7 Famous People Who Failed Before They Made It


photo: Collage Vintage


I hope that by now we’ve changed your attitude about failure. It’s not at all the end of a journey, but the start of one. If you fail, and if you fail again and again, it shows that you are willing to try and that you are determined to succeed. With that in mind, I know sometimes it can feel bleak and it’s hard to keep going in the face of failure, which is why we’ve compiled a list of failures you can’t help but be inspired by:

Jack Andraka
Have you ever heard of Jack Andraka? When he was 15, he decided he wanted to create a diagnostic test for Pancreatic Cancer that was better than what was currently used. Which meant he was trying to create something better than scientists and billion dollar companies had. Of course, his research proposal was rejected by 199 labs. Because he was just a kid with a crazy idea. But one accepted him. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Jack went on to develop a Pancreatic Cancer test 100 times better and 26,000 times less expensive than what was currently on the market. His invention will save thousands of lives, and he didn’t give up with every one of the 199 rejections.

Michael Jordan
I think everybody knows Michael Jordan’s story. He was cut from his high school basketball team because he wasn’t good enough. Now he’s considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His failure kept him going and working harder. He even said it himself, “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.”

Steve Jobs
Did you know that Jobs was actually fired from Apple? I didn’t. But he was. “I was out — and very publicly out,” he said in a commencement speech at StanfordUniversity. “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.” He added, “I was a very public failure.” But when he returned to Apple, he was the reason it became what it is today.

Elizabeth Blackwell
Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S in 1849. As you can imagine, that was a struggle. She was rejected from 29 medical schools. She visited the schools in person and was told she’d do better if she pretended to be a man, as women weren’t fit to receive that kind of education.

But she didn’t. She was accepted by mistake, but she turned up anyway. And bossed it even though most people refused to work with her because of her gender. She then went on to build a medical practice and create a place where women could have medical internships and established the first medical college for women. She’s my hero right now!

Walt Disney
Does it surprise you to know that Walt Disney was considered unhireable? Nobody wanted his illustrations either, so his brother got him a temp job. His first animation studio went bankrupt, but he co-founded The Walt Disney Company off the back of all this rejection. Look at Disney now, and try to imagine a young, unhireable Walt Disney.

Steven Spielberg
Another University rejection story. Steven applied twice for film school at the University of Southern California. He earned an honorary degree in the end. In fact, he’s probably taught on most film courses now!

Florence Nightingale Graham
She started off with a famous name (named after Florence Nightingale) and on the path to nursing. But she dropped out of nursing school as it wasn’t for her. She started up a business, but it failed. Which is most people’s worst nightmare, but she didn’t give up. She borrowed $6,000 to start a beauty company that now has over $1 billion in sales. That company’s name? Elizabeth Arden.

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Managing Editor

Beth is the Managing Editor of CGD. She is a graduate of the Penguin Writer's Academy, has published a short story and loves to read creative writing manuals in her spare time.

  • Meg

    How truly inspiring! Thank you.

  • Elishia

    I must agree with your opening statement, you totally have changed my opinion on ‘failure’ or not currently succeeding. CGD has really been an uplifting read for me since I found it in may, thanks team!


  • Anna Kletyonkina

    that’s really motivating! thanks!

  • Marlinde

    Very inspiring and motivational stories, so important to keep going and never give up, these stories have really motivate me to make my blog work and to have a successful beauty/fashion/lifestyle blog one day!
    Marlinde xx

  • Natalie Redman

    Just goes to show that failure can lead to success!


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