Are You Embarrassed by Your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 20 successful people

Are You Embarrassed by your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 40 successful people

Oh no!!! Arrgh!!! Oops!!! Eww!!! Why this?!

Are you familiar with these interjections? Definitely!

We all have, at one point or the other in our lives, made such exclamations and these were made at the lowest points of our lives; times when we failed.  So, you are not alone in the game.

Myself, your mentor, your role model, the richest man living and the most intellectual man have failed at some point and are probably still failing.

Yes! Failure may be subjective, but that does not mean the description changed.

That you failed a course and your mentor failed to win a contract does not make any of the situations a more pronounced failure.

The definition given to failure in our society today has not only influenced our philosophy but has also made the true essence of failure underestimated.

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Failure stories seem absolutely ‘deadly’ to us and we would rather not give a challenge another try or even try at all. This mentality has left so many in a mediocrity zone when in the actual sense they have the potential to do great stuff.

It is only the few that have taken the courage to see the beauty in failure have recorded outstanding success stories in history.

Whereas, the timid sees failure as a menace; a monster, when in the real sense, the true description of the failure is well encapsulated in this quote by Henry Ford -‘ Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’

The truth is…

Over and over, you have read, listened and absorbed success stories in your intellectual archive and even though every success story has a process of failure in it, your mental system has been reprogrammed in such a way that it filters the process of failure and wants to only see the happy endings of success, and you run with that.

Then you fail and you suddenly view it as one of the most unfortunate occurrences that can ever happen to you.

You need to take a look at the stories of 40 successful people initially tagged as failures.

They didn’t allow society’s definition to disrupt how they can effectively use the wings of failure to get their destination of success. I am certain that a good look at them will help you have a new perspective on failure.

1. Jack Ma


I love the story of Jack Ma because of his undying spirit in the pursuit of a great life which eventually got him a bigger package.

Jack Ma (original name: Ma Yun) was a normal child just like everyone in his neighborhood in south-eastern China. He was not a genius neither was he a computer guru.

He was about 31 years of age when he first saw and operated a computer. His parents weren’t rich nor influential, he was born to traditional musicians-storytellers who made meagre income and were below the middle class in their days.

Nothing was spectacular or peculiar about Jack Ma’s early life. He was a normal child, teenager, and youth who failed his way through. In short, failure and rejection were key parts of Jack Ma’s life.

So how did he become one of the world’s most successful men?

He simply embraced failure and moved on.

In his words, Jack Ma described his success story by stating the processes of failure involved.

“I failed a key primary school test two times and failed three times in middle school. For three years, I tried and failed at the university. I also applied for jobs 30 times and got rejected. I even went to KFC when they came to China.

24 people went for the job, 23 were accepted and I was the only one who got rejected. I applied for Harvard ten times and got rejected. I think we have to get used to rejection. The only thing – Never give up.”- Jack Ma.

Failed, rejected, failed, failed, rejected – was an integral part of the life of a man who has, in a great way, influenced the economy of China through technology and is the second richest man in China.

So, it is not over because you’ve had a series of failures, it can only be over if you give up too soon.

Lesson – When life rejects and knocks you down a hundred times, pull yourself back up a hundred and one times.

2. Michael Jordan


You sure know Michael Jordan. Yeah! A great and successful basketball player. Who wouldn’t know him?

But have you taken the time to go through his profile? How he courageously took steps on the ladder of failure to the arena of success?

Not really? Then, let’s do a quick check.

The very major encounter that turned his life around was not an easy one. When in high school, sophomore Michael applied for the varsity basketball team at Larry high school with high hopes of getting considered. But his hopes were smashed against the rock of disappointment when the list was passed, his name wasn’t there. Oops!

Rather, his name appeared on the Junior varsity team. That looks quite demeaning.

He felt so bad, he wanted to give up on sport but his mother believed in him and advised him otherwise. This helped Michael to embrace failure and disappointment to get better.

He accepted the junior varsity team and gave himself totally to it and here’s one of his statements – ‘ whenever I was working out and I got tired and figured I had to stop, I’d close my eyes and see that list on the locker room without my name on it and that usually got me going again.’

In his words, ‘I went to my room, closed the door and I cried. For a while, I couldn’t stop….’

However, the power of imagination kept him on track. He’ll rather fear the imagination of not seeing himself in his desired future than give up. Can you see how magical that can be?

So, when Jordan got into the spotlight, he could not but celebrate his failures because he saw them as a propeller of success.

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in life. And that is why I succeed”. – Michael Jordan

Without doubts, Jordan was another man who understood and embraced the probability of failing.

He realized that he can only truly succeed when he has failed because this will give him the needed impetus to try again till he succeeds.

Did he enjoy the process? Absolutely not!

But he was open-minded enough to pick the required lessons which later paid off.

Today, Michael Jordan is one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived with career statistics that include 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, and 32,292 total points. What a feat!

But that was only possible for a man who understood that failure only means you’ve got to put in more effort next time.

Catch this: When you are tired of going on, stop, breathe, close your eyes and then picture yourself not being able to achieve that thing because you stopped. Let that push you to keep at it.

3. Stephen King

“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.”

This was the reply Stephen got from one of the publishers who checked the manuscript for “Carrie”, the book that later brought him to the spotlight and gave him a major reference in his career. The book “Carrie” was rejected 30 whooping times!

Stephen initially accepted defeat and felt that his creative writing skills were not good enough. He later took the last courage as a result of the push his wife gave him and that was it! No wonder the book was specially dedicated to his wife – Tabitha.

Today, Stephen King remains one of the most successful and famous authors, having sold over 350 million books.

However, the rejection of Carrie wasn’t the only failure Stephen encountered; he has had a series of rejections even from his early teenage years, so much that he hung them on the wall with a nail and later had to change the nail to a spike when the weight of the rejection letters could no longer be supported by the nail.

I’m familiar with people hanging their awards and achievement. But when someone is hanging rejection letters? That’s a big one.

Lesson – Stephen appreciated his failings to earn his success. Hang yours too and speak success to them.

Read: The incredible life and achievements of limbless Nick Vujicic

4. Sochirio Honda

Here is another man who had his combat with failure; a series of them, but he never gave up because even though the world did not believe in his vision, he knew his vision was achievable, and not even his lack of formal education limited him.

Sochirio started as an apprentice at an automobile shop at the tender age of 15 and he was an intern for 6 years after which he started his automotive shop.

At age 31, he started to create piston rings for Toyota even with little means of survival. He gave his all into the invention but in the end, the invention was rejected by Toyota.

Sochirio did not give up; rather he went to school to gain more knowledge and enlightenment to further develop his initial design.

This did not come to him on a platter of gold as he did his research for 2 years with some failures in-between.

After his series of trials and failures, he got it right and was able to secure a contract with Toyota. But that was not the end of it.

Life caught up with Sochirio when the piston ring he made got exploded, he rebuilt it but the company was again affected by an earthquake.

Sochirio’s undefeated spirit wouldn’t let him give up and this brought him major success. After the earthquake, he started what was different from piston rings and this led to the creation of the Honda automobile.

Today, his company has grown to be an automotive empire competing with Toyota. Indeed, there is no limit to a man with an undying spirit.

Read this too: We all have some values in us, whether disabled or not

5. Abraham Lincoln


Abraham Lincoln remains one of the greatest men that made history.

This happened not only because he was the president of America but because he was a leader with a difference.

Lincoln is a man of immense tenacity; he was a friend to failure.

Let me tell you a little about him.

At age 23, Lincoln lost his job and at the same time failed in his bid for the state legislature. Three years later, the woman he so much loved died.

By the time he was 29, he contested to be the speaker in the Illinois House of representative and still failed.

Lincoln further failed in his bid to become Commissioner of the General Land Office in D.C. at the age of 49. He lost in his quest to become a U.S. Senator.

Despite the series of heart-rending failings Lincoln experienced in his personal, business, and political life, he pressed on.

However with perseverance, persistence, and optimism, at age 52, Lincoln became the president of the United States of America.

He held the highest office in the US because he never gave in to his numerous defeats.

6. Albert Einstein


What comes to your mind when you hear or see the name, Albert Einstein?


I can’t be wrong. Albert made himself a figure to reckon with in the world of academia. Now, let’s be factual, has Albert always had it with brightness? Hell no!

Albert’s early life was the complete opposite of what he later became.

Young Albert had a delay in speech and he couldn’t speak until the age of 4.

He failed the examination for entrance into the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School located in Zurich and struggled all through his university days. He narrowly escaped dropping out of school.

It was so terrible that his father never believed he could amount to anything in life till his death.

However, Albert made the best use of his stockpile of failure which made him one of the most brilliant minds who ever lived.

7. Oprah Winfrey


“Oprah Winfrey” is not only a household name but a global figure. A woman who has earned class for herself through what she does.

Although Oprah’s failure ain’t very similar to the aforementioned persons, one could say that life failed Oprah.

Born to a single teenage mother in Mississippi, Oprah not only tasted abject poverty while growing up, but she also experienced a series of sexual molestation as a child which led to the birth of her premature baby at age 14. Though the baby died afterward.

Oprah did not let her past get the best of her; she simply put the ugly episodes of her past behind her and moved on to pursue her dreams. Moving on is one of the good ways to make your life better.

She won a beauty pageant at age 17, had her internship at a radio station, and got a job immediately after college.

However, all these little successes were short-lived as she was retrenched from her job and was considered unfit for television broadcasts.

The TV goddess was once considered ‘unfit’! I guess you are also shocked.

Oprah kept on pushing, disregarding every obstacle and facing her passion squarely; she later got another job where she took over the fledgling show called AM Chicago because of her distinct personality.

Afterward, the show became her very show – Oprah Winfrey’s show and the reason behind her popularity and affluence.

8. Robert T. Kiyosaki


Yeah! Rich dad, poor dad comes to mind whenever we hear the name, Robert Kiyosaki. Have you ever wondered how a man could effectively tackle and compare the mentality of two different dads as regards finances? He sure did not learn that in the classroom.

Life taught him that. Yes! Through a series of failures.

At 30, Kiyosaki started a business that ran into bankruptcy and failed afterward. After three years, he tried another line of business, but history repeated itself and the business failed again.

His two encounters with failure had equipped him with some knowledge, so he set out to start a financial education company at age 38. He later sold the company after 9 years to begin a career in investing and writing.

Although fortune did not smile on Kiyosaki immediately. With perseverance and previous experiences, he was able to scale through. And at age 50, he wrote the book that earned him international recognition.

It can be said of him that he celebrated failure for success.

9. Henry Ford

Ford did not have it all figured out until the age of 28 when he decided to become an engineer for Edison Illuminating Company. During his years of work with this company, he started experimenting with gasoline engines.

The experiment wasn’t successful until after 5 years when he designed and built a self-propelled vehicle and with this, he was able to earn the support of William H. Murphy (a lumber baron in Detroit) which lead to the founding of the Detroit Automobile Company year later.

Notwithstanding, the company failed after a while due to debt and inefficiencies in the design of the vehicle.

This was a big blow to Ford, yet he did not give up. He searched for further assistance and he tried again. This also failed.

The last shot Ford gave his venture was all he did to become one of the most successful industrialists who ever lived.

Thank God Ford didn’t give up!

Get this – Whenever you get to the last point, just give it one more shot

Read this: 25 traits of extraordinarily intelligent people. Are you one?

10. Maya Angelou

Are You Embarrassed by Your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 40 successful people

‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. It may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of It.’-Maya Angelou

The above quote, to me, seems like a summary of Maya’s failures and successes.

Her voice brought liberty, hope, and happiness to many; a fearless woman she was; a woman who made a worthwhile living out of her past failures and disappointment.

Maya’s voice remains one of the greatest voices ever lived.

Maya’s parents got divorced when she was only 3 years, which made her father drop her and her only brother (age 4) with their paternal grandparents.

When she was 8 years of age, her father returned them to their mother’s care. Unfortunately, she was sexually molested severally by her mother’s boyfriend.

She took the courage to inform her brother about it, who later told the rest of the family about it. Coincidentally, her abuser was murdered. This incident silenced Maya for 5 years.

Yes! For 5 whole years, no one heard a word from Maya. She was in great shock!

She later recounted, ‘ I thought my voice killed him; I killed that man because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again because my voice would kill anyone.’

Maya’s life had a series of unpalatable events and flaws that almost made her not love herself.

As a young adult, she was exposed to sexually related jobs which included prostitution and nightclub entertainment. She had her only child at the age of 17.


She also got married twice and both marriages failed. She had two major depressions in her adult life; the first was during the assassination of Malcolm X whom she worked to help build a new civil rights organization (the Organization of Afro-American Unity) and the second depression was during the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who she worked with.

Maya had her share of failure and life also failed Maya on several occasions, but she was able to pull through.

She built a voice on the foundation of failure that became a solace to many by becoming an incredible civil rights activist who published several autobiographies, essays and books of poetry.

Through her outstanding works, dozens of awards were accredited to her alongside 50 honorary degrees.

11. Chris Gardner

Ever seen the movie, ‘The Pursuit of Happiness?

That film will certainly bring tears to your eyes. The movie is based on the struggles and failures of the man – Chris Gardner before success eventually located him.

Born in 1954, Chris Gardner had a co-seismic childhood. One could say Gardner fought failure even from childhood, no wonder he became an exceptional father.

As a child, he was confronted with poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, family illiteracy, etc., yet he managed to scale through high school and joined the navy.

Afterward, he got a job as a medical research associate and started a business in medical equipment distribution. He invested a whole lot of money into this business with the hope that the business will succeed.

Alas! The business failed miserably. This left him bankrupt and to worsen his situation, his wife left him. This failure did not only affect Gardner but also his very tender son.

It would be so terrible to see his son suffer and become incapacitated. Gardner fought every single day to get shelter for himself and his son.

They moved from place to place sleeping in numerous awkward places such as public toilets and parks.

Disregarding his failure in relationships and business, Gardner refused to be miserable. He moved on with life courageously and decided to intern with a brokerage firm where he got very little pay.

He knew his passion lies there so he worked hard and his hard work paid off as he succeeded ultimately.

Today, Gardner is the CEO of his brokerage firm- Gardner Rich in Chicago, and his net worth is about $60,000,000.

Read: How to get a job without a previous experience

12. Bill Gates

This is one man that has become so successful as though he never knew failure but a deep look into his profile reveals otherwise.

Ever before the successful Microsoft started, Bill gates co-founded a company called Traf-O-Data with Paul Allen in the early 1970s which failed.

Paul Allen later recalled about the company: “Despite efforts to sell our wares as far afield as South America, we had virtually no customers.

Traf-O-Data was a good idea with a flawed business model. It hadn’t occurred to us to do any market research, and we had no idea how hard it would be to get capital commitments from municipalities.

Between 1974 and 1980, Traf-O-Data totaled net losses of $3,494. We closed shop shortly thereafter.”

Aside from Gate’s failure with Traf-O-Data, He also made some terrible mistakes even as the CEO of Microsoft which cost the company terribly.

Nevertheless, the truth remains that the flunk of Bill’s first company, Traf-O-Data, played a major part in the success of Microsoft because Bill learnt greatly from it.

 13. Aliko Dangote


Aliko Dangote, the president, and chief executive officer of Dangote groups; a tycoon in cement and commodities, was born in 1957. 

Born into a wealthy family in 1957. Aliko Dangote learned the rudiments of business from his family especially his grandfather, whom he lived with, after the death of his father.

His grandfather (Sanusi Dantata) was a very successful businessman who dealt in legumes, groundnuts, and oats and was well known as the richest man in West Africa region.

Dangote was believed to have learnt from his grandfather as he began his entrepreneurial journey as early as when he was in primary school; selling candies to his mates.

After he graduated from university, he took a loan of $2500 from his grandfather to start an importation business in Lagos, Nigeria (He started importing rice and sugar from Thailand and Brazil respectively which he sold for the localities). This was the beginning of his fortunes.

Over the years, Dangote succeeded greatly and maintained the position of the richest man in Africa according to Forbes. His heights of success make it seem as though he has no business with failures or challenges.

The crisis

Truly, there has not been any obvious failure that has been associated with Dangote, but records have it that he faced a major financial crisis in 2001 and was about to give up on his cement business by selling a major part of it to Lafarge cement.

The deal was that Lafarge will take over the management control and 40% share of the company.

