Famous People Who Found Success Despite Failures

Harry Potter JK Rowling

J.K Rowling, the author of Harry Potterspoke to the graduating class of Harvard in June 2008. She didn’t talk about success. She talked about failures. Her own in particular. I absolutely love her quote.

“You might never fail on the scale I did,” Rowling told that privileged audience. “But it is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default.

She should know. The author didn’t magically become richer than the Queen of England overnight. Penniless, recently divorced, and raising a child on her own, she wrote the first Harry Potter book on an old manual typewriter.

Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript! A year later she was given the green light by Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, who agreed to publish the book but insisted she get a day job cause there was no money in children’s books.

What if she stopped at the first rejection? The fifth? Or the tenth?

The measure of success can be shown by how many times someone keeps going despite hearing only no.

The following people are not the only ones who have succeeded despite failure and rejection.

I thought they would be the most interesting to you.

People who found success despite failures

Colonel Sanders : The founder of KFC. He started his dream at 65 years old! He got a social security check for only $105 and was mad. Instead of complaining he did something about it.

He thought restaurant owners would love his fried chicken recipe, use it, sales would increase, and he’d get a percentage of it. He drove around the country knocking on doors, sleeping in his car, wearing his white suit.

Do you know how many times people said no till he got one yes? 1009 times!

Walt Disney: The man who gave us Disney World and Mickey Mouse. His first animation company went banktrupt. He was fired by a news editor cause he lacked imagination. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World.

Albert Eistein: He didn’t speak till he was four and didn’t read till seven. His parents and teachers thought he was mentally handicapped. He only turned out to win a Nobel prize and be the face of modern physics.

Richard Branson: He’s a billionaire mogul of Virgin but has had his share of failures. Remember Virgin Cola or Virgin credit cards? Probably not. He’s lost hundreds of millions of dollars but has not let failure stop him. When you’re rich like him you can rent his private island for $53,000 a night.

Mark Cuban: The billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks got rich when he sold his company to Yahoo for $5.9 billion in stock. He admitted he was terrible at his early jobs. His parents wanted him to have a normal job. So he tried carpentry but hated it. He was a short order cook but a terrible one. He waited tables but couldn’t open a bottle of wine. He says of his failures,

“I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how many times you failed,” Cuban says. “You only have to be right once. I tried to sell powdered milk. I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all.”

Vincent Van Gogh: He only sold one painting in his lifetime!  Just one to a friend. Despite that he kept painting and finished over 800 pieces. Now everyone wants to buy them and his most expensive painting is valued at $142.7 million.

Theodor Seuss Giesel: Dr. Seuss gave us Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. Books every child reads. At first many didn’t think he would succeed. 27 different publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

John Grisham: The American author first was a lawyer who loved to write. His first book A Time to Kill took three years to write. The book was rejected 28 times until he got one yes for a 5,000 copy print. He’s sold over 250 million total copies of his books.

Steven Spielberg: He applied and was denied two times to the prestigious University of Southern California film school. Instead he went to Cal State University in Long Beach.

He went on to direct some of the biggest movie blockbusters in history. Now he’s worth $2.7 billion and in 1994 got an honorary degree from the film school that rejected him twice.

Stephen King: His first book Carrie was rejected 30 times and he threw it in the trash. His wife retrieved it out of the trash and encouraged him to resubmit it. The rest is history. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his books. (He’s also made many adults fear clowns too.)

Stephenie Meyer: The author of the crazy Twilight series said the inspiration from the book came from a dream. She finished it in three months but never intended to publish it until a friend suggested she should.

She wrote 15 letters to literary agencies. Five didn’t reply. Nine rejected. One gave her a chance. Then eight publishers auctioned for the right to publish Twilight. She got a three book deal worth $750,000. In 2010, Forbes reported she earned $40 million.

Tim Ferris: The man behind the 4 Hour Workweek, who changed how many people view work and life, was rejected by 26 publishers before one gave him a chance. It’s been on the bestseller’s list for years, sold all over the world, and last year published The 4 Hour Body that went to #1 on the New York Times bestsellers list.

The Beatles: They were rejected by many record labels. In a famous rejection, the label said, “”guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business”.

After that the Beatles signed with EMI, brought Beatlemania to the United States, and became the greatest band in history.

Michael Jordan: He’s famous for being cut from his high school basketball team. He turned out to be the greatest basketball player but never let failure deter him. I love this quote…

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

Thomas Edison: No list of success from failures would be complete without the man who gave us many inventions including the light bulb. He knew failure wouldn’t stop him.

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.

There is no success without failure

Decide what is important to you and take huge steps everyday even though it doesn’t seem like it’s working. Success doesn’t happen without failures. It’s reality.

Deal with it.

How bad do you want to achieve your goal? It better be so bad that rejection won’t derail you.

How much do you believe in what you’re doing? Colonel Sanders did despite 1009 rejections!

“Fall down seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese proverb


Let these examples inspire you every day.


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77 responses to Famous People Who Found Success Despite Failures

  1. Hey man, great post as usual! I actually watched the JK Rowling video a while ago, really cool video. I actually think she’s quite hot! LOL

    Some awesome examples here, I think the Colonel one is really inspiring (heard that before – rejected 1009 times – Can you imagine!?), and I love the Edison quote!

    At the risk of repeating myself (I can’t remember if I quoted this on your blog recently) – I love what TJ Watson, IBM founder said – “Success is on the far side of failure.” It’s so true. Every single successful person has faced many failures, but it’s their ability to deal with them that differentiates them, and is ultimately the reason why they succeed.

    Think there’s some great lessons we can take from these people – persistence, resilience and a burning desire to succeed.

    Too many people have a “movie” image of things, they don’t see the hard work; they just see the success and rewards. However, as us Entrepreneurs are aware of, a great deal of work goes on behind the scenes to achieve even the smallest of successes and victories. Thanks man, I’ll be referring back to this page – some real inspiring stories, and the best thing is you told them in a concise way!

    • Its a shame I just found the video of her speech since it’s a few years old. Its funny how nervous she is but delivers such a powerful message. I’ve read that quote so many times now. She is kinda hot yes! Maybe you’ve got a shot?

      Thanks for sharing that IBM quote! So good. I’m a quote junkie so I’ll have to add that.

      I was guilty of thinking success is like the movies. That was years ago and now I wish I wasn’t so foolish!

      I know many come to my blog cause they’re looking for success to make sure they understand it doesn’t take a little bit of struggle. It’ll take a ton! How bad do they want it?

      Thanks SO much for adding and sharing to my post!!

  2. Benny,

    Awesome Post! I want to stay up all night and take action for my success.

    Is it true that Walt Disney died before Disney World was built?

    • Thank you Armand! I love how they continued despite so many people saying no. Yes Walt died five years before the first Disney World opened. He never got to see his vision come true but worked hard to get it started.

      • Walt Disney is really “A Great Example of Strong Belief in a Vision”. This actually explains why J.K., Col. Sanders, Walt, Thomas and many other became successful because they believe in their vision No Matter what.

  3. Hey man, great post! I didn’t know that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team – that’s very inspiring to me, especially at the moment (something that I was very much looking forward to just fell through…). Sigh. It’s just a step in the road. 🙁

    • Yeah he was. Crazy huh? He even was drafted #3 when he went into the NBA. He was the most fierce competitor on and off the court. From what I’ve read he didn’t like to lose at anything! That’s why he worked so hard at what he did.

      Sorry to hear something fell through for you. Glad this post inspireed you a bit! I know you’ll bounce right back up!

      • I’m not 100% certain that he was actually “cut” from his team. As a sophomore in high school he didn’t make the varsity team but rather played JV (which is pretty standard for a sophomore). But either way, you would think that someone who ended up to be arguably the best player of all time would play Varsity right from the get go.

        • You’re right Eugene. I’ve heard both sides as well. But yeah to not make it to varsity even as a sophomore is crazy. It’s common if freshman play on the varsity if they’re that good.

  4. Cool post Benny,
    Forgot who said it, but it goes something like this “Experience is what you get, if you don’t get what you want”. Although, in the end all these people ultimately got what they strived for. Solid stuff, definitely inspiring.

    • That’s a great quote. I really like that! It’s so true. No matter the end result, we get experiences from it. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Motivating post Benny.

    I find a common theme in really successful people is that they all have an almost supernatural confidence in themselves.

    Alot of my friends always talk about quitting their job. But they fear the risk of failure by losing a stable 9-5.

    But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ll talk to a few friends that started successful small businesses and hear a very different response. The thought of failure never even seems to cross their minds. Even when they do face rejection, these people just categorize it as a setback or lesson and continue to hustle. I think this is a character trait definitely worth emulating.

    • Paul I’m liking the new gravatar too! Looking GQ man!

      That’s interesting about your friends who are so driven. That is such a great trait to have. Wish I had that coming right out of college. I might be sipping drinks on my private jet by now. 🙂

      It’s something we all need to have if we want to achieve the level of success we aim for. Thanks Paul. Always look forward to your comment!

  6. Benny,

    I love the post. It is quite inspiring to read about people we all know and how they failed. I did not know about some of those and never really thought of others having failed before they made it. All we ever hear about is the successes and not what it took to get there.

    It gives hope for those of us (especially me) that are still failing.

    I just hope that I can fail enough to make it to the top also.

