Published on December 31, 2020

14 Success Stories of Famous People Who Begin With Setbacks

14 Success Stories of Famous People Who Begin With Setbacks

Do you have a favorite failure? It’s a question author Tim Ferriss asks every guest on his podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. Without fail, each guest can credit their success to a single setback or a long string of failure after failure that ultimately motivated them to improve and try again. It’s how we learn.

As Henry Ford once said,

“Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again.”

Success isn’t linear. If you zoom out on the success story of Amazon over the last twenty years, it appears as if it has only gone up based on stock value. But if you zoom in, there were constant ebbs and flows.

There are months where share value tanked and it looked like it would never recover. Inevitably, those downturns were followed by tremendous gains that doubled or tripled their losses. It’s those setbacks that are necessary to learn and allow more room for future growth.

I guarantee any celebrity or icon you look up to initially struggled in what they wanted to accomplish. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Beyonce—yes, Beyonce—all struggled at some point. They thought they may fail. They probably had self-doubt in pursuing their dreams because they sounded ridiculous. Some thought they make end up working a desk job for the rest of their life. But through a combination of self-belief and determination, they were able to forget their struggles, analyze what they did wrong, and understand how to change their approach to execute flawlessly the next time around.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf once said,

“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”

What most people don’t realize is that failure acts as a stepping-stone towards success. It’s through our failures that we learn our ability to grow in life, love, goals, and happiness. Plus, everyone has failed at some point in their life.

To put things into perspective, here are 14 success stories of some of the most famous people who began their careers with initial setbacks. Success doesn’t come overnight, but so long as you don’t give up, it will be there waiting for you.

1. Steven Spielberg

    Getty Image

    Before releasing the 1975 classic, Jaws, Steven Spielberg was rejected multiple times from USC’s School of Cinematic Hearts.[1] If he hadn’t taken those early failures to heart, we may never have had E.T., Indiana Jones, or Jurassic Park to thank him for.

    2. Chris Pratt

      Getty Image

      Actor Chris Pratt was homeless and living in a van in Hawaii when he was nineteen before he finally made it onto the big screen.[2] His first movie only paid him $700. Twenty years of hard work later, Pratt was paid $10 million to film Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

      3. Sylvester Stallone

        Rocky star and writer, Sylvester Stallone was so poor at one point that he had to sell his dog for $40 just to buy food. After receiving two Oscar bids for his script and performance in Rocky, he was able to buy the dog back from the new owner for $15,000!

        4. Oprah Winfrey

          Getty Image

          Probably having one of the most famous success stories, Oprah was born into deep poverty in Mississippi, raised by a single mother living on welfare. She was physically, mentally, and sexually abused during her childhood.

          One thing not many people know about her is that she ran away from home and got pregnant when she was only fourteen-years-old.[3] She lost the baby shortly after birth. Despite her initial struggles as a young girl, she turned herself into one of the most successful individuals of our time.


          5. Jim Carrey

            Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images

            Jim Carrey is one of the funniest people on the planet. He has been the star of some of the most successful movies of all time. But Carrey grew up extremely poor in Canada.

            When he was a teenager, his family worked as janitors at a school to help pay the bills. And during his first stand-up comedy performance, he was booed off the stage. Not shortly after, he made it big on In Living Color and then went on to star in Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, and Ace Ventura in the same year!

            6. J.K. Rowling

              Taylor Hill/Getty Imags

              Before writing one of the most successful book series in modern history, J.K. Rowling was broke, living on welfare, and supporting a child on her own. It took her seven years to write the first Harry Potter novel, and even then, all twelve major publishing houses at that time rejected the book.

              7. Katy Perry

                Hello Magazine

                Before dancing on stage with the infamous “Left Shark” at the halftime show of Super Bowl XLIX, Katy Perry’s long journey was filled with failures. Her first record label went out of business after her first album sold only two hundred copies. After two more labels dropped her, it took Katy Perry over ten years of hard work before she finally had a hit in 2008 called I Kissed a Girl.