However, Lafarge wanted management control and a 51% share. This gave him the resolve to fight the battle alone. Today, His cement business is back on foot, and it controls 70% of the market in Nigeria.

Dangote like every business person in Nigeria tries to thrive under the harshness of the economy which includes low intra-trade rates, scarcity of finance, and inconsistency among others.

Nevertheless, one key factor that helped Dangote in the face of challenges in a third-world country is his resilience – undying and undefeated spirit.

Read: Work smarter, not harder – 6 Tips applicable to any business

 14. Ben Carson

Benjamin Carson was born on September 18, 1951, in Detroit, Michigan, to Robert and Sonya Carson. He began his education in Detroit Public Schools where he was an average student.

When Carson was eight, his parents got separated and he moved with his mother.

Due to the financial limitation of his mother, Carson, and his brother had to attend a two-classroom school at the Berea Seventh-day Adventist church where two teachers taught eighth grades, and the vast majority of time was spent singing songs and playing games.

When they returned to Detroit public schools, Carson and his brother’s academic performance lagged far behind their new classmates, having essentially lost a year of school by attending the small Seventh-day Adventist parochial school in Boston. He consecutively took the least grade in school.

His transition

His transition began when their mother limited their time watching television and required them to read and write book reports on two library books per week. With this measure, he eventually improved greatly in his Academics and topped the class.

He is a graduate of Yale University and the University Of Michigan Medical School. Carson became the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until he retired in 2013.

He achieved numerous feats in the medical world like performing the only successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the back of the head; separation of type-2 vertical craniopagus twins.

He developed new techniques for controlling seizures and methods for detecting brain tumours.

Currently, he is serving as the 17th United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development since 2017, under Donald Trump’s Administration.

He is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.

15. Nelson Mandela


Nelson Mandela was born on 18th July 1918 to the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, British South Africa, and died on the 5th of December 2013.

He studied law at the University of Fort Hare and the University of Witwatersrand and then worked as a lawyer in Johannesburg.

In South Africa, he fought dearly against the apartheid system in the South. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1962 due to his struggle against the white’s one-government system.

Subsequently, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiring to overthrow the state following the Rivonia Trial.

Mandela served 27 years in prison and got released amidst growing domestic and international pressure in 1990. Due to his leadership demeanour, he was elected as the president of South Africa in 1994.

While serving as the president, he worked toward unity between the countries’ racial groups and established a commission to investigate past human rights. 

Unlike most politicians, Mandela declined a second presidential term and was succeeded by his deputy in 1999. He later became an elder statesman who focused on combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the charitable Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Mandela’s activism is internationally recognized and held in deep respect within South Africa. He is often regarded as the father of the Nation and an icon of democracy and social justice. A 1993 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Read: Amazing benefits of positive thinking

16. Michael Faraday

Are You Embarrassed by Your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 40 successful people

Michael Faraday was born on the 22nd of September 1791 and died on the 25th of August 1867.

Faraday was one of four children who worked hard to get enough to eat since their father was a blacksmith and was often ill and incapable of working steadily.

He got only the rudiments of education – to read and write – from a church Sunday school.

At an early age, he began to earn money by delivering newspapers for a book dealer and bookbinder and became his apprentice at the age of 14.

Unlike the other apprentices, Faraday took the opportunity to read some of the books brought in for rebinding and he spent the next seven years educating himself by reading books on a wide range of scientific subjects.

In 1812, Faraday attended four lectures given by the chemist Humphry Davy at the Royal Institution.

Faraday subsequently wrote to Davy asking for a job as his assistant. Davy turned him down but, in 1813, appointed him as a chemical assistant at the Royal Institution, helping with experiments for Davy and other scientists.

In 1821, he published his work on electromagnetic rotation (the principle behind the electric motor). Thereafter, Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction, the principle behind the electric transformer and generator.

He contributed greatly to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. His main discoveries include the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis.

His inventions were of utmost benefit to mankind. He invented electricity even without proper education.

Read: How to apologize for a mistake professionally

17. Folorunsho Alakija


Folorunsho was born on 15th July 1951 into a large and illustrious polygamous Muslim family as number 8 out of 52 children through a father who had 8 wives, and as such faced challenges and setbacks in life.

At age seven, she travelled to the United Kingdom to begin a four-year primary education at Dinorben School for Girls in Hafodunos Hall in Llangernyw, Wales. After returning to Nigeria, she attended Muslim High School in Sagamu Ogun State, Nigeria.

She desired to study law but her dad did not believe in investing much in girls at that time and thus, she couldn’t pursue her career dreams at that time.

She’s currently Nigeria’s richest woman, one of the richest African women, and one of the richest black women in the world.

She is involved in the fashion, oil, and printing industries. She is the group managing director of The Rose of Sharon Group which consists of The Rose of Sharon Prints & Promotions Limited and Digital Reality Prints Limited. Also, she is the executive vice-chairman of Famfa Oil Limited.

Alakija is ranked by Forbes as the richest woman in Nigeria with an estimated net worth of $2.1 billion.

Today, even though she has no university degree, she has received numerous Honorary doctorate degrees at home and abroad.

18. Thomas Edison


One could say Thomas Edison was the most optimistic man who ever lived. How could one not give up after recording 10,000 failed attempts on a particular experiment?!

Born on the 11th of February, 1847, Edison was the seventh and last child – the fourth surviving – of Samuel Edison, Jr., and Nancy Elliot Edison.

At an early age, he developed hearing problems, which have been variously attributed but were most likely due to a familial tendency to mastoiditis.

Edison’s deafness strongly influenced his behaviour and career, motivating many of his inventions. Edison only attended school for a few months and was instead taught by his mother.

He failed 10,000 times to invent a commercially viable electric light bulb, but he didn’t give up.

When asked by a newspaper reporter if he felt like a failure and would like to give up? Edison simply stated “Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know over 9,000 ways an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.”

This is the same person whose teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything,” and fired from his first two employment positions for not being productive enough.

However, Edison, through his failures, is also the greatest innovator of all time with 1,093 US patents to his name, along with several others in the UK, and Canada.

This is a man who refused to ever give up no matter what.

He attributed his success to his mother, who pulled him out of school and began to teach him herself. Aren’t these kinds of mothers awesome?

Read this: Roadside beggar turned professional lawyer

19. Colonel Harland Sanders

Are You Embarrassed by Your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 40 successful people

Oh! The uniqueness of KFC chicken!! But have you ever taken the time to read the profile of the man behind the KFC chicken recipe?

Let me give you a quick one, Failure to secure a good job brought about the world’s fast-food chicken chain. That’s amazing, ain’t it?

Have you ever heard the popular saying that goes, ‘when life throws a lemon at you, make lemonade out of it? Yeah! Sanders made very good use of the saying because he made a very unique lemonade.

Having faced rejection and disappointment on several occasions as regards securing a good job and a good life, Sanders did not see himself as one of the failure stories in life, rather he looked inward and saw what he could give to the world if the world is not ready to offer him anything good.

And that’s it! He gave us an ever-delicious chicken.

Sanders did not make it big immediately after KFC but yet he stayed strong and here is one of his sayings, “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could.

And no hours, nor amount of labour, nor the amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me.”

Do you get that?

Read this: How to win business contracts without hassles 

20. Elizabeth Arden


A very successful business mogul born in 1878 also had her share of failures before eventually creating a novel beauty empire by 1929 that included 150 salons throughout the United States and Europe, and eventually selling over 1000 products across 22 separate countries.

Today, the company – Elizabeth Arden, Inc. makes over $1 billion in annual sales, making it one of the most successful beauty businesses.

Nevertheless, there was a period in Arden’s life when she failed woefully in business, yet she picked up the pieces that failure made of her business and built a magnificent success for herself.

21. Muhammadu Buhari

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

You sure know Muhammadu Buhari. Of course, who won’t know him? He is a retired army general and the current president of Nigeria.

Have you taken the time to check his profile? In a bid to become the Nigerian president, Buhari contested in the years 2003, 2007, and 2011 and he failed woefully. His determination to steer the affairs of the country yielded good results.

Fortune smiled at him because he refused to be held down by defeat. You know politics can be a dicey game but Buhari was determined, he never gave up his dreams of becoming the president.

In 2014, he joined the All Progressive Congress party and got the presidential ticket. In 2015, Buhari contested against the incumbent president, Good luck Jonathan and he won. He became the first person to defeat an incumbent president in the history of Nigerian elections.

Lesson:  The presence of failure in your endeavours does not make you a failure. If you are courageous, determined, and resilient you will attain the success you crave for.

Read: Interview story on the determination that brings success

22. Beyonce Knowles

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

I am sure you must have heard the name ” Beyonce” because her name rings an alarm in the mind of music lovers worldwide. Did you know that Beyonce experienced failures when she was starting her career as a singer?

When Beyonce was 12 years old, she formed a group called Girls Tyme. Beyonce and her group Girls Tyme featured in a talent hunt show and they lost.

But Beyonce was determined to shut down the world with her powerful voice. Against all odds, she became a global singer. In another round of failure, Music promoters told Beyonce that she was not talented enough to be a pop star.

Beyonce had 88 Grammy nominations. She lost the grammy award 88 times. As of 2022, Beyonce clinched 28 grammy awards making her the most-awarded female artist of all time.

How did Beyonce achieve this feat? She achieved this because she put hard work into releasing more melodious songs with great lyrics and has gotten so many recognitions for her work.

Catch this: Put more effort into your ventures. Be hardworking, you will gradually get the recognition you deserve.

23. Cristiano Ronaldo

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

The name Cristiano Ronaldo strikes like thunder among football fans. Ronaldo’s success in the world of football is remarkable. Did you know that before Ronaldo ventured into stardom? Life, troubles, and failures dealt with him massively.

Ronaldo was born into an impoverished family, and at a young age, his education stood still because he was expelled from school. Life added salt to his injury, and Ronaldo was diagnosed with tachycardia, a heart-related problem.

Heart problems can force any athlete to give up because sports require energy, good health, and strength.  But Ronaldo was unstoppable even in the face of failure.

Ronaldo underwent heart surgery. In a matter of days, he resumed football training. Currently, Ronaldo has 5 Ballon d’Or awards, and 5 UEFA champion leagues under his hat. Should I continue to list his achievements? He is the first player to score in five world cups.

Indeed Ronaldo’s failure stories turned to success gives me goosebumps. He never let his poor family background determine his higher ground.

Today, Ronaldo has attracted worldwide recognition with large followers on social media; an important tool for business. Here is a man whose parents were so poor to the extent that his mother contemplated terminating his pregnancy.

Get this: Your background should not determine your higher ground. Don’t be limited by your background.

24. Mercy Johnson

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

You must have heard of Mercy Johnson. Mercy Johnson is a Nigerian Nollywood actress who experienced a series of failures before she became a household name in the entertainment industry.

Did you know that Mercy Johnson ventured into acting because she failed her university entrance examination?

When Mercy Johnson finally passed her university entrance examination, she couldn’t further her education because of finances.

She became a school dropout and she felt like a failure. But Mercy was destined for greatness, Mercy identified her talent as an actress.

she ventured into acting, and her first earnings as an actress were used to improve the financial condition of her family. Currently, Mercy Johnson is one of the richest and most successful in Nigeria.

Catch this: A man’s gift makes room for him, Identify your talents and never give up on your dreams.

25. Lionel Messi

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

I love the story of Lionel Messi because he is not a stranger to failure yet he was able to rise above limitations. I am sure you know Lionel Messi. He is regarded as one of the best footballers of his generation.

Did you know that there was a time Messi was rejected by a club before his rise to stardom? At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with Hormone deficiency syndrome. He was shorter in height than his peers.

The money required for his medical illness was expensive to the extent that his parents could not afford it and could not get a loan due to the tax implications involved. River showed interest in Messi’s talent but could not afford money for the expensive treatment worth €500. 

However, fortune smiled at Messi when the sporting director of Barcelona offered to pay for his medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain.

As they say, the rest became history as Messi became a worldwide sensation in the arena of football.

Take Note: Despite Messi’s rejection by the club that was meant to sign him, physical limitations among his peers.

He pushed harder without letting the failures in life get to him. You can be successful if you push harder. When life throws a lemon at you, make a lemonade out of it.

26. Christopher Columbus

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Christopher Columbus is an Italian explorer who is widely recognised for discovering the American continent.

One thing you should learn about the life of Columbus is that he was passionate about discovering a trade route to Asia because the Ottoman Empire had cut access to Asia.

Columbus’s voyage of exploration led to the discovery of America. Columbus was rejected three times before king Ferdinand and Isabella finally agreed to fund his voyages.

For seven years, Columbus’s pleas for financial support to embark on a voyage were denied. Is that not discouraging enough? Columbus was determined to launch his voyage before his appeal was granted.

He never halts his desire to discover a trade route to Asia that was lucrative for its spice trade. Most people quit once they are faced with failures and rejections. I will encourage you never to quit your dreams.

Remember, quitters never win. Nobody believed in Columbus’s exploration but he believed in himself. He developed 3 ships and recruited the best navigators to sail with him in 1492.

In 1492, Columbus discovered a new landmass called the New World, now referred to as America. Did you realize that  Columbus knew navigation through self-education? He never attended a formal school.

The king’s and queen’s refusal to finance his voyage is enough to discourage him from launching a voyage of discovery. Instead, he kept pushing till the King and the queen accepted to fund his voyage. He was able to amass more landmass for the king and queen.

Catch this: Don’t quit your ambitions because of rejection. Quitters never win. Keep your dreams alive.

27. Steve Jobs

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

I am sure you know Steve Jobs. Yeah! Who wouldn’t know him? He provided meaningful contributions to technology. He was the former CEO of Apple before his death.

Did you know that Jobs was fired from the company he co-founded in 1985? What can be sadder than that scenario? 

It was as if the setback was a stepping stone for Jobs. He went ahead to establish products called NeXT and Pixar which kept him relevant in the digital world.

However, luck smiled at him. When the Apple firm was on the verge of collapse, Steve Jobs was recalled to take the mantle of leadership of the company that earlier fired him.

What lessons can you learn from the life of Jobs? Jobs took a big risk by establishing his firm when Apple did its worst. His failure launched him into greatness. You can also learn how to be an effective leader from him.

28. Charles Darwin

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Have you heard of Charles Darwin? Charles Darwin is an English naturalist and biologist.

Many people saw Darwin as a failure. His father believed he would bring huge shame to the family. Was his father’s assertion right? Darwin was sent to medical school but dropped out because he couldn’t cope.

He enrolled in Christ College, Cambridge School after he failed in the medical line and was considered ordinary among his peers. Charles became passionate about species.

Darwin proved the theory of evolution and natural selection and explained how organisms can evolve through physical or behavioural traits. Darwin proved his father wrong by succeeding in his career.

Just Like Darwin, what are you passionate about? You are likely to become successful when you pursue all your dreams.

Catch this: Don’t stick to one thing, try various things. Darwin failed in the medical line but he succeeded in the field of natural science.

29. Winston Churchill

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Churchill is regarded as one of the most notable figures of the twentieth century. Did you know that Churchill failed at a point in his life?

At the age of 7, Churchill’s academic performance was poor. His father wanted him to join the military. Churchill tried to gain admission into the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but he failed twice.

Can you imagine the magnitude of his disappointment? Churchill never relented. He tried on the third attempt and he succeeded. Not only did he become a military officer, but he also graduated from Sandhurst and eventually became the British prime minister.

Have you been trying in your career, business, and endeavours and you are not getting the desired result? Take a look at Churchill’s life who failed to gain admission into Sandhurst twice but he never got tired.

He kept pushing till he became a cadet in the military and he eventually became the British Prime Minister. He did not give in to failure; instead, he took lessons from failure.

30. Curtis Jackson AKA 50 cent

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

I am sure you must have come across 50 Cent’s songs. He is one of the best rappers of his generation. Curtis’s journey to success was not an easy ride.

He grew up in poverty, and to compound his problem, his mother was a drug dealer. His mother died mysteriously and his father left him to his fate. At age 19, Curtis was arrested for possession of drugs and firearms.

When Curtis was released from jail. He found love in music and Columbia Records signed him. Unfortunately for him, he was banned from recording songs. 

Is that not discouraging enough? But Curtis was determined to succeed in the music industry. He chased his dreams as if he had been hunted. Dr. Dre and Eminem tutored him. He released his album “Get rich or die trying”.

The album became an instant hit among music lovers. Don’t see failure as a disaster instead see failure as a stepping stone to greatness. Do you want to be successful? Try to be persistent in your endeavours.

