“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, he was too impractical and temperamental to be a success. He turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. At about that time, he wrote in a letter to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.”
Winston Churchill repeated a grade during elementary school and, when he entered Harrow, was placed in the lowest division of the lowest class. Later, he twice failed the entrance exam to the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He was defeated in his first effort to serve in Parliament. He became Prime Minister at the age of 62. He later wrote, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give up.” (his capitals, mind you)
Socrates was called “an immoral corrupter of youth” and continued to corrupt even after a sentence of death was imposed on him. He drank the hemlock and died corrupting.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.”
Sigmund Freud was booed from the podium when he first presented his ideas to the scientific community of Europe. He returned to his office and kept on writing.
Robert Sternberg received a C in his first college introductory-psychology class. His teacher commented that “there was a famous Sternberg in psychology and it was obvious there would not be another.” Three years later Sternberg graduated with honors from Stanford University with exceptional distinction in psychology, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. In 2002, he became President of the American Psychological Association.
Charles Darwin gave up a medical career and was told by his father, “You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching.” In his autobiography, Darwin wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.” Clearly, he evolved.
Thomas Edison’s teachers said he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was fired from his first two jobs for being “non-productive.” As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
“Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophy.”
Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and read. Even to do a little math.
Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, wrote that “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City caught on.
“Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails toward success.” ~ Charles Kettering
Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express, received a “C” on his college paper detailing his idea for a reliable overnight delivery service. His professor at Yale told him, “Well, Fred, the concept is interesting and well formed, but in order to earn better than a “C” grade, your ideas also have to be feasible.
F. W. Woolworth was not allowed to wait on customers when he worked in a dry goods store because, his boss said, “he didn’t have enough sense.”
When Bell telephone was struggling to get started, its owners offered all their rights to Western Union for $100,000. The offer was disdainfully rejected with the pronouncement, “What use could this company make of an electrical toy.”
“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.'” ~ Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’spersonal computer.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.”
John Garcia, who eventually was honored for his fundamental psychological discoveries, was once told by a reviewer of his often-rejected manuscripts that one is no more likely to find the phenomenon he discovered than to find bird droppings in a cuckoo clock. (sort of a cute critique actually)
Rocket scientist Robert Goddard found his ideas bitterly rejected by his scientific peers on the grounds that rocket propulsion would not work in the rarefied atmosphere of outer space.
Daniel Boone was once asked by a reporter if he had ever been lost in the wilderness. Boone thought for a moment and replied, “No, but I was once bewildered for about three days.”
An expert said of Vince Lombardi: “He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation.” Lombardi would later write, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”
Michael Jordan and Bob Cousy were each cut from their high school basketball teams. Jordan once observed, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.”
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career.
Babe Ruth is famous for his past home run record, but for decades he also held the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330 times in his career (about which he said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”). And didn’t Mark McGwire break that strikeout record? (John Wooden once explained that winners make the most errors.)
Hank Aaron went 0 for 5 his first time at bat with the Milwaukee Braves.
Stan Smith was rejected as a ball boy for a Davis Cup tennis match because he was “too awkward and clumsy.” He went on to clumsily win Wimbledon and the U. S. Open. And eight Davis Cups.
“I never learned a thing from a tournament I won.”
Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and Jimmy Johnson accounted for 11 of the 19 Super Bowl victories from 1974 to 1993. They also share the distinction of having the worst records of first-season head coaches in NFL history – they didn’t win a single game.
Johnny Unitas’s first pass in the NFL was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Joe Montana’s first pass was also intercepted. And while we’re on quarterbacks, during his first season Troy Aikman threw twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (9) . . . oh, and he didn’t win a single game. You think there’s a lesson here?
In his first professional race, cyclist Lance Armstrong finished . . . drumroll . . . last. He made up for this lackluster first effort by being the only man to win the Tour de France six consecutive times. And still counting. Talk about overcompensation.
After Carl Lewis won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1996 Olympic games, he was asked to what he attributed his longevity, having competed for almost 20 years. He said, “Remembering that you have both wins and losses along the way. I don’t take either one too seriously.”
“Our achievements speak for themselves.
Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
Charles Schultz had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Oh, and Walt Disney wouldn’t hire him.
Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” ~ H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers Films, 1927
After Fred Astaire’s first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated 1933, read, “Can’t act. Can’t sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.” He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home. Astaire once observed that “when you’re experimenting, you have to try so many things before you choose what you want, that you may go days getting nothing but exhaustion.” And here is the reward for perseverance: “The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it’s considered to be your style.”
When Julie Andrews took her first screen test for MGM studios, the final determination was that “She’s not photogenic enough for film.”
“Flops are a part of life’s menu
Federico Fellini’s first films, “Luci del varieta” and “El sceicco bianco” were dismal financial and critical failures. In 1952, one film critic wrote, “We shall never hear from Fellini again.” Two years later, Fellini directed “La Strada,” which went on to garner the Academy Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Film, as well as the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. What is it they say about critics … something about knowing the worth of everything and the value of nothing?
After his first audition, Sidney Poitier was told by the casting director, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?” It was at that moment, recalls Poitier, that he decided to devote his life to acting.
When Lucille Ball began studying to be actress in 1927, she was told by the head instructor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, “Try any other profession.”
The first time Jerry Seinfeld walked on-stage at a comedy club as a professional comic, he looked out at the audience, froze, and forgot the English language. He stumbled through “a minute-and a half” of material and was jeered offstage. He returned the following night and closed his set to wild applause.
“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.”
In 1944, Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, told modeling hopefulNorma Jean Baker, “You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.” I’m sure you know that Norma Jean was Marilyn Monroe. Now . . . who was Emmeline Snively?
At the age of 21, French acting legend Jeanne Moreau was told by a casting director that her head was too crooked, she wasn’t beautiful enough, and she wasn’t photogenic enough to make it in films. She took a deep breath and said to herself, “Alright, then, I guess I will have to make it my own way.” After making nearly 100 films her own way, in 1997 she received the European Film Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.
After Harrison Ford’s first performance as a hotel bellhop in the film Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, the studio vice-president called him in to his office. “Sit down kid,” the studio head said, “I want to tell you a story. The first time Tony Curtis was ever in a movie he delivered a bag of groceries. We took one look at him and knew he was a movie star.” Ford replied, “I thought you were suppossed to think that he was a grocery delivery boy.” The vice president dismissed Ford with “You ain’t got it kid , you ain’t got it … now get out of here.”
Michael Caine’s headmaster told him, “You will be a laborer all your life.” Caine labored his way to two Academy Awards.
Charlie Chaplin was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because his pantomime was considered “nonsense.”
“I don’t believe I have special talents, I have persistence … After the first failure, second failure, third failure, I kept trying.”
In high school, actor and comic Robin Williams was voted “Least Likely to Succeed.”
Enrico Caruso’s music teacher said he had no voice at all and could not sing. His parents wanted him to become an engineer.
Decca Records turned down a recording contract with the Beatles with the unprophetic evaluation, “We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on their way out.” After Decca rejected the Beatles, Columbia records followed suit.
In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance. He told Presley, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him “hopeless as a composer.” And, of course, you know that he wrote five of his greatest symphonies while completely deaf.
“No matter how hard you work for success, if your thought is saturated with the fear of failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your endeavors and make success impossible.”
The Impressionists had to arrange their own art exhibitions because their works were routinely rejected by the Paris Salon. How many of you have heard of the Paris Salon?
A Paris art dealer refused Picasso shelter when he asked if he could bring in his paintings from out of the rain. One hopes that there is justice in this world and that the art dealer eventually went broke.
Van Gogh sold only one painting during his life. And this to the sister of one of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50). This didn’t stop him from completing over 800 paintings.
John Constable’s luminous painting Watermeadows at Salisbury was dismissed in 1830 by a judge at the Royal Academy as “a nasty green thing.” Name of the judge, anyone? Anyone?
Rodin’s father once said, “I have an idiot for a son.” Described as the worst pupil in the school, he was rejected three times admittance to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His uncle called him uneducable. Perhaps this gave him food for thought.
Stravinsky was run out of town by an enraged audience and critics after the first performance of the Rite of Spring. Later in life, he observed that “I have learned throughout my life as a composer chiefly through my mistakes and pursuits of false assumptions, not by my exposure to founts of wisdom and knowledge.”
When Pablo Casals reached 95, a young reporter asked him “Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making progress.”
“Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune;
Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. He was described as both “unable and unwilling to learn.” No doubt a slow developer.
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was encouraged to find work as a servant by her family.
Emily Dickinson had only seven poems published in her lifetime.
12 publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s book about a boy wizard before a small London house picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
15 publishers rejected a manuscript by e. e. cummings. When he finally got it published by his mother, the dedication, printed in uppercase letters, read WITH NO THANKS TO . . . followed by the list of publishers who had rejected his prized offering. Nice going Eddie. Thanks for illustrating that nobody loses all the time.
18 publishers turned down Richard Bach’s story about a “soaring eagle.” Macmillan finally published Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1970. By 1975 it had sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.
“Life knocks a man down and he gits up and it knocks him down again …
21 publishers rejected Richard Hooker’s humorous war novel, M*A*S*H. He had worked on it for seven years.
22 publishers rejected James Joyce’s The Dubliners.
27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
Jack London received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story.
English crime novelist John Creasey got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books.
William Saroyan accumulated more than a thousand rejections before he had his first literary piece published. Way to not take a hint, Bill!
“Every great cause is born from repeated failures and from imperfect achievements.”
Gertrude Stein submitted poems to editors for nearly 20 years before one was finally accepted. See . . . a rose is a rose.
I bet you didn’t know that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost 16 years after losing his eyesight
One of Professor Pajares’s first research efforts came back with a review that began, “There are so many things I don’t like about this article I just don’t know where to begin.”
There is a professor at MIT who offers a course on failure. He does that, he says, because failure is a far more common experience than success. An interviewer once asked him if anybody ever failed the course on failure. He thought a moment and replied, “No, but there were two Incompletes.”
Let’s end with Woody Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying. Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
“There is something to be said for keeping at a thing, isn’t there?”