    Dee Ann Rice

    • Hi Dee Ann, it’s almost like we see the finish product but don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. Reminds me of movies. I love movies. We see them in the theaters or on DVD but we don’t hear about the struggle sometimes to get the film made. Nor the problems during production. So many egos to juggle too.

      I do hope this post inspires people. I know it’s just famous people but take any successful individual and they’ll tell stories of failures too.

      Just make sure you’re not making the same mistakes over and over again. Learn from them and do it better next time. Have to remember WHY you’re it and you’ll find the motivation to pick yourself up when you fall down.

      Thanks for your comment Dee Ann and hope you’ll come back!

  7. Great post! Rejection is always hard, especially when you really believe in an idea or project. Overcoming rejection in pursuit of your dreams is courageous!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I found you at Yakezie. Terrific collection of failure, success stories. Inspirational. Keep up the great work. I’m sure we’ll be reading about you one day!

  9. Man this is great stuff Benny! I loved how you opened it up with J.K. and her story. It’s amazing how when people get super focussed, and have total faith; they will not stop at what they’re after.

    Him being cut from his basketball team (actually he just didn’t make the V squad, but he still made JV) is always something that motivates me. When I think of a failure that I’ve experienced – and get down and out, I think of the greatest. He, along with the others, is a walking/talking example of finding success despite failures.

    Great post Benny – take care man!

    • Thanks JK! I opened up with the other JK cause her message was so powerful. It was the first time I had heard her speech. It was inspirational to say the least.

      Thanks for commenting! Always seeing that cool avatar of yours around here. 🙂

  10. Ah, more inspiration to keep us all going. I love how you shared with us what all of these great people had to go through in order to “finally” succeed in what they were going after.

    I believe that failure teaches us just how strong we are when we know in our guts that what we have or what we are doing it worth it. People may laugh at you but all they need is the reminder of what every single one of these people above went through only to finally make it to their desired destination. Some of them were laughed at too! Just goes to show you that when their dream is big enough, nothing will stop them.

    Great post Benny, absolutely love how you shared all of these failures with us. I’m bookmarking this one just for a reminder.

    Thanks again,


    • Adrienne! I bet they were ridiculed so much! Even J.K. Rowling was ridiculed after she got a book deal. The publisher had no faith in her! Now she’s a billionaire.

      That’s also why I think it’s important to be careful who you share your goals with. Not everyone will care. Not everyone will be happy. Not everyone will want you to succeed. Just find the ones that are behind you.

  11. Yo Benny,

    Way to kill it with this post. I didn’t know the Colonel started so late and then to get denied so many times which would drive a normal insane… Talk about inspiration.

    Keep on rockin’ it!

    • I knew he had problems convincing people but didn’t know it was over 1,000 times either! Nobody would persevere that long! That’s why he’s the man and makes damn good fried chicken.

      Thanks Brad!

  12. I am amazed with Branson’s sucess and the guy does not seem to stop. From starting off with one record shop, he went on to setup record company, radio station, airline, train company, mobile communications, broadband, banking, health care – the list goes on. And in the middle of all of this, he made trans-atlantic world record attempts. I think he has even behind trying to get the first space tourism company going.

    • He is an inspiration for entrepreneurs and anyone just looking to live a life full of passion.

      Yes he is very close to having the first commercial space flight on Virgin Galactic. I think one seat is $200,000!

  13. Persistence is the key as Napoleon Hills said in his famous book: “Think and Grow Rich”. I will think that “Persistence and Grow Success” and of course rich!

  14. Benny,
    A few years ago, when i first saw that quote by Michael Jordon, i had an epiphany.
    Before that, i never considered that really successful people had to fail dozens maybe thousands of times before they had one win.

    Once i had that epiphany, my life literally changed because i then saw that with each failure in my life, i had only to get up, learn from it, do something a little different and grow a little bit in the process. always took away a lesson and tried to grow.

    I think you are doing a great job on inspiring people to keep pushing harder no matter how many failures you have.

    • I was too naive to think successful people failed. I thought when going for a goal it would be all smooth sailing. Any sign of turbulence, I would likely quit.

      The ones who are successful are the ones who probably fail the most. They just don’t quit.

      Thanks my friend! I feel like I’m replying to your comments all over the internet! 🙂

  15. Man, you got me hooked to Getbusylivingblog. I’m in. 🙂

    These guys are just great.

    I love this quote especially: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” – Japanese proverb

    • Hi Chukwuka! Thanks for finding me. Isn’t that list great? It shows that no matter how many times you fail, don’t give up if you really believe in what you are doing. If they gave up, we wouldn’t have those great things they gave us!

  16. Wow! so many good quotes and stories. Loved this post, especially like “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” and the Walt Disney thing is so sad, to think he died before his vision. It is important to ignore the people who say it won’t work and keep on going, if you are a strong enough individual and truly believe your idea will work then nothing can stop you, just like the people above!

