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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                              Last Updated on January 25, 2021

                              22 Hardest But Most Important Things You Must Do To Achieve Success

                              22 Hardest But Most Important Things You Must Do To Achieve Success

                              How many successful people do you personally know in the world? Most people can’t list more than a handful. Why is achieving success so hard and what is it that sets the successful apart from the less successful?

                              If you study the biographies of successful people, you will find that it is not where they came from or started out that influenced their success, but rather their habits and ways of thinking. Success has a lot to do with doing what you probably don’t want to do now, so that later on you can do what you really do want to.

                              If you only do the easy things in life, life will be hard, but if you do the hard things in life, life will be easy. Here are 22 of the hardest, but most important things you must do to achieve success and reach all your goals.

                              1. Taking big risks

                              “Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” – Frederick Wilcox

                              Taking risks is scary for almost everybody, but you don’t reach success by playing it safe. You have to go after what you want; it isn’t going to miraculously appear on a silver plate in front of you. The bigger the risk, often the bigger the success!

                              2. Trusting your gut and following your intuition

                              “I rely far more on gut instinct than researching huge amounts of statistics.” – Sir Richard Branson

                              Don’t always overthink everything and try to be as logical as possible, sometimes your intuition is far more accurate in making the best decision for you, according to most successful people. It isn’t easy to do when all logic is telling you otherwise, but learning to trust your gut feeling more could be the best thing you do; it somehow already knows what you already want.

                              3. Fighting your fears 

                              “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” – Bill Cosby

                              If you want to succeed, you have to learn how to overcome your fears and deal with them so they don’t undermine your success. If you don’t master your fears, they will certainly master you and rob you of success.

                              4. Setting and sticking to goals

                              “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins

                              Most people don’t set and stick to goals because it takes discipline and that extra effort. Did you know that the majority of the most successful people in this world regularly set goals? Goals are your roadmap to success. Don’t overlook this important success habit.


                              5. Taking responsibility for your results

                              “Accept responsibility for your life. Know that it is you who will get you where you want to go, no one else.” – Les Brown

                              You cannot be a victim and blame others for the results you have in your life. You create the results you want, you can’t expect somebody else to achieve your goals and get you what you want. If you want success, you have to take responsibility for you achieving it or not, you can’t blame others.

                              6. Waking up early

                              “Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.” – Richard Whately

                              This is on top of most people’s list, it is often just so hard! It is true though, that by waking up just one hour earlier every day, you’ll have an extra five hours a week to work on achieving your goal. Statistics don’t lie and most successful people don’t sleep in, they rise early.

                              7. Getting up after getting knocked down

                              “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” – Vince Lombardi

                              You don’t have control over what happens to you, but you do have control over how you deal with it. To be successful, you have to keep going when you feel like giving up. You can’t give up on your goal because one thing didn’t work out, that is like slashing your other three tires when one goes flat.

                              8. Stop procrastinating

                              “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso

                              Procrastinating can seriously sabotage your chances of success. You lose opportunities, money, damage your reputation and confidence. Deal with your procrastination if you know it is holding you back, don’t let procrastination steal your dreams and success, it happens too often to too many people.

                              9. Putting results before comfort

                              “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work.” – Vince Lombardi

                              You need to work harder if you want more success in life: the extent of your efforts is the extent of your rewards. It’s not about working long hours and getting as much done as possible, it is about working smarter. At the beginning you need to put in that little bit extra and work harder to give you that boost you need starting off. What you put in, you will get out.

                              10. Getting it going

                              “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt

                              It is easy to come up with a million reasons why you should put off taking ‘certain’ actions that you should be taking. How often do you say, “The time isn’t right,” or “I’m not ready”? You just have to get it going, it doesn’t have to be right or perfect, but you need to keep taking continuous steps closer towards your goal. There is always something you can do to take you closer to your goal.

