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Man fearing failure lying on a track

10 Famous Failures To Learn From [With Actionable Tips]

(Last Updated On: July 18, 2017)

Man fearing failure lying on a track

Biggest Failures In History

Everyone experiences failure at some stage in life.

Anyone that has gone through the experience can admit to the painful episodes.

Episodes they had to endure before overcoming the issue.

In some cases, failure can be so detrimental that an individual may resort to activities that are harmful to self or other people.

These are not the greatest failures but they’re not far away. We’re talking about big names. Some of the most famous people in history!

Failure Is An Orphan

In certain parts of the world, there is a saying that goes, “Failure is an orphan while success has many parents.”

This saying describes how many people want to associate themselves with success.

No one wants to associate themselves with failure.

Successful People Have Failed

Having this in mind, it is important to realize that most successful people in life are those who failed.

They failed in many previous attempts at doing something.

They learned valuable lessons from their experience so as to become better rather than wallow in self-pity and hate.

These are the same people that found their true purpose in life through failure.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most famous failures and what the individuals involved learned.

These experience can be the key to overcoming your fear of failure as you pursue your goals and create their own future.

Here are 5 famous individuals who define this:

 

1. Oprah WinfreyOprah Winfrey giving a thumbs up to overcoming failure

Everyone knows who Oprah Winfrey is.

She’s one of the most celebrated television personalities today.

She managed to build a stable career and has built a huge fortune and earned a ton of awards.

However, a close look at her former life reveals some of the most disturbing details.

How did Oprah become a billionaire? Did everything go her way?

Let’s take a deeper look.

Oprah’s Roots

She was born to a family with a humble background and continuously experienced sexual abuse from an uncle, cousin and family friend.

These ordeals took place while she was only 9.

Growing in such an environment can often compromise an individual’s view of life and people in general.

What’s Next?

Things got better as she moved to live with her father at the age of 14 and later landed a scholarship to the University of Tennessee and after graduation, she joined the media industry as an intern at a local radio station.

Then she was hired by a local television station.

However, after a short stint at the station, she was fired as being unfit for TV.

Determined to fulfil her dreams she joined a low rated TV talk show on which she built a notable career.

Despite the hardships, she went through and the fact that a highly respected producer branded her unfit for TV she managed to overlook the failures and pursue her dreams.

“Failure is a great teacher. If you’re open to it, every mistake had a lesson to offer.” – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Pushing On

This story teaches you that you can always change your situation regardless of the circumstances surrounding you.

If she would have given up, the chances are that she may have ended up engaging in harmful activities such as drug abuse and sexual promiscuity as was the case in her surroundings.

Today Oprah can sympathize or relate to people going through different situations and offer them advice on how to overcome the challenges.

 

2. Bill GatesBill Gates

Bill Gates is one of the most famous people in the world today.

He is also among the wealthiest individuals in the world.

Bill’s story is that of a university drop out who tried his hand at a business and failed a couple of times before finally achieving success.

Together with colleagues, this entrepreneur started up a company called Traf-O-Data with the aim of providing reports to roadway engineers from raw traffic data.

Bill Gates’ Failures

This was his first big one.
Side view of frustrated young businessman with paper balls and laptop on desk

After a short period of work the company was not sustainable and this ended up in failure.

As a young man, this clearly stressed him.

But in hindsight, he realized that he had acquired a few skills on how to manage a company and took note of some of the things that he must not do in the process.

The entrepreneur went on to start Microsoft company as a small entity which gradually grew to become one of the most famous computer brands in the world today.

This young man’s resilience in spite of apparent failure in the past allowed him to build something that most people find helpful today.

Resilience and Persistence

The story lets you know that one of the most important qualities to success is resilience or persistence in the face of challenges and past failures.

If your failure to thrive (FTT) keeps you discouraged, you may never be able to move on to achieve the dreams you have about your business or career.

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates

 

3. Abraham LincolnAbraham Lincoln with the American Flag

Here’s a man we can’t leave out when talking about a success story built from failure.

Abraham Lincoln is without a doubt one of the most celebrated persons in the United States of America.

His journey is that of a typical failure or so many would presume. Before becoming president, he faced numerous flops.

Abraham Lincoln Failures

He lost his job in 1832, lost the race to become a legislator in the same year and failed in business in the following year.

Despite these failures, he ran for office again and was elected to the legislature in 1834.

Two years later he had a nervous breakdown but recovered and tried running for House speaker in which he lost again.

He also failed to capture a Senate seat and vice president nominations.

Abraham’s determination saw him run for presidency in 1860 and winning the office to lead the country through its greatest crisis: The American Civil War.

Here is a beautiful quote by the man himself about failure.