                8. Thomas Edison

                  George Rinhart/Corbis Historical

                  Thomas Edison is not only the most famous inventor (of the phonograph, the movie camera, alkaline storage batteries, etc.) you know, given his well-known success story, but you also probably know him as a famous failure.

                  In elementary school, we were all taught that Thomas Edison failed over 10,000 times when attempting to invent a commercially-viable electric lightbulb. [4]  Edison was a master of trial and error. He was not afraid to make hundreds, or even thousands, of mistakes before figuring something out.

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

                  9. Henry Ford

                    Hindustan Times

                    The success story of Henry Ford is one that is also well-known. Henry Ford, as you all know, is the father of the automobile and creator of the assembly line. He helped bring transportation to the masses in America with his Ford Model T car. But what you may not know was that his first company went bankrupt. Even his second company also went bankrupt.


                    10. Beyoncé

                      Getty Images

                      Before Destiny’s Child, Beyonce was in a group called Girl’s Tyme. When Beyonce was just nine years old, the group appeared on the show Star Search and lost. That group went on to become Destiny’s Child.

                      But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. They had internal struggles and of the original six members of Girl’s Tyme, only two remained in Destiny’s Child after it was formed. In 1996, they were signed by Columbia Records, and the rest is history.

                      11. James Dyson

                        If you thought Thomas Edison’s failures were bad, let me introduce you to James Dyson, the famous inventor of the Dyson vacuums you see all over television. Dyson developed over 5,000 failed prototypes before finding the bagless vacuum brand. Not only that, he invested his entire savings account into his prototypes over fifteen years! Luckily, the bagless vacuum worked and now Forbes estimates James Dyson’s net worth at over $6 billion.[5]

                        12. Stephen King

                          Shane Leonard/Simon & Schuster

                          Before Stephen King became known as arguably the greatest living writer—having written over 60 novels, many of which have been adapted for film and television—King was rejected over and over again.

                          In his memoir, On Writing, King describes how he used to post his rejection letters on the wall with a big spike for inspiration. His first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. Just when he was about to give up and move on to his next project, his wife found the manuscript in the trash and asked him to try one more time. We all know what happened after that.

                          13. Vincent Van Gogh

                            Self Portrait (1889) by Vincent van Gogh, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris

                            The success story of Vincent Van Gogh may not be as well-known as the others, but it is still as inspiring. Most people don’t know that Van Gogh never actually got to see how much of a success he was. His paintings did not become popular until after his death. Of his 900 paintings, only one was sold while he was alive.

                            14. Jay-Z

                              Kevin Mazur/ Getty Images

                              It’s no hidden secret that Jay-Z sold drugs in his youth—he raps about it constantly to remind himself of his humble roots. He is in no way proud of it, but it was what he had to do to scrape by in Brooklyn’s Marcy Projects.


                              During that time, he developed an interest in music and sold CDs out of his trunk before starting his own label, Roc-A-Fella Records.[6] Shortly after, his career sky-rocketed into the limelight when his album soared to number 23 on the Billboard 200 before going platinum.

                              Final Thoughts

                              Hard work is what gets you through life. The Navy SEALs developed BUD/s, known as the most difficult training program in the U.S. military. They want to make sure the warriors they select have the mental toughness to remain calm under pressure and never quit, regardless of the circumstances.

                              The best way to do that is to expose them to extreme pressure and impossible conditions over and over again. The more they experience setbacks, the more they can learn from them and develop their mental and physical strategies to overcome the obstacles next time.

                              This is exactly what formed some of the most successful people we know of today. They didn’t purposely put themselves in difficult situations, but the circumstances they were able to overcome allowed them to develop the confidence in themselves to persevere and learn how to do things better.

                              Self-belief is one of the strongest personal attributes that will lead to your success. So, when you face setbacks in life, don’t get down on yourself. That’s too easy.