    Let’s make our dreams a reality! 🙂

    • Hey Kev! The quote “Fall down seven times, get up eight” is great. It is sad Walt didn’t get to see his dream become a reality but the work he put in will last for generations. There’s going to be people who think you’re crazy or say you can’t do that! Don’t hang out with those kind if people if you’ve got big goals in life.

      I agree with let’s making our dreams a reality!

      • Hey, I love it, for some reason it just sounds very good. I like how short and simple it is but how effective it is. Never give in on any ideas you have otherwise you will never succeed 🙂 I agree with you completely, get rid of the negative people in your life or just ignore them!

        • Hey Kev!

          Thanks so much for reading. Imagine if any of these people stopped? What they gave us changed our lives in different ways. So if you truly believe in something, stay persistent! That’s one common trait they all had. And yes get rid of those negative people who try to keep you down!

          Thanks so much for your comment!

          • Your very welcome, I love to read blogs and talk about them, sometimes I can’t stop lol so I hope I don’t go on too much. I agree, I am not a huge fan of Disney but one game that I love has Disney in it. I suppose this is the big kid side of me! I am glad he never failed otherwise this game series would not exist!

  17. if you didn’t put in Michael Jordan i’d have add it for you!!! he was my all time favourite. when i was a kid, i’d read Chicken Soup for the Soul, whenever i had a bad basketball game. it was simply interschool competitions, but i took my basketball seriously, and kept reminding myself, Jordan also misses shots!! 🙂

    reading this list, gave me a new resolve. i hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant, but one day i will be on this list too – for doing something extraordinary (as your other post) after failing a million times

    in fact, i think we need to all visualize this on Benny’s blog, “XXX (name) failed Y times and is now ZZZ(whatever extraordinaries we want to become)


    Noch Noch

    • You played basketball? Still play? I like playing basketball, but never played on a team. Just for fun! You don’t come across as arrogant at all! I’ll be happy to share your story when you have your success. I’ll add you to the list. 🙂

  18. Now, this is not going to make me sleep early today.

    I am extremely touched once again in my life and all I am going to do now is to show how bad i want it! If a man could start at the age of 65 to build a brand, Dang i’m still young!


  19. omg i never thought about some of these people are failed first ,
    i just know the story of jordan only .

  20. amazing post… and the examples provided are too good… one should never give up trying….he/she will will taste success at the end.. the examples above prove that… Only problem is we don’;t try harder…we give up… so our story line lands up somewhere differently… Anyway thanks for sharing it 🙂

  21. Colonel Sanders’ story should remind people can still find success past 60. I love his chicken. I just recently ate one.

  22. Before I read your article I was going on my way to bed because I was discouraged by my poor progresses today, and strikes of disempowering thoughts.
    Now that I’ve read this brilliant article from you, I’m going back to my work, with enthusiasm to WIN today, to make today a part of my future success. Thank you my friend.

  23. This is enormously encouraging!!! Thank you for the post!

  24. It is wonderful and encouraging what I have just read from this blog. Thanks a lot. I will soldier on. We will overcome. God is with us.

  25. Juhi Srivastava May 4, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    Amazing nd inspiring stories. we must learn from this. this teachess us if we really
    want to fullfill our dream,nd we have curisity to do something, to learn
    something, and want to achieve our dream, nothing can stop us..

  26. Juhi Srivastava May 4, 2014 at 5:10 pm

    i also be like one of them.. but how.. what i need to do.. how can this possible.. please suggest me ..please

  27. This isn’t meant to be funny but I guess it kind of is…just think of all those coaches, publishers, restaurant owners, etc that made it to a place in their own careers that they could be in a position to reject these great, successful people. They were completely incompetent and undeserving of their position and yet they reached a level of success themselves. If they can do it, anyone can, just keep trying! Great article.

  28. Truly Inspiring! I have started to share few stories in the below blog


  29. Very encouraging, thanks writer! 🙂

  30. Truly Inspiring! I have started to share few stories in the below blog


  31. very inspiring and motivating thanks for sharing. love quotes

  32. I justcome from Interview where the Dufus “Owner” so called business discoursage me to continue with Photography. But its his losss, I ve been awarded ever since I was little with prize gifts, I took A+ at Art school so I sent him pictures to see I have potential. So instead he acts like jealous Pig. Boo hoo !

    I know my photos have been taken with small manufactured camera but I have talent ideas potential and I have been told by other guys, so this One Businessman can such a lot of d*** !

  33. Pretty good post. I will add bookmark on your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


  34. Thanks for providing this wonderful information, i was looking for the same information in web. I got it finally from this website.

  35. wow. inspiring indeed!!!!

  36. Nagulavancha Gnaneshwar December 16, 2016 at 6:48 am

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