Curtis was persistent to become a rapper and he succeeded despite the hurdles he faced.

31. Viola Davis

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Viola Davis is an American actress who lived in abject poverty during her childhood days. She remembered living in a rat-infested apartment.

Davis graduated from college in 1993 majoring in theatre art. At one point, Davis felt like a failure. She kept securing minor roles in Hollywood movies.

In 2014, Davis became a household name after starring in the film ” How to get away with murder”. You need to keep pushing to achieve your dreams. Don’t despise the days of your humble beginnings.

Davis secured a minor role before getting a major role in movies. She remembered saying she was too black. Little did she know that her skin colour had nothing with her greatness.

Davis achieved fame after 21 years when she graduated from college. Here is a piece of advice for you as a student: don’t feel like a failure because success might be approaching you very soon.

32. Walt Disney

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The love I have for Walter Disney is second to none. Did you know that Walter Disney encountered many failures before he succeeded?

Disney tried his hands at acting but he failed. Did you know that Disney was rejected 300 times before Mickey Mouse became a success? Walter Disney suffered bankruptcy and a mental breakdown before he was able to find his feet.

How many failures have you encountered that you are already getting tired of challenges? Walter Disney established Disneyland which is regarded as one of the most delightful spots on earth.

Did you know that when Disneyland was launched, people showed up with fake tickets? As a result, Walter Disney suffered a financial breakdown. But he eventually bounced back.

Currently, Disneyland is one of the most visited places for fun seekers. Walter Disney never let failure stop him. He bounced back. He learnt from his mistakes. What lessons have you learnt from your failure?

Sometimes, failures happen so that you can gather experience. After all, experience is the best teacher.

33. The Wright brothers

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

People book aeroplanes to travel around the world. Did you know the individuals behind the invention of aeroplanes? The Wright brothers invented aeroplanes.

Unforeseen technical problems and terrible weather frustrated the invention of their first aeroplane. No one had ever conceived the idea of building an aeroplane.

The Wright brothers invented aeroplanes and they failed at their first attempt, they became objects of ridicule, and people mocked them because they couldn’t understand the concept behind aeroplanes.

Have you ever been ridiculed? Don’t be discouraged. Don’t blame others for your problem and remember, success has many friends. The Wright brothers survived 8 crashes while flying a kitty hawk plane before they achieved running an aircraft.

Catch this: People only throw stones at ripe fruits. Nobody throws a stone at an unripe fruit. When you are ridiculed, see yourself as a ripe fruit that people will love to throw stones at.  Don’t be discouraged.

34.  Tyra Banks

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

If you are familiar with the world of modelling. You will know Tyra Banks. Tyra Banks is one of the highest-paid supermodels.

Her story is one of the unexpected success stories that will wow you.

When Tyra Banks started modelling, did you know that she was rejected by 4 modelling agencies? But banks refused to back down, instead, she kept pushing. Prosperity grinned at Banks when she was signed by L. A model.

Are you aware that the rejected stone can be the head of the cornerstone? Banks started walking on runways. She has modelled for the best designers in the world. They include designers like Givenchy, Marc Jacobs, Fendi, Valentino, etc.

Can you imagine a model that was rejected by 4 modelling agencies now modelling for the best designers in the world? Tyra Banks was determined to make it a model. 

Take Note: Being rejected should serve as a catalyst that will propel you to greatness.

35. Funke Akindele

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Funke Akindele needs no introduction to the world of Nigerian movies. She started her acting career in the popular series ” I Need To Know”.

When Funke thought she had secured a spot in the acting world; failure struck, and she stopped getting roles from movie producers. She became a regular participant in auditions.

Yet, she wasn’t getting any movie roles, she shed tears feeling like a failure. She became broke to the extent that it was her mother that was giving her transport fare to attend auditions.

Her mother encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Akindele joined the Odunfa caucus of the Yoruba movie industry.

In 2009, Funke Akindele released a blockbuster movie titled “Jenifa’. Funke Akindele instantly became a household name in the Nigerian movie industry.

Can you see that delay is not denial? Akindele started her acting career in 1998 but fame and fortune came in 2009 when her movie Jenifa hit the spotlight. 

Take note: Don’t give up on your dreams because delay is not denial. Funke Akindele succeeded after 11 years of consistency in the acting world. Be consistent in pursuing your passion.

36. Genevieve Nnaji

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Genevieve Nnaji is popularly referred to as Julia Roberts of Africa. Did you know that Genevieve failed in her teenage years before her rise to stardom?

She became a huge failure to her parents after getting pregnant as a teen. She couldn’t complete her education and had to drop out of school.

Genevieve decided to pursue a career in acting and she became successful. The most important lesson to learn from Genevieve’s story is never to allow your mistakes to determine the outcome of your future.

Catch this: Don’t allow your mistakes to determine the outcome of your future. While there are mistakes you can avoid in life and business, some are bound to happen but when they happen, don’t sit there, move! 

37. Isaac Newton

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Isaac Newton is a mathematician and a great physicist. His findings in calculus, optics, and the theory of gravity formed the basic beliefs of modern physics.

When Newton was born prematurely. His doctor never knew he would survive but he survived. At school, Newton’s academics were nothing to write about because he performed poorly.

Can you imagine the greatest scientist of his generation performing poorly in his academics? He was enlisted to work on the farm by his mother. The headmaster of his college urged his mother to send him back to school so that he can finalize his education.

Who are the people you surround yourself with? If not for Newton’s headmaster who saw his talent. He might have been a miserable farmer. He faced a lot of difficulties while growing up. But difficulties never stopped him.

