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7 Successful Leaders Inspire You With Stories of Failure and Rejection

Failure and rejection, however painful, lead you to identify where you went wrong, reconfigure and find the best path to continue.

It frustrates me when I see how many talented, creative people give up because of failure and rejection. Failure and rejection are not simply necessary evils on the way to success, they are a crucial part of the learning process.

I see it often with my clients.

What if I putrule my soul and energy into writing a novel and I never finish?
What if what I write is terrible, and no one wants to read it?
What if I can’t do it?

In the words of a rabbi who taught bible class in my high school, “What if you never asked that question?”

What-ifs aren’t particularly useful. They hold you back.

When you allow these thoughts to take over, you prevent yourself from throwing your full attention into your development. Why? Because you surreptitiously convince yourself that as long as you don’t try your hardest, you can always excuse the failure. Right?

Dead wrong.

Failure and rejection, however painful, lead you to identify where you went wrong, reconfigure and find the best path to continue. You learn from the past to create a more successful, well-rounded and more satisfying future. You learn to rely on yourself. You learn to believe in yourself and not be swayed by naysayers and bad advice.

Without failure, you will never move forward and achieve your true brilliance.

Don’t just take my word for it

I contacted friends, mentors and leaders in travel, writing, and the business world to pose the following question:

Was there a time you failed or were rejected while trying to build his business? How did that failure/rejection actually help you to ultimately succeed?

Here’s what they had to say.

1. Danny Iny

Danny is the founder of Mirasee, an online business for people who want to deliver value and make a difference in the world. He’s the author of the best selling book Engagement from Scratch! and the Naked Marketing Manifesto. You can find him on Twitter.

I talk about my failure quite a lot. It’s common knowledge to any of our students that back around 2008, thanks to the market crash, I lost everything and acquired a huge amount of start-up debt from my first education business when it failed. There was a lot about that situation that was pretty awful. Having to begin again from the ground up with my consultancy was pretty depressing.

At the end of the day, it led to Firepole Marketing and the excellent work we’re doing there now. The biggest thing that this failure taught me was that a loss — even a big, expensive one — isn’t the end of the world. You CAN keep going after the worst happens to you professionally. It’s important to take time to recover, but once you get through it, it’s over and done. You’re free to try new things, knowing that another failure won’t break you.

2. Peter Shankman

Peter Shankman is an author, entrepreneur, speaker and worldwide connector recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about Customer Service, PR, marketing and advertising. He’s best known for founding Help A Reporter Out and now runs Shankminds, a business mastermind class.

I remember going into an angel investor meeting one time. I paid $250 dollars to be there. The New York Angels. They said if they turned me down, I’d still get valuable advice for how to grow my business.

So I walk in and present for three minutes. They say, “thanks, we’ll be in touch.”
That’s it. Two days later I get an email. Their “valuable advice?” “We don’t think you’re a fit for us, best of luck.”

I learned from that to never take money unless you absolutely need it, and that people aren’t always nice. I’ll always remember how it felt to get that email, which is why I’m nice to anyone who might meet me. And my next company, HARO, I didn’t take a penny. When I sold it? All mine.

3. David Cain

David writes about getting better as a human being on his very popular and wonderfully inspirational blog Raptitude. He left his job to write full-time.

My biggest success is a direct result of my biggest failure. My life pretty much ground to a halt when I was in college. I was flunking and had lost every trace of confidence. I couldn’t even make eye contact with cashiers.I felt like I had failed at becoming an adult. It was so unbearable that I began reading everything I could find related to happiness and well-being.

I learned a ton and gradually turned around my life. Eventually, I began writing about it, and people kept telling me how much my writing was helping them. My blog became a big success, and now I do it full-time. I love it. I often wonder how boring my life would be now if my it never fell apart like it did back then.

4. Lea Woodward

Lea is a multi-passionate, serial entrepreneur who usually has several ventures going on at a time. These days, she mentors other entrepreneurs through her website as well focuses on home education and location independence.

I’ve had too many failures to count, or to single out one in particular, from launching things that haven’t sold well, to launching new projects that have fallen by the wayside just a few weeks later, to letting myself and others down. They all seem the most spectacular at the time!

If these failures have taught me anything though, it’s that failure can be the biggest motivator there is to reflect and learn from the mistakes I made, and to do better next time. Most importantly, it’s taught me to consider failure not as a negative but as a helpful signpost to the positive no matter how painful it feels to fail at the time.

5. Caroline Makepeace

Caz Makepeace is a former elementary school teacher who now travels full time and supports herself and her family through her blog, her writing and other business endeavors. You can read more of her inspirational writing on well known YTravel Blog website, focusing on family travel, raising children and finding your bliss in life.

Caroline with her husband Craig on the beach with their two beautiful daughters.

Failure used to be something I feared and thought reflected my worthlessness. I now know failure to be the guiding hand of a friend, refining my skills and deepening my insights, so that I can do it with more finesse and passion next time. Each new rejection or mistake is helping me clear the way to get closer to the victory patiently waiting for me at the end of the journey.

6. Kevin Kermes

Kevin is the founder of Career Attraction, focusing on helping high-achieving people take their careers to the next level. He’s developed more than 30 career development training programs and his work has been featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider and more.

My first big failure came on the heels of a big success. It taught me a number of lessons but, first, let me explain what happened. I was about a year in on my newest venture, what is now Career Attraction. I’d begun by holding webinars sharing my perspective on how professionals should execute a job search. In less than a year, we grew from 0 to 17,000+ subscribers. It felt good and told me I was onto something.

This was working well, so I decided to run a Bootcamp. It was, in my opinion, the perfect hybrid between the book and coaching. Over a four week period, I’d walk a select group of clients through the framework of the book and insert some one-on-one training as well as build a community for a continuity program on the backend. It well exceeded my goals.

Then I made a huge mistake. I became fixated on creating a DIY version of the program. For six months, I pitched the DIY Bootcamp tirelessly. Sales were consistently 90% lower than they were with my live Bootcamps. The outcomes from students were still a success, but the engagement was much, much lower.

My biggest lesson learned from this failure was not to become so fixated on a tactic that you lose sight of the larger strategy. The Bootcamp was a success because of my personal engagement and the community aspect of the program. I lost sight of what my clients really wanted: a proven system they could rely on to implement themselves, coupled with select customized guidance and a community of likeminded professionals for support.

7. Mariellen Ward

Mariellen Ward is a professional travel writer based in Toronto and Delhi. Breathedreamgo.com, her award-winning travel blog about meaningful adventure travel is inspired by her extensive travels in India. Though Canadian by birth, Mariellen considers India to be her soul culture. You can also find Mariellen on Facebook.

Mariellen Ward

I spent the last year or so feeling like a failure. After throwing myself heart-and-soul into building my blog and travel writing career for about six years, I hit the wall. I was exhausted, broke and had strayed so far from my original passion I couldn’t remember why I was doing it.

At my lowest ebb, in mid-November 2013, I expressed my despair on Facebook, and many friends replied with encouragement. One suggested a goddess puja (ritual) because it was almost the full moon. I did it. I prayed with sincerity and vulnerability for insight, or a lucky break or positive energy…anything to get me moving out of the abyss of failure I felt I was in.

Then, the next day, everything changed. I landed a part-time job. My brother helped me upgrade my old phone, and a colleague contacted me about a contract that could help make all my dreams come true.

Since then, I have been feeling more positively, and as a result many more positive things have happened to make me realize that I am not a failure, and my writing/blogging career is not a failure. In fact, there is no such thing as failure. What I have come to realize is that we are a work-in-progress, and that everything that happens, happens for a reason: to teach us.

Everything ultimately starts with our thoughts. Though no one knows exactly how much control we have over the events of our life, we do have any control over how we think and how we respond, and that makes all the difference.

9 More Links To Inspire Your Leap Into the Abyss of Failure

What kind of game are you playing? Short, long or infinite? Seth Godin outlines the different ways you can approach your business.

Hint: The very nature of one precludes failure.

8 Memorable (and sometimes obnoxious) Rejection Letters. Jason Segal set his sights high, while others simply didn’t read the directions.

Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, talks about the failures of his invention with Guy Kawasaki. There’s no remorse or upset or guilt. He simply outlines what he needs to do in order to move forward.

Good at the beginning. Seth Godin discusses how beginnings are easy, but success doesn’t happen with only beginning.

The Science of Persuasion: How to get people to agree with what you say. Because sometimes success is a matter of getting people to see things just a little bit differently.

Does Teaching Kids To Get Gritty Help Them Get Ahead? Grit is the ability to sustain your passions and work hard at them over disappointingly long periods of time. Angela Duckworth, the psychology professor who coined the term, won a MacArthur genius grant for it.

Teaching Students to Embrace Mistakes. Mistakes are important, because they highlight where you need to practice. “So why don’t students view their mistakes as a valuable asset? Well, students don’t think about their mistakes rationally — they think about them emotionally. Mistakes make students feel stupid. “Stupid” is just that: a feeling. Specifically, it’s the feeling of shame, and our natural response is to avoid its source.”

A full compendium of TED Talks on failure.

The Mistake Podcast. This podcast created by the same Peter Shankman who gave advice above speaks with some of today’s most successful leaders. You’ll hear raw, first hand accounts of their biggest mistakes, and not only what lead them there, but the deliberate actions that put them back on track.

One Final Rule of Thumb for Failure & the Rest of Life

I contacted tons of people asking for this post, and many said no or didn’t get back to me at all. Maybe they were too busy or didn’t get my e-mail? Maybe I’m not important enough for them to spend time on me? I really have no way of knowing.

This is when I go to The 99.9% Rule. That is, 99.9% of the time it’s not about me. People are busy, have lives, forget. It’s as important to give them space and benefit of the doubt you would want others to give you.

This is a good practice to keep in mind as you move toward your own goals. Treat yourself with kindness, and remember that even if success doesn’t take the path you expected, even when you encounter times when you falter and fall, these frustrations are part of the process. Let them lead you to success.

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