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Abraham Lincoln

What We Can Learn From Abraham Lincoln

The numerous failures that Lincoln went through helped shape his perspectives and improved his values.

Despite winning the presidency he remained humble because the failures made him respect others and taught him that humility is a virtue.

Today many regard him as a role model because of what he achieved for the country.

We often characterise wars  by ups and downs, and the lessons this man learned from the past no doubt played a big role in the wisdom he used to steer the country through its worst crisis.

Having such a character while achieving the success he did is no easy task and what all of us should strive for!

 

4. Walt Disney

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

If you had a decent childhood (or even a fun adulthood), you would have heard of Disney.

Disney founder, Walt Disney is the man who came up with the concept of creating cartoons.

Disney’s Challenges

However, his creations were once despised and considered a total failure.

For a short while, he worked at the Kansas City Star paper but was later fired in 1919 by what the editor termed as a lack of imagination.

This effectively pushed him into business where he acquired an animation studio by the name of Laugh-O-Gram.

At this time he had become fond of consultations with other people and tried to incorporate new ideas into what he did.

This brought considerable success and forced him to hire salaried employees to help.

Walt Disney Bankruptcy

A point of note in this man’s life is that he had little knowledge in financial management and this quickly led to the company going bankrupt and shutting down.

It is quite easy for anyone that has faced such enormous failures to just quit and resort to working in a less than ideal job.

Walt Disney continued pursuing his dream which is why he came up with the Walt Disney company.

Today, the company is one of the most profitable in the world!

“Everyone falls down. Getting back up is how you learn to walk.” – Walt Disney

Walt’s RealizationMagic Kingdom, Disneyworld, Disney World, Orlando, Florida, USA

The failures that Walt Disney experienced in the beginning made it possible for him to learn the importance of consulting people and getting various views before finally making decisions.

It also allowed him to realize that certain habits can easily lead to financial problems.

Despite people telling him that he lacks imagination he has never given up on his dreams and today is considered among the most creative people in the history of the world.

Today, Disney is one of the biggest cartoon and theme park companies in the world giving kids and adults alike an incredible experience!

 

5. The Wright BrothersWright brothers on an early plane model

Orville and Wilbur Wright will take credit as the inventors of the airplane.

But their story is one of painful failures and determination in the face of frequent challenges.

These two brothers conducted numerous studies and experiments without much success.

Whenever they failed at achieving their goals they went back to the drawing board to look at what other people in the field had done.

They compared their failures with those of others so as to determine what could be going wrong.

In certain cases they would test their glider which would meet an undesirable outcome and get damaged.

The repairs took a lot of time and hard work.

Failures Despite Change

They were constantly forced to change things like wing length and the overall weight of the glider.

Although it appeared to improve what they did, they still failed to make it work.

When finally they had designed a glider that looked perfect it was time to test it.

They had a coin toss and Wilbur won, but when he took the glider for a ride it came crashing into the sand after 3.5 seconds in the air.

They carried out repairs for three days and later it was Orville’s turn to try it out. He took off well but he also crashed after 12 seconds in the air.

Failures As A Platform

These heartbreaking failures formed the basis for air travel today.

The small strides that these individuals made allowed the world to learn how to design each component of the airplane.

Their failures not only strengthened their bond but also gave them an opportunity to seek help from other people.

 

6. J.K. RowlingJ.K.Rowling holding a Harry Potter book

J.K. Rowling, the now-famous Harry Potter author, didn’t always have books sliding off her bookshelves. In fact, she revealed in a commencement speech to Harvard grads a few years ago that failure taught her to learn from mistakes and never to stop dreaming.

Life for Rowling as an early writer was far from dreamy, even though she never gave up her dream to be a professional writer. Shortly after graduating from college, Rowling found herself without a job, divorced, a single parent and struggling financially. But being in that circumstance empowered Rowling to go after her true dreams of being a writer.

When Failure Leads To Inspiration

And it was in the midst of that downfall that Harry Potter was born, a now more than $400-billion book series with fans all over the world.

“So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?” she asked the soon-to-be Harvard graduates. She said, “Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free.”

With failure comes a new energy and spark for creativity — and Rowling certainly saw that in her struggles in life. People like Rowling who takes risks — writing while facing financial and relationship ruin — fail all the time — but it’s in the lessons that you learn in the process of failing that will take you to the next level.

7. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan taking a breath during a Chicago Bulls game

When you think of former basketball legend Michael Jordan, does failure come to your mind? No, of course not. You remember him as a basketball standout at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then becoming an all-star basketball player for the Chicago Bulls.

Michael Jordan became a hero for many people throughout his career, but looking back, he says it wasn’t always easy. Believe it or not, even this all-star has failed.

Michael Admits To Failure

In past interviews with the press, Jordan has revealed that he fell short of performing like an all-star not just once or twice, but many times. Think about this for a few moments:

In his career, Jordan missed more than 9,000 shots.
Twenty-six times he missed the game-winning shot.
He’s nearly lost 300 games. And that’s just the beginning.

But failure has a way of shaping a person and making him or her better – and that’s certainly the case for this retired basketball star.

Jordan had to work extremely hard to be where he is and to achieve what he did for basketball – and to think it might not have happened had he not been given a chance!

When he was beginning, coaches weren’t sure Jordan was a good fit because he didn’t reach the minimum height for players. But with the right opportunities, hard work, and natural talent, Jordan was able to rise from failure and win.

“I’ve failed over and over in my life. That’s why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

After Basketball

And even as Jordan’s career began to approach retirement, he continued to grow and become a very successful businessman, owning car dealerships, and endorsing products of all kinds throughout the world.

Sometimes it takes working through the current risks and resulting failures to break up the beauty of success and live a better life. — and that certainly is the case for all-star Michael Jordan.

8. Vincent Van Gogh

A portrait painting of Vincent Van GoghIf you’ve ever been in any great museum anywhere in the world in a notable city, then you’ve probably come across a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. But the committed painter may never have guessed that his works would span the globe and that he would be so revered by the art community as he is today.

The famous late painter was a brilliant artist who left behind a legacy for the art world for centuries to come. But during his lifetime, Van Gogh faced serious obstacles that threatened his livelihood and his ability to produce art – including failed relationships and a mental illness.

In fact, Van Gogh committed suicide when he was only 37; a life cut too short by the obstacles of the world. His mental illness was not a failure. It was part of his biology, and that’s not his fault, but many people saw the challenges he faced that led to his ultimate downfall of something that hinted at failure.

Van Gogh’s Painting Failures

What would be a more accurate portrayal of a failure is the number of paintings Van Gogh sold in his lifetime. Do you know the answer?

Van Gogh sold one painting only in his entire lifetime as an artist. Yes you heard it right. Just one! At the time, he couldn’t get anyone expect one person to invest in his work — but he did not let this failure stomp him. Did this halt his pursuit or make him any less of an artist? Quite the contrary, in fact.

What Van Gogh knew about himself was that he was a skilled painter who had a love and passion for the form. Nothing could stop him from giving everything to his pursuit of art and becoming a real artist. He did achieve that goal — and it came out of working harder and harder to move from failure into success.

Take Courage

It’s just that Van Gogh never lived to know his actual impact and to see his real success as a world-renown painter. Van Gogh could never have known that he would rise as the key artist in the entire world of the post-impressionist art moment and that he would be touted as one of the greatest painters of all time.

Today millions of people look to Van Gogh for inspiration and as a role model for pursuing their dreams to become an artist. He has crossed industries — becoming an inspiration and a model for people working in business, medicine, journalism and more.

That doesn’t sound like a failure of any sort in the end!

“What would life be without the courage to attempt anything?” – Vincent Van Gogh

9. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg posing with his OscarSteven Spielberg is both noted as one of the most riveting and talented filmmakers of all time. At the same time, he faced many failures as he sought out his dream to create stories on the big screen. Who would have known one of the greatest filmmakers in the industry today struggled at an early age?

In high school, he made such poor grades that when it came to applying to college, he was rejected from the University of Southern California not one, not two, but three times!

“Failure is inevitable. Success is elusive” – Steven Spielberg

You Only Need One Chance

But all it takes is one chance – and someone to see your talent – and that’s what happened to Spielberg. Executives at Universal Studios noticed his work and hired him as a television in 1969 – giving Spielberg the opportunity to work in Hollywood but leaving behind a college degree he wouldn’t complete for 33 years.

Spielberg saw leaving college as a failure. However, it turned into a point of success. Eventually, he went back to get it.

In the interim, he lived his dream of becoming a filmmaker and let his creativity fly as one of the greatest directors and filmmakers known today.

10. Albert Einstein

When you think of Albert Einstein, what word comes to mind?

For many people all around the world, that word is “genius.” And that is evermore a valid word to describe the pioneer of the theory of general relativity.

However, did you know that some people wondered if Einstein would ever speak? That’s because the genius physicist didn’t speak fluently until he was nine years old!Albert Einstein picture

When you think of how we judge people based on where they are in life and how they compare to other like-minded people, then you can see where we can get it wrong. Einstein was an anomaly.

“You never fail until you stop trying” – Albert Einstein

Eventually, he did speak, but this was seen as one of his failures at the time. What if his parents and teachers had never given him a chance to find his voice?

