On Success – So you Failed with your First (and Second and Third) Business Effort…


We always tend to read ‘success’ stories when we want to be inspired or learn about being successful. Success stories inspire us, they sound good and we can definitely learn from them. But these stories can also leave us overwhelmed and hopeless when we try our hand at a new business just to fail after a few weeks or months or even years. Many people only try once and when something doesn’t work, they think of themselves as unsuccessful or as failures. When we fail at something we very easily tend tell ourselves that we would never be another Richard Branson or a Bill Gates. We are right. We never will be.

There is another way of looking at our failures. We are all different from another and therefore we do things differently, we have different interests and passions and talents. Being different from anyone else also means something wonderful – every one of us is a unique person. Being a unique person means that each person has a different purpose than the next and that we sometimes fail at things because we aren’t in a business that fits our interests, talents, personalities, passions, characteristics and purposes. Or we may be in the right business, but we don’t have the right ‘tools’ to manage a successful business. In these instances we must forget the failure, dream from anew, plan from afresh, learn from mistakes, learn new skills and try again.

It is encouraging to know that the Bransