Some people achieve outstanding success and make it look so easy.

How do they do it—and what can they teach us?

Because sometimes that dream, that ultimate success, can seem so far away. There are days when the only light we can see at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming express train. It can be easy to see bad luck or failure as our destiny rather than a learning curve. At those times we need to remember that we are not alone; the brightest and the best have been there before us, and sometimes what it takes to finally reach the very top is not to catch a break, but to get the right attitude.

Here’s how eight of the most successful people of this century and the last have won their dreams.

1. Steve Jobs

“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know of avoiding the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

How many of us are held back by thoughts of what we think we have to lose? But guess what? We came into the world naked and we’re going out the same way. Everything we think we have is just a loaner. The only thing we have to lose is that possible feeling of bitter regret when the curtain comes down for the last time. If you don’t follow your dreams, then what’s the point of it all?

2. Mark Cuban

“The beauty of success, whether it’s finding the girl of your dreams, the right job, or financial success, is that it doesn’t matter how many times you have failed, you only have to be right once.”

And really, it’s true, isn’t it? We worry about failure, about not getting that dream job, about that business venture that fell over, that beautiful girl or gorgeous guy who blew us off. But failure and rejection really don’t matter at all because the truly liberating thing is this: you only have to be right once. And when you have your go-ahead business and a loving partner, how many times will you remember all the times you didn’t succeed? You won’t, because they won’t matter.

3. Oprah Winfrey

“What other people label failure I have learned is just God’s way of pointing you in a new direction.”

Whether you’re religious or not, you have to say, Oprah has a point right there. Think back on how many times you’ve hung your head when something didn’t go right. You didn’t make the football team, but then your uncle took you rallying to help you get over the disappointment and you found out you were a hotshot driver. You lost your job slaving away in a hotel restaurant and a month later a friend asked you to take over in the kitchen in their new uptown restaurant. Is it failure? Or is it a new start?

4. Thomas Edison

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not know how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Oprah Winfrey was fired from one of her first jobs as a television reporter because she was “unfit for television news.” Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. The Beatles were rejected by one record company with the words: “We don’t like their sound and guitar music is on the way out.” What would have happened if they had given up too soon? Persistence is more important than raw talent every single time.

5. J.K. Rowling

“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized. 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 to build my life.”

And most people never know what rock bottom is like, so they never reach the very top. You hit rock bottom often when you shoot for the moon. It’s the place reserved for those who put everything on the line. But if you don’t put everything out there, you will never get to be as rich or as famous as J.K. Rowling.

6. Jeff Bezos

“I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but the one thing that I would regret is not trying.”

Failure is nothing. Failure is what happens sometimes when you try. All outstandingly famous people have failed. It’s how they learn to do it right. The only failure that is forever is when you fail to try.

7. Michael Jordan

“I have taken more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life; and that is why I succeed.”

Everyone knows that another great sportsman, Babe Ruth, held the record for home runs during his career. Did you also know that for decades he also held the record for strike outs? When asked about it, he said this: “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” That’s why Michael Jordan succeeded; that’s why you can too.

8. J.P. Morgan

“The first step towards getting somewhere is deciding you are not going to stay where you are.”

And that step is often the hardest: leaving a poorly paying job you hate to take a risk on something you love; to move away from the safety of a steady job to chase down a dream. There are so many good and great reasons not to move. But once we decide it’s really not enough, we are on our way. Because as these eight outstanding successes show us, nothing stands in the way of the man or woman who dares to dream, who dares to risk and who dares to try until they succeed.

Featured photo credit: Man jump through the gap. Element of design.via Shutterstock

Love this article?