                              11. Dealing with change

                              “Change is vital; improvement is the logical form of change.” – James Cash Penny 

                              It is hard to change and accept it at times, but it is necessary to reach certain goals and be more successful. Strive to embrace change and find ways to adapt to it easier. You need change if you want more success, otherwise, you would be successful now. Don’t resist it, welcome it!

                              12. Avoiding mindless gossip

                              “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

                              You and your success are largely influenced by your environment and your circle of friends. The conversations you have with them are the seeds of thoughts, and you want successful thoughts. Talk about ideas and have inspiring conversations and don’t resort to mindless conversations with nothing positive to them that only pollute your mind.

                              13. Reaching out to others

                              “The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being.” – Pearl S. Buck

                              Nobody becomes successful alone, it is not possible. Reach out to others and build relationships on the way. Ask others for guidance when you need help and help others too. It isn’t easy to find and build strong relationships, it takes effort and commitment, but they are super important for success.


                              14. Not worrying about what other people think

                              “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

                              It is hard to not let other people’s comments and opinions get you down at times, you are human after all. However, it clearly doesn’t help you when it comes to reaching your goals; with no confidence it becomes twice as challenging. It is up to you whether you will allow others to make you feel less, it is your choice. Simply smile at the people who doubt and put you down and keep moving forward.You can’t strive to have everybody like you in this world.

                              15. Doing what you truly love

                              “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” – Steve Jobs

                              One of the biggest keys to success is to love what you do. You already have the motivation, inspiration and commitment to support you from the outset and along the way. It is challenging to actually do what you love in life and make a great living from it at the same time, but don’t put limits on your life. You decide what is possible in your life; get creative and find ways to make it work if that is what you really want.

                              16. Planning effectively

                              “Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be broke, fat, lazy, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan.” – Larry Winget

                              You need to have a plan and you need to plan effectively as well. If you don’t plan, how do you know where you are going? You need to set goals, plan how you will reach them and execute your plan. Learning to plan effectively is important as well, it is easy to undermine your efforts with bad planning and therefore undermine your chances of success.

                              17. Staying enthusiastic

                              “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

                              Staying enthusiastic when things don’t look good is much easier said than done. In the face of adversity, keeping that spirit of enthusiasm will give you the strength you need to keep going. What you focus on expands, so don’t focus on what isn’t working, put your focus on what you can do to make it work and be enthusiastic about the next possibility.

                              18. Finding the courage to follow your dreams

                              “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” – Walt Disney

                              You need to look fear straight in the eye and move past it. You can reach all your goals and have all the success, if you have the courage to take all the action required with a courageous mindset to back it up. Have the courage to follow your dreams and don’t give up until you reach them.

                              19. Taking on all challenges

                              “To be successful you must accept all challenges that come your way. You can’t just accept the ones you like.” – Mike Gafka

                              You attract the exact challenges that you need to overcome in order to reach your goals and be successful. You can’t pick and choose which ones you get to have, you have to take them all on. They are there to support you in growth and in reaching your goals, they are all equally important to your success.

                              20. Always taking continuous action

                              “Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

                              When you go to gym, you have to go regularly to really see new results and the same goes for success. You have to take a lot of regular and continuous action if you want to have more than ordinary results. Dreaming, willing and planning alone will not get you there, continuous action will.

                              21. Always believe in yourself

                              “Belief in oneself is one of the most important bricks in building any successful venture.” – Lydia M. Child

                              If you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect somebody else to either. You have to be your own cheerleader and toot your own horn. Having confidence in yourself is what makes you successful. Don’t doubt yourself, believe in yourself and you will succeed.

                              22. Going that extra mile

                              “Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” – Jim Rohn

                              The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit more effort you put in. It is hard and takes much more energy, but how badly do you want success?


                              Success is possible if you are willing to do the things you need to do to get you where you want to be. Don’t give up on your goals and dreams of success; know that they are truly possible if you really want them to be. We all have the same chances of success, whether we take those chances when they come is our first choice.

                              Featured photo credit: Darya Tryfanava via

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