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The Weekly 5: Famous Failures

In Balanced Achievement’s ‘The Weekly 5’ series, we aim to present you with five ideas, products, or stories that will motivate you to take steps towards enhancing the quality of your life. We will look at a wide variety of topics with information that can assist you on the road towards ultimate fulfillment. This week, we look at five inspirational stories from some of history’s most Famous Failures.


Famous Failures & Immortal Successes:

If you explore the lives of history’s most successful individuals, the true immortals, you will discover that they relied on a variety of different personal characteristics and skills as they made their way towards immense fortunate and enduring fame. It is easy to see how different fields and professions demand different talents and abilities, and this makes it easy to point out the dissimilarities of individuals who have forever etched their names in the history book of success. For example, the qualities that Mahatma Gandhi needed to exhibit while leading millions towards peaceful independence from the British Raj differ greatly from the physical talents that Babe Ruth put on display when he was captivating an entire country.

While there are plenty of differences that can be pointed out, there are also a number of similarities between the stories of those who have achieved truly great things. Maybe most importantly, is that every person to be remembered as a great success understood that failure is part of the achievement process.

There is no questioning the fact that the vast majority of history’s immortal successes can just as easily be labeled as famous failures. By exploring the lives of five of the most successful famous failures, we can begin to understand why setbacks and challenges shouldn’t be viewed negatively but rather seen as nothing more than opportunities to learn and grow.

1.) Walt Disney:

A picture of Walt Disney is shown drawing Mickey Mouse. Walt is one of the famous failures we highlight in this article.Walt Disney will forever be remembered for revolutionizing the industry of animation and building the Disney theme park empires that still annually attract millions of people today. Over the course of his lifetime, Disney created over 80 featured films, accumulated hundreds of honors, including 22 Academy Awards, and opened the monumental theme parks in Florida and California that are synonymous with his name.

The road to immortality for Disney, however, wasn’t without bumps and setbacks along the way. In fact, Disney dealt with levels of adversity that would certainly cause many to give up on their dream. Walt’s first setback came at 22 years old when he was fired from a Missouri newspaper that said he lacked creativity and didn’t have the imagination to conceptualize good ideas. Disney also saw one of his earliest ventures, Laugh-O-Gram Studios, go bankrupt, and had one of his earliest cartoons, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, stolen by a company that hired away the artists who were drawing for Walt’s company. Furthermore, Disney was told by MGM Studios, in 1927, that his cartoon Mickey Mouse would never work.

Like the vast majority of true successes in the world, Walt Disney realized that setbacks, challenges, and failures didn’t have to determine his future destiny. By staying true to his deepest desires, meticulously honing his skills, and learning from the adversity he faced, Disney showed what true success is typically built upon. He told us:

All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

2.) J.K. Rowling:

J.K. Rowlings, the author of the Harry Potter book series, is shown holding one of her books. She is one of the famous failures that we explore in this article.By writing and publishing the momentously popular Harry Potter book series, J.K. Rowling etched her name in the history books and became the most successful author of the last century. To date, the seven Harry Potter books that she wrote have amassed over $400 million dollars in sales, and in the process accrued over $20 billion more through movie adaptations, merchandise, and sponsorships. For her writings, Rowling has won numerous awards, including a Hugo Award for best novel, and became one of only a few women to become a self-made billionaire.

Since Rowling’s successes are so immense and profound, it is easy to forget about her truer story which is filled with immense trials, setbacks, and obstacles. Just after she began writing the first book of the Harry Potter series, in 1991, Rowling was sent into a deep state of depression by her mother’s unexpected death. Over the next few years, Rowling made little progress on the book as she moved to Portugal, fell in love, had a child, fell out of love, and went through a disheartening divorce.

Upon returning home to England devastated and still depressed, Rowlings was faced with the challenge of raising her child as a single mother with nothing more than unemployment benefits. Eventually, Rowling found the strength to continue writing while her daughter took naps, yet still, the initial Harry Potter manuscript was denied by 12 different publishers and Rowling was advised to look for a day job because she had no future writing children’s books.

Without having the strength and courage to overcome both personal and professional challenges, the Harry Potter book series would probably be nothing more than flickers of imagination in Rowling’s head. By deciding what she wanted and refusing to be denied, J.K. Rowling showed what is possible when one fully commits themselves to take the path towards success. She tells us:

Failure is so important – it doesn’t get spoken about enough. We speak about success all the time, but, you know, I do not know any – I haven’t met – and I’ve been so fortunate and met extraordinary people through Harry Potter, and not one of them didn’t have their failure – more than one failure. And it’s the ability to resist failure, in many ways, or use failure that often leads to the greatest success.”

