Are You Embarrassed by your FAILURE? Read the failure stories of 20 successful people
Oh no!!! Arrgh!!! Oops!!! Eww!!! Why this?!
Are you familiar with these interjections? Definitely!
We all have, at a 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.
Failure stories seem absolutely ‘deadly’ to us that 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 potentials to do great stuff.
It is only the few that have taken the courage to see the beauty in failure have actually 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 despite the fact that 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 20 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 really 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 neighbourhood in south-eastern China. He was not a genius neither was he a computer guru.
In fact, 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 rejections were a key part of Jack Ma’s life.
So how did he become one of the world’s 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 schools. For three years, I tried and failed in 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! That great and successful basketball player. Who wouldn’t know him?
But have you really 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 pasted, 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 in order 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 came to the realization 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 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 actually 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 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 someone hanging rejection letters? That’s a big one.
Lesson – Stephen appreciated his failings to earn his successes. Hang yours too and speak success to them.
4. Sochirio Honda
Here is another man who had his combat with failure; 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 out as an apprentice at an automobile shop at the tender as of 15 and he was an intern for 6 years after which he started his own 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 trial and failure, 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 actually brought him his major success. After the earthquake, he started what was totally 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 for 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 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. In fact, he narrowly escaped dropping out of school.
It was so terrible that his own 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 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 series of sexual molestation as a child which led to the birth of her premature baby at age 14. Though the baby died afterwards.
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.
She won a beauty pageant at age 17, had her internship in 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 broadcast.
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 fledgeling show called AM Chicago because of her distinct personality.
Afterwards, the show became her own 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 afterwards. 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 so as 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.
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 Detroit Automobile Company a 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 on Ford, yet he did not give up. He searched for further assistance and he tried again. This also ended in failure.
The last shot Ford gave his venture was all he did to become one of the most successful industrialists ever lived.
Thank God Ford didn’t give up!
Get this – Whenever you get to the last point, just give it one more shot
10. Maya Angelou
‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, 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 life out of her past failures and disappointment.
Maya’s voice remains one of the greatest voices ever lived.
Maya’s parents got divorced while 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. As a young adult, she was exposed to sexually related jobs which included prostitution and night club 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 with 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.
Afterwards, he got a job as a medical research associate and started a business of 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 relationship 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 definitely knew his passion lies there so he worked really, really hard and his hard work paid off as he succeeded ultimately.
Today, Gardner is the CEO of his own brokerage firm- Gardner Rich in Chicago and his net worth is about $60,000,000.
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 totalled 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 a 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 learnt the rudiments of business from his family especially his grandfather, whom he lived with, after the death of his own 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 successes make it seem as though he has no business with failures or challenges.
Truly, there has not been any obvious failure that has been associated to 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 a 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 rate, scarcity of finance, inconsistency amidst 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.
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 eight 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 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.
16. Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday was born on the 22nd September 1791 and died on the 25th 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.
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 Sagamu Ogun State, Nigeria.
Her desire was 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 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, providing the motivation for 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 definitely 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
Oh! The uniqueness of KFC chicken!! But have you ever taken 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 about 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?
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.
I will conclude with the popular saying that goes, ‘it is not over until it is over’. Inasmuch as you are still breathing, there is no failure or circumstances you are facing right now or that you will face that is 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?
Looking forward to your comments.