                              Instead, look at it with a smile and say to yourself, “This is why I’m here. This is my opportunity to learn and get better.” Besides, look at how many other people have done it.

                              More Success Stories of People Who Faced Setbacks

                              Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via


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                              Kyle J. Brennan

                              Digital marketing expert, book reviewer, triathlete, & experimenter of all things.

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                              Published on October 14, 2021

                              How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

                              How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome

                              Do you ever worry about being exposed as a “fraud?” You’re not alone. It’s actually quite common for people to feel like imposters. In fact, approximately 70 percent of people admit to having experienced impostor syndrome[1] at some point in their lives — a Twitter poll found that 87 percent of people have experienced this.[2] Even successful and famous people like Tom Hanks, Howard Schultz, and Natalie Portman suffer from imposter syndrome.

                              But, what exactly is imposter syndrome. And, more importantly, how can you silence it?

                              Originally coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP, and Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., the term “impostor syndrome” describes symptoms that include being unable to internalize accomplishments and being afraid of being exposed as a fraud.

                              The individual may also be plagued by chronic self-doubt and believe that they’re unqualified for success despite evidence to the contrary. Inadequacies, fears of failure, and disbelief that success is a matter of luck or timing are also common.

                              If you don’t address this phenomenon, feeling like an impostor can prevent you from achieving ambitious goals. Moreover, those experiencing these feelings tend to over-prepare or procrastinate — which obviously hinders productivity and reaching goals. And, as if that weren’t bad enough, imposter syndrome prevents you from pursuing new challenges and opportunities.

                              Do you feel like you’re suffering from impostor syndrome? If so, don’t beat yourself up. After all, there are effective ways to overcome these feelings in a healthy and proactive way.

                              1. Don’t Hide It.

                              “Firstly, acknowledge it,” advises Claudine Robson,[3] the Intentional Coach. “You give strength to imposter syndrome by letting it continue to peck away at your confidence unchecked.” It can only be banished if you acknowledge it as soon as possible and break the silence.


                              “Then you need to separate your feelings from facts,” Robson adds. “One thing imposter syndrome does very effectively is to mix up your perceptions of reality.”

                              If you can, take a step back and look at the situation objectively. “Recognize when you should — and when you should not — feel fraudulent,” she says. Appreciate and acknowledge the task, intellect, and insight that have led to your success.

                              You might even be able to take action by recognizing that the reason you feel fraudulent is that you’re new to a task. “That gives you a path forward; learning is growth, don’t deny yourself that.”

                              2. Implement the STOP Technique

                              In her book Cognitive Enlightenment, Melinda Fouts, Ph.D., outlines a technique to overcome imposter syndrome using what she calls the STOP technique.

                              “STOP is an acronym for ‘silence the oppressive player,” Fouts explains in Forbes.[4] “You need to eradicate this tape that is playing 24/7, whether you are conscious of it or not. It plays loudest when we are tired, hungry, or feeling defeated.”

                              Steps to implementing the STOP technique and rewiring your brain are as follows:

                              To replace the tape of not good enough, you need a “launch sentence.” “I’m more than good enough” would is an example of a solid launch statement.


                              Put your launch sentence in prominent locations, such as your car’s dashboard or computer. How come? The reason is that as the tape plays, you won’t be able to remember your launch statement.

                              Continue to say “stop” until you recall your launch sentence, says Fouts.

                              Put your launch sentence into your own words and pontificate.

                              While going about your daily tasks, like while driving or exercising, practice your launch sentence so you can recall it when you need it in the future.

                              “I am told this sounds simple and it does,” she adds. However, this technique is challenging when your negative tape is playing. You will not want to replace the tape every day while your brain is rewiring itself. “It is these moments you can’t give up.”

