-time as a carpenter to pay all his bills, which sustained him long enough to meet a young filmmaker named George Lucas. TC mark

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