In addition to speaking later in his development than typically-developing children, Einstein had some behavioral issues at school. He had a very rebellious and impulsive nature as a child and often was expelled from school. Later in life, the Zurich Polytechnic School would not admit him. But these were only setbacks in the journey on this physics genius.

But these “failures” didn’t stop Einstein from achieving his ultimate goals. He was out to change the world with physics behind him — and he did.

Einstein would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 and today, is still a mentor and role model influencing multiple categories beyond the sciences – including art, religion, history and more.

 

The Question Now: How you can learn from your mistakes?

Whenever you fail in an assignment, business venture, relationship or anything else allow yourself to grieve.

Accept your failure because that makes it possible for you to learn from it.

People who remain in denial find it quite difficult to move on to greater success.

They tend to continue pursuing dreams with the same attitude and strategy.

“Don’t worry about your failures. Worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” – Jack Canfield

Learning From Others

When you experience failure make it a point to read about other people’s stories.

Thousands of people across the world draw inspiration from stories of people who went through similar experiences but kept pushing for their dreams.

Reading through inspirational stories you will encourage you emotionally and new ideas may start running through your mind.

It is also prudent to talk to people who have already achieved success in various aspects of life.

These people can help you analyze your situation from another perspective and this allows you to come up with better ways of achieving success in the long run.

How To Change Behaviour

So what is the best plan for behaviour change? Are you still asking how to change your behavior? I’m sure your questions are answered and you can take courage from your failures now.

Success Is Around You (And So Is Failure)Successful people in a group

Look at the people around you and find out who is still sticking with you despite your failure.

Unconditional friendships are often key to success which is why you need to assess your situation and find out who still believes in you.

Some people may be in your life only because of a promise for success but when you fail they become unreliable.

Stay away from anyone that no longer considers you important.

After assessing your failure do not forget the issues that may have contributed to it.

Remember that failure is not the end but rather a chance for you start on a new path with more knowledge.

Each failure makes you wiser because you learn to avoid the issues that bring you down.

 

Important lessons you can learn from failure

When you fail at doing something, you realize that being human has its limitations.

It also allows you to relate to other people in the society.

This experience ultimately allows you to feel compassion for other people.

You learn to view the world from other people’s perspectives.

This is key to accommodating divergent views in an organization or in the society.

Spiritual Guidance?

While most people do not realize it, failure actually forces you to seek spiritual guidance.

People are drawn to their spiritual side when they go through moments of failure and pain.

If you believe in a higher power it is not hard to see why God may have allowed you to fail at your first or second attempt.

Being Organized

Another lesson you learn from your mistakes is the importance of organizing things.

You learn that accomplishing tasks within a timeframe is key to freeing up your time to engage in other productive matters.

Organizing yourself also allows you to attend to issues of priority.

Prioritize the important tasks and keep the less important tasks for later.

Failure As A Mould

Failure plays a big role in moulding your character for future successes.

If you take a look at Abraham Lincoln’s story you will notice that the hardships and failures he went through in life helped mould his character and beliefs.

The experiences made him more perceptive of different situations.

Which is why he was able to rise to the occasion and guide the country through its most trying moments.

Use Downfalls To Gain Wisdom

Failure gives you the wisdom to start looking at obstacles in a new way.

After trying to achieve a few things without success, you will realize that the best things in life often take time and hard work before materializing.

This makes it possible for you to look at obstacles as temporary setbacks or an opportunity to rethink your strategies.

Failure presents you with an opportunity to pause and have a look at your progress, assess the current situation and determine the right way to move into the future.

Stay PersistentMan pulling a rope indicating persistence

It takes a few failures to learn this lesson, and it is a good lesson.

The lesson that the best way to move forward is by remaining persistent and passionate.

Whenever you achieve success after a failure the experience becomes much more exciting and pushes you to try even greater things that would otherwise seem insurmountable.

The experience also allows you to rely on other people during hard times.

This effectively equips you with the right mindset and heart to help other people as they try to achieve their own successes.

Failure can be a painful and heartbreaking experience.

But those who choose to learn from it often move on to become some of the most remarkable people.

They become remarkable, influential people in business, politics, religious issues, relationships and various other aspects of life.

“Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you intended to be.” – Charlie Jones

Do you want to learn from your mistakes?

Or do you have some lessons you are grateful for? Let us know how it went!

Please share this with your friends and family if you thought this article was helpful!

2 Comments

  • Khanyo

    November 28, 2016 at 10:31 am

    About to venture into a long overdue process. I need to apply all my mind and plan up to the last tee! I want this, I need to have it in my life. It is important in my life. I need to balance work life, parenting and my studies. That is want more than anything in my life right now.

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