Are you feeling like quitting because you are surrounded by hardship? Why not get inspiration from Isaac Newton’s story? If you have a passion to make it in a field, work hard and surround yourself with people walking towards the same path.

38.  Katy Perry

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Most people know Katy Perry as a pop star. But they never knew the series of failures, and disappointments she faced before fame found her.

Perry graduated from high school in 1999. She started as a gospel artist; her first record was commercially unsuccessful. Perry was determined to achieve success.

 In life, determination and loyalty are the major keys to success.

Perry switched to secular music, she was dropped by 3 record labels. Instead of quitting music, Perry pursued her dreams by doing menial part-time jobs and serving as a backup singer until Capitol Records signed her.

She released her hit single in 2006 which was commercially a success.

The major lesson you should learn from Perry’s story is determination. Instead of seeing failure as a disaster, try to see failure as a stepping stone.

39. Jay-Z

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Jay-Z is an American rapper who grew up in abject poverty.

When Jay-Z started his career as an artist, every record label he approached refused to sign him. He later established his record label.

He struck a deal with a distribution company to market his album. His album became an instant hit and it was commercially successful.

Do you know that when a door refuses to open, it might mean you need to push so that higher opportunities can come?

Lessons learnt: Look beyond limitations, not getting a record label to sign Jay-Z was enough reason to ditch his music career but he rose above limitations. You can make it if you look beyond limitations.

40. Anthony Joshua

Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people

Anthony Oluwafemi Joshua is a British -Nigerian professional boxer whose mother is from Ogun state in Nigeria while his father is British.

A. Joshua came to Nigeria to represent Nigeria at the 2008 Beijing Olympics games.

He left Nigeria for Britain to pursue his dreams and attracted global recognition when he defeated Wladimir Klitschko. Anthony Joshua became a heavyweight boxing champion. 

Don’t allow rejection to make you feel worthless. A. Joshua believed in himself. The solution to failure and rejection is to love and believe in yourself. It is one of the secrets to living a healthy happy life no matter what.


I will conclude with the popular saying that goes, ‘it is not over until it is over. Since you are still breathing, there is no failure or circumstances you are facing right now or that you will face that are insurmountable.

So how do you feel? Great, right?

Was there any challenge you have faced in the past? What kept you pushing on?

Do you have failure stories that make you feel you are not up to the task ahead of you?

For more information on successful entrepreneurs, check out the characteristics of successful Entrepreneurs.

Looking forward to your comments.

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Post Author: Explicit Success

Explicit Success is a place you can get some impetus and at the same time, get some relaxation. The articles you’ll find here have a lot of anecdotes you can relate to, which will help you to feel good about yourself and achieve success. Connect with our Team Lead on Instagram @abimbolajoe.

52 Replies to “Read FAILURE stories of 40 successful people”

  1. Truly one of the most powerful pieces I’ve read!

    I really needed this at this very moment!

    You have no idea how this touched my spirit! Thank you!

  2. I honestly don’t believe in failures. The only way you can really fail is to give up and not learn something from the situation. These are some inspiring stories! Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to make such a fantastic informative site.

  4. Wow…the story about Maya going silent for five years. That was so incredibly deep and really saddens me. She saw herself as wrong, when she did the right thing. jeez…anyways. These were all really great failure to success stories. Thanks for sharing,

  5. This so inspiring and motivational. It is not easy to deal with failure but no matter how much we fail we must never give up. Thank you for sharing.

  6. The people that were cited above are truly inspirational. I have failed many times, rejected and neglected and at some point, I wanted to quit but my dreams are bigger than these things so I keep going and going. Jack Ma is really rich now, I remember he was rejected for a job at KFC. Now, he’s one of the richest. Persistent and positive thinking will put you someday to spotlight

  7. Even though I’ve read about quite a few of these people on your list, I loved reading about them again – I’m currently reading about Phil Knight, the founder of Nike and it’s amazing to see how people have turned their failures and life experiences into success.

  8. Very nice.. I think.. This is the blog of the day. I’m not a good reader, i always skip some of the paragraphs but this one.. I really read it from the start and until the last sentence.

  9. I love these stories! Heard some of them before but they’re as inspiring the 100th time as they are the first. Thank you for putting them together!

  10. Being successful is a step by step process and during that process there is failure.

    1. We should not be embarassed about failure. In fact that is part of our life. And everyone experienced that.

  11. I failed not just once or twice. I failed so many times but I stand and fight. I am stronger because of my failure.

  12. My failures are actually my secrets to success. Each event has been a learning lesson, which has allowed me to learn my craft better and become the best.

  13. There’s no failure, only learning – that’s what I’ve been brought up on & that’s what I’m teaching my kids. This wonderful collection of motivating life snippets really reinforced the idea. Thanks
    – Nandita

  14. I’m terrified of failing. However, most that do fail tend to adjust and overcome and do even better than what they dreamed of.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing this post! Failure isn’t final. “Failure” is a learning opportunity for us to learn and grow. It’s not how many times we fall, but how many times we get back up and keep trying that truly counts.

  16. Such a great post. Failure is a great teacher. I can definitely relate to the people you profiled in your post. We all fail and can use those moments to propel us towards success!

  17. It took me a long time to admit my recent “failure” and now look at it as a learning lesson. It is the hardest thing to do at the time – but we need to admit we are going through this for a reason at the time.

  18. Thanks for every other informative web site. Where else may I get that type of info written in such a perfect way?
    I’ve a mission that I am simply now working on, and I
    have been on the glance out for such information.

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