In a recent issue of The Writer (April 2011, Moira Allen), I came upon this quote: “Success will become impossible if you cannot bear failure.”
Most of us don’t like to think about failure—especially when we’re talking about dreams and goals that mean a lot to us in life. We like to imagine ourselves winning first place, owning thriving businesses, finding perfect mates, and seeing our novels on the bestseller’s list. Thinking about the races lost before we get to the one we win isn’t nearly as inspiring.
Still, if we’re serious about following what the inner voice compels us to do, we have to be ready for failure, for seldom do we ever accomplish anything perfectly the first time out, or the second, or the third. It’s just a fact of being human—we will make mistakes, and if we allow those mistakes to keep us from trying again, we’ll never get to experience sweet success.
- Authors: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which became a Hugo Award winner, was initially turned down by publishers because it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.” One agent called William Golding’s Lord of the Flies an “absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” It’s sold over 14 million copies. Jack London’s first story was rejected 600 times.
- Entrepreneurs: Before his massive success, Walt Disney was fired as a newspaper editor because he “had no imagination,” and later experienced bankruptcy in his early 20s. In the 1990s, Donald Trump owed billions of dollars and many thought he was finished. He’s now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the biggest financial turnaround in history. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and failed with his first business. Today he’s considered the world’s richest man.
- Artists & Musicians: Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entire life, and that to a friend, yet he went on to create over 800 works. Monet’s work was mocked and rejected by the artistic elite. Mozart was dismissed from his position as court musician in Salzberg and though he composed over 600 pieces of music, he died a pauper. Elvis Presley was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry and told to go “back to driving truck.” Beethoven was told early on that he was hopeless and would never succeed.
- Politicians: Winston Churchill failed sixth grade and was defeated in several elections before he became Prime Minister of England at the age of 62. Harry S. Truman watched a store he started go bankrupt. Abraham Lincoln was defeated in numerous runs for office before becoming president.
- Intellectuals: Albert Einstein was considered slow and even mentally handicapped, and was expelled from school. Socrates was called an “immoral corruptor of youth” and was sentenced to death. Robert Goddard (respected for his work with liquid-fueled rockets) was initially mocked by his peers for his “outrageous” ideas. Thomas Edison was fired from two jobs for not being “productive enough.”
- Athletes: Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Babe Ruth held the record for strikeouts for decades. Tom Landry had one of the worst first seasons on record.
The list goes on and on. You can see the point. Be ready for failure. Expect it, even. Use it as a stepping stone to your eventual success. As American psychiatrist and author David Viscott said, “To fail is a natural consequence of trying. To succeed takes time and prolonged effort in the face of unfriendly odds. To think it will be any other way, no matter what you do, is to invite yourself to be hurt and to limit your enthusiasm for trying.”