3.) Albert Einstein:

A picture of Albert Einstein is shown. He is the third of the famous failures we look at in this article.Albert Einstein is considered to be the most important and influential scientist to ever grace our presence on this earth. Not only did Einstein develop the mass/energy equivalence formula of E=mc2, but he also conceptualized the theory of general relativity, which is one of modern physic’s two primary pillars. Thanks to Einstein’s work, everyday objects such as the television, remote control, and digital camera were able to be developed. In 1921, Einstein received a Nobel Prize in Physics for the tremendous contributions he made to his field and was named TIME’s Person of the Century in 1999.

Today, Albert Einstein’s name may as well be used as a synonym for words like intelligence and genius, yet in his younger life, Einstein struggled with his intellectual endeavors. It is said that as a young boy, Einstein didn’t begin speaking until he was four years old and couldn’t read until he was seven.

For these reasons, his earliest teachers actually believed that he was slow or mentally challenged. Additionally, Einstein gained the reputation of being a terrible student who often skipped class throughout his time at the renowned Swiss Polytechnic School. At one point during his time there, he was doing so poorly that he nearly dropped out to sell life insurance. Upon graduation, Einstein spent two years searching for an academic position that wouldn’t come.

It is certain that without having an undeniable belief in himself, and a true passion for the world of physics, Albert Einstein’s name wouldn’t garner our attention as it does today. By examining his life story, it becomes clear to see how the only truly important opinion of you is the opinion of yourself. He famously told us:

Failure is success in progress.”

4.) Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs is shown giving a speech while holding one of the iPads that he revolutionized. Jobs is the fourth of the famous failures that this article looks at.

Photo by: Adam Tow

If you are reading this article right now, there is definitely a chance that you are using a device that was created by former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. After founding the company in 1976, Jobs helped pioneer the digital revolution of the 80s that forever changed the way we live. Throughout his time at Apple, the company gained a reputation for modernizing the world of technology and introduced innovative devices such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Att the time of his death in 2011, it was estimated that Jobs had amassed a fortune of $10.2 billion. While Steve Jobs will forever be remembered for his accomplishments during the pinnacle of his success, his path toward greatness was hindered by a number of setbacks, challenges, and failures.

In 1983, just seven years after founding Apple, Jobs made the decision to hire John Sculley, the president of Pepsi at the time, to run the company and within two years, Sculley had convinced the board of Apple that Jobs needed to be fired. After leaving Apple, Jobs started another computing venture that he called NeXT which would never lead him to any success. Additionally, a number of devices that Jobs’ helped to create, such as The Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, and The Powermac g4 cube, would similarly never result in success.

It wasn’t until 1997 when Steve Jobs was given the opportunity to once again lead Apple, and he certainly proved to be a worthy hire. By committing himself to perseverance, innovation, and simplistic excellence, Jobs was able to overcome the failures that initially plagued him. He famously told us:

I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance. It is so hard. You put so much of your life into this thing. There are such rough moments in time that I think most people give up.”

5.) Thomas Edison:

A picture of Thomas Edison is shown as he stands next to a giant light bulb. He is one of history's most notable famous failures.Throughout his career as an inventor, Thomas Edison obtained 1093 U.S. patents, a record that he still holds, and is responsible for some of history’s most important inventions. Included in his lengthy list of creations, you will find many essential everyday objects, that we take for granted, such as the light bulb, motion picture camera, and music phonograph. Additionally, Edison is credited with creating the first modern research laboratory, which has helped advance numerous scientific fields. Due to his work as an inventor, countless awards and medals have been bestowed in his honor.

While Thomas Edison is considered by many to be the most influential inventor in human history, his path toward immortal fame was permeated by setbacks and failures that caused many to question his abilities. It is said that when Edison was a young boy, his teachers believed that he was ‘too stupid to learn anything.’ Edison was also fired from his first two jobs because his bosses believed him to be unproductive. Once Edison did become an inventor, he similarly faced failures on an enormously large scale. It is believed that he made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at creating the light bulb before he finally succeeded on attempt 1,001.

Thomas Edison had an uncanny ability to brush off the failures that he encountered and the criticism that came with each misstep. There isn’t any doubting the fact that Edison fully understood how failures, setbacks, and challenges are very much a part of the achievement process. He famously told us:

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”

Regardless of the industry or profession, it is certain that the world’s most successful individuals all encountered great failures that they were forced to overcome. By examining the lives of those who can be considered famous failures, you will begin to see how setbacks and obstacles are part of the achievement process. The likes of Michael Jordan, Abraham Lincoln, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Ford, Oprah, The Beatles, and many more, all failed before becoming immortal icons across their various fields. As you pursue your deepest-held goals and desires, it will be vital that you understand this all-important truth.

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