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Success Mindset

15 Highly Successful People Who Failed Before Succeeding

Written by Sebastian Kipman
Entrepreneur and Communication Expert
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Before their success, some of the world’s most highly successful people experienced epic failure. We celebrate their success but often overlook the path that got them there. A path that is often marked with failure.

As American writer Elbert Hubbard said:

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”

A lot of people fear the word failure, and it seems like everybody wants to achieve success in an instant. However, failure is something everybody experiences, and it’s not always a bad thing. It just proves that the way to success is not easy. In fact, it is a vital experience that will make you rethink your priorities.

Anyone who’s trying to make their life worth living has experienced failure. This is exactly why you need to change your perspective about it.

When you finally understand that failure is the inspiration behind success, you can start unlocking your potential.

So get motivated, and accept failure as merely a chance to learn.

15 Successful People Who Failed

The way to succes isn’t always easy, but you can do it!

If you failed to success on your first try, don’t stress too much about it. Here are 15 successful people who failed (for a couple of times) before they were recognized by their glorious success.

1. Sir James Dyson

Sir James Dyson - Failed to success

    You know that frustrating feeling when you don’t get something on the first attempt?

    Multiply that by 5,126 because that’s the number of failed prototypes Sir James Dyson went through over the course of 15 years before creating the eponymous best-selling bagless vacuum cleaner that led to a net worth of $4.5billion.

    If he gave up every single time he failed, he would not have been a successful entrepreneur who has successfully manufactured some of the best household appliances.

    2. Steven Spielberg

    Steven Spielberg - Most successful director

      His cinematic output has grossed more than $9 billion and brought him three Academy Awards, but the master of the blockbuster was rejected TWICE by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Aside from that, this director also struggled with dyslexia which made it harder for him to cope with school.


      To date, he has won 11 Emmys, 3 Oscars, and 7 Golden Globes, and he’s one of the most successful directors of today’s time.

      As their way of saying “Oops, I guess we were wrong about you” the school built a building in honor of Spielberg.

      3. Thomas Edison

      Thomas Edison - Most Successful Inventor

        In what might be at once the most discouraging statement and worst teaching practice of all time, Thomas Edison was told by his teachers he was ‘too stupid to learn anything’.

        Edison went on to hold more than 1,000 patents, including the phonograph and practical electric lamp. Death most likely spared his teachers the ignominy of their incorrect assessment. Edison is now known as one of the most successful inventors who ever lived, and his creations changed the lives of billions of people.

        4. Walt Disney

        Walt Disney

          Can you imagine your childhood without Disney? Well it could easily have been if Walt had listened to his former newspaper editor. The editor told Walt he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas’. Undeterred, Old Walt went on to create the cultural icon that bears his name.

          Disney’s take on failure:

          “I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”

          If you feel like giving up, remind yourself of what Disney said.

          5. Albert Einstein

          Albert Einstein - Highly Successful Person

            Want to achieve success? Let Albert Einstein inspire you.

            His name is synonymous with intelligence yet it wasn’t always that way for Albert Einstein. As a child he didn’t start speaking until he was four, reading until he was seven, and was thought to be mentally handicapped. If he gave up and never persevered, his most important theories could not have been known.


            He went on to win a Nobel Prize and altered the world’s approach to physics. I guess he was just thinking of the right thing to say for those first four years…

            6. J.K. Rowling

            J.K. Rowling - Failed to Success

              Before there was a wizard, there was welfare. Rowling was a broke, depressed, divorced single mother simultaneously writing a novel while studying. It’s hard to believe it but a lot of publishers rejected Harry Potter.

              Now one of the richest women in the world, Rowling reflects on her early failures:

              “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 fail by default.”

              7. Abraham Lincoln

              Abraham Lincoln - Highly Successful

                Lincoln’s failures were broad and numerous. He achieved the unique feat of leaving for a war a captain and returning a private (the lowest military rank).

                He next took failure in his stride during multiple failed business attempts. Undeterred, Lincoln marched into the political realm, where he launched several failed runs at political office before his ascendance to President.

                He shared this quote about his failure:

                “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

                8. Jerry Seinfeld

                Jerry Seinfeld - Most Successful Comedian

                  Before the show about nothing, Seinfeld was a young comedian on the stand-up circuit. His first time on stage didn’t go so well. On seeing the audience he froze and was booed and jeered off stage.


                  His choices: pack it in and accept comedy isn’t his thing or return to the same stage the following night and have the audience in hysterics. He opted for the latter and went on to become one of the most successful comedians of all time.

                  9. Theodor Seuss Geisel

                  Theodor Seuss Geisel - Best Children's Author

                    Known to generations as Dr Seuss, the much-loved children’s author had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers.

                    According to him, he was on his way home to burn his manuscript when he ran into one of his Dartmouth classmates who eventually helped him to find a publisher for his book. Now, he’s known as one of the best children’s authors.

                    His books that weren’t good enough for these publishers went on to sell more than 600 million copies worldwide.

                    10. Oprah Winfrey

                    Oprah Winfrey - Successful TV Anchor

                      She’s a billionaire with her own TV channel and a penchant for giving away cars but Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV job as an anchor in Baltimore.

                      In 2013, Oprah reflected on her experiences during a Harvard commencement speech:

                      “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

                      Creating your own TV channel is a sure way never to get fired again!

                      11. Stephen King

                      Stephen King - Highly Successful Person

                        In another instance in the never-ending series “Book Publishers Making Dumb Decisions”, mega novelist Stephen King had his first book Carrie rejected 30 times.

                        This iconic storyteller was even told by publishers that they are not interested in any kind of science fiction that touches on negative utopias because they do not sell.

                        Dejected, King dumped the book in the trash. His wife retrieved it and implored him to resubmit it which led to his first book deal and spawned his illustrious career.

                        12. Vincent Van Gogh

                        Vincent Van Gogh

                          A Van Gogh painting will cost you upwards of $100 million nowadays. But in his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh couldn’t get rid of the things.


                          He sold just one painting, ‘The Red Vineyard’, during his lifetime, and the sale came not long before his death. Unfortunately for Vincent, others got to enjoy the financial spoils of his lifetime of toils.

                          According to this artist:

                          “Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.”

                          13. Elvis Presley

                          Elvis Presley - World's Biggest Star

                            “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”

                            These are the words that greeted Elvis Presley after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry, after which he was promptly fired. Disposing of the keys to the truck, Presley went on to become the world’s biggest star with a legacy that endures.

                            14. Michael Jordan

                            Michael Jordan - Successful Basketball Player

                              Either he was part of the greatest high school roster of all time or his coach made a huge mistake in cutting Michael Jordan from his high school basketball team. Six Championships and five MVPs later, Jordan became arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

                              Jordan famously said:

                              “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

                              15. Charles Darwin

                              Charles Darwin

                                The man credited with much of how we came to understand the world today, Darwin was considered an average student and abandoned a career in medicine as a result.

                                Darwin embarked on a lifetime study of nature that led to the seminal ‘On the Origin of Species’ and forever altered the way humankind looks at our existence.


                                Final Thoughts

                                The famous and highly successful people’s crowning achievements stem from drive and determination as much as ability.

                                Persistence and certitude are the difference between success and failure. So if you want to succeed, don’t be afraid to fail.

                                Fail often, fail fast and learn from your mistakes. The more times you fail, the closer you’re getting to success.

                                We hope this list of successful people who failed on their way to success has helped inspire you to strive more.

                                Featured photo credit: Kal Loftus via unsplash.com

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