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How Ten Icons Overcame Rejection and Made It Big

The capacity to achieve greatness requires the ability to adapt new strategies after negative feedback and failure.

It may sound inconceivable, but you can fail well – it all depends on your mindset.

One of the most important things is to see that failure is a part of the process, and that to be successful, you must learn to use it as a tool as opposed to a roadblock. Taking the time to look at the failures and resilience of others is one of the best ways to get past your own set-backs on the path to success.

People often use the phrase “two steps forward, one step back” as a way to depict the process of failure, but perhaps the word ‘fail’ is too loaded with adverse connotations.

Taking a step back after two steps forward doesn’t have to be negative. Within those movements, there is still progress, and as long as you continue moving in the right direction, you will eventually reach your desired destination. 

By recognizing that the word ‘failure’ isn’t terminal but actually an integral part of any process, you can cultivate the mindset for resilience. 

There are countless examples of iconic people who have achieved success by facing their failings and harnessing determination. The following ten icons will show you that the path to victory is rarely linear, and by allowing yourself permission to fail and nurturing more realistic expectations about your journey, you will be able to forge your way to triumph.

“Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”-Sir Winston Churchill

1. John Paul DeJoria

“Throughout your career, you are going to run across rejection. You will knock on doors, and many will close on you. To be successful, you must remain as confident and enthusiastic on door No. 59 as you were on door No. 1. If you realize this is going to happen, the rejection won’t hit you so hard. It will help you be resilient!” – John Paul DeJoria

There is much power in preparing and accepting that things can and do go wrong. I learned this valuable lesson from entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul DeJoria. John Paul’s inspirational rags-to-riches success story exemplifies the archetypal American Dream.

Despite now being a multi-billionaire, John Paul’s route to success didn’t unfold in the streamlined way that most people probably expect. 

As the co-founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and founder of Patron Tequila, this entrepreneur had to work incredibly hard to get to where he is today. 

He lived an impoverished childhood, ended up homeless on two separate occasions as a young adult, and even spent time working as a door-to-door salesman and a janitor. Human nature often sees us making assumptions about the journey of people who appear to have it all– but that’s what makes his story that much more powerful.

It may be hard to believe that one of the most profitable haircare companies in the world – John Paul Mitchell Systems – started out being peddled from the trunk of John Paul’s car. In 2018, he sold Patron Tequila to Bacardi in a landmark $5.1 billion deal. 

And the key to his success? His ability to overcome rejection.

John Paul DeJoria firmly believes that every ‘no’ can give you the opportunity to mold yourself into a success. This is achieved by continually reminding yourself that rejection is all still part of the process, and you need to stay motivated and keep pushing forward. It is critical to use those feelings of rebuff for good, to set aside any despair, believe in yourself, and utilize every experience as a lesson for growth. By doing this, you will unearth a sharper and more resilient version of you – and this is what leads to success.   

There are very few people who reach high levels of success without being snubbed along the way. The principal difference between those who succeed and those who quit is whether you let rejection fuel you or slow you down. 

You may be inclined to discount his life story as a unique series of events but here are a few more examples of other highly successful people who dealt with rejection and failure on their way to making it big.

2. Albert Einstein 

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”– Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is renowned for being one of the greatest minds in history, but his journey was not bolstered by support or belief. He didn’t start speaking until he was four, reading until he was seven and was actually thought to be mentally handicapped. Cited as being ‘dull’ he is known to have failed several classes in school. Even his most famous work, ‘The Theory of Relativity’ (E=mc2) contained a mathematical error. 

Despite this, Einstein refused to give up and went on to win a coveted Nobel Prize for altering the world’s approach to physics. 

3. Steven Spielberg

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

After being rejected twice by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, Spielberg persisted on which resulted in him winning three Academy Awards and grossing more than $9 billion from the film industry. 

4. Oprah Winfrey

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”– Oprah Winfrey

After being fired from her first TV job as an anchor in Baltimore, Oprah is now one of the most recognized TV personalities in the world, a multi-billionaire thanks to hosting one of the most successful talk shows of all time, and now even owns her own TV channel.

5. J.K Rowling

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K Rowling

Originally written as a form of escape from her depression, financial woes, and struggling as a single mother, Harry Potter was rejected countless times until one publisher decided to take a chance on her vision. J.K Rowling turned her initial story into a seven-book world-renowned series, which then resulted in corresponding blockbuster movies and has made her one of the wealthiest people in Britain. 

6. Walt Disney

“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”– Walt Disney

After being told by an editor that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas,’ Disney is now one of the most highly creative and innovative concepts in the world, even making Walt a creative cultural icon that bears his name.

7. Michael Jordan

“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.”– Michael Jordan

A name synonymous with basketball, Michael Jordan was actually cut from his high school basketball team. Endurance of spirit saw him going on to win six NBA Championships, making him arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.

8. Arianna Huffington 

“Failure is not the opposite of success; it’s part of success.”– Arianna Huffington

After her second book was rejected a colossal 36 times before publication, Arianna Huffington went on to build The Huffington Post empire as well as write multiple New York Times Best Sellers. 

In fact, The Huffington Post itself didn’t achieve instant acclaim, with dozens of negative reviews surrounding the quality of content and its potential within the market. In 2011 AOL bought The Huffington Post for a sizeable $315 million, and Arianna Huffington often graces the Forbes list of powerful and influential women in the media.  

9. Steve Jobs

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”– Steve Jobs

Contrary to the above examples, Steve Jobs started out incredibly successful in his 20’s when Apple evolved into a lucrative technology enterprise. However, when he was 30, the board of directors decided to fire him from his own company.

Undeterred, Steve Jobs founded a new company, NeXT, which was eventually acquired by Apple. Once back within the realms of Apple HQ, Jobs demonstrated his capacity for greatness by reinventing the company’s image and taking the Apple brand to new heights. 

He co-created the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, and iPad before sadly dying at age 56 with a reported net worth of $7 billion and being hailed as one of the most influential businessmen of our time.

10. Bill Gates 

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

After dropping out of the highly acclaimed Harvard University, Bill Gates launched his first company Traf-O-Data, which ended in a colossal failure. Undeterred, a few years later, he began Microsoft and, as they say, the rest is history.

Bill Gates is now one of the wealthiest and most successful individuals in the business world. 

So, can we really fail well? Yes. Some of the most inspirational people who have ever lived, including Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Confucius, and Henry Ford have all been open and honest about their experiences of rejection and failure. Their successes have consequently been born from their attitudes to these setbacks. 

It is easy to become consumed by guilt and feel discouraged at times, so keep these people in mind whenever you feel like giving up. By being prepared for rejection and using your determination to face those adversities head-on, you will set yourself up for a more assured road to success.

Talent, innovative ideas, and a great concept for a venture only form part of your potential for achievement. Your attitude, resilience, and determination are also crucial ingredients. 

Be prepared for mistakes, missteps, and failures, and don’t forget that the only people who truly fail are the ones who give up when they encounter setbacks or rejection.

Failure isn’t and shouldn’t spell the end – it is an opportunity to reevaluate, reassess, and return wiser, stronger, and better positioned for your eventual success. 

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