                              3. Distinguish Humility and Fear

                              When it comes to hard work and accomplishments, there’s humility, and then there’s fear. In other words, having a high level of competence can lead one to discount its value occasionally. However, as Carl Richards wrote in an article for the New York Times,[5] “After spending a lot of time fine-tuning our ability, isn’t it sort of the point for our skill to look and feel natural?”

                              The problem is that we feel unworthy from time to time. But, as Seth Godin explained in a blog post,[6] “When you feel unworthy, any kind response, positive feedback or reward feels like a trick, a scam, the luck of the draw.”


                              Feeling worthy without feeling entitled is possible. And, finding the right balance between them is critical for overcoming impostor syndrome. “Humility and worthiness have nothing at all to do with defending our territory,” Godin continues. “We don’t have to feel like a fraud to also be gracious, open, or humble.”

                              4. Keep a “Brag Sheet”

                              When you were sending out college applications, did you build yourself a “brag sheet?” If not, here’s a clean description from Shawna Newman,[7] “A brag sheet is very similar to a student resume – it highlights your accomplishments, key experiences, leadership skills, and employment throughout your secondary education.” In short, “it’s a quick reference guide with all the details and achievements for someone trying to get to know you better.”

                              While it may be awkward at first, you can apply the same concept when coping with imposter syndrome. Just compose a list of your accomplishments, activities, skills. That’s it. Just remember Godin’s advice and also be humble and gracious.

                              As an added perk, besides being an effective way to talk myself up, I’ve also found that this has helped me stop comparing myself to others. Instead of harping about other people’s milestones, I’m honing in on what I’ve done.

                              5. Celebrate Wins, Period

                              Speaking of accomplishments, they shouldn’t be categorized as small or big. After all, you feel as if you don’t belong when you have imposter syndrome. So, the more you celebrate your wins, the more confident you’ll become.

                              Furthermore, accept compliments without qualifying them and practice listening to praise every day. Finally, become kinder to yourself by saying at least one kind thing to yourself daily. And, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.

                              6. Assemble a Legion of Superheroes

                              “You know how corporations have a board of directors to — in theory — make them stronger, maintain checks and balances, leverage resources, and help advance the organization’s vision?” asks inspirational speaker, speaking coach, and creative consultant Tania Katan.[8] “Why not assemble your own board of directors to leverage resources to help make your career stronger, keep you in check and balanced, and advance your vision?”


                              “My friend Alison Wade, president of conferences, training, and consulting at Techwell, calls her personal board of directors her “front-row” — those are the people she invites to sit spitting distance from the stage, cheer her on, challenge her, and review her performance,” Katan writes.

                              As for Katan, she calls hers a “legion of superheroes.” The reason? “I dig the idea of joining forces to do good in the corporate galaxy.”

                              It’s important to have a diverse group of individuals who will defend you. Ideally, they should be varied in all dimensions, such as cultural background, way of thinking, and skills.

                              Katan recommends that you meet together frequently, whether if that’s once a week or every quarter. “Share your experiences, fears, creative ideas, aspirations,” she adds. “Celebrate each other’s accomplishments.” You also need to both support and challenge each other. “Discover what you are capable of doing when you combine your powers.”

                              7. Visualize Success

                              Follow the example of a professional athlete by imagining yourself crushing that presentation or project. You’ll enjoy the relief from performance-related stress. And, more importantly, it can help you avoid focusing on the worst-case scenario.

                              Final Words of Advice

                              While there’s no single formula to cure imposter syndrome, the tips listed above are a start. After all, your success depends on your ability to fight the negative effects of it. For example, feeling unworthy over time can lead to crippling anxiety and depression if left untreated.

                              If you’ve tried the above, then make sure that you speak to someone about what you’re experiencing, whether it’s a mentor, peer group, or licensed professional. And, above all else, there’s a place at the table for everyone — no matter what your inner voice is telling you.


                              How to Silence the Impostor Syndrome was originally published on Calendar by John Rampton.

                              Featured photo credit: Laurenz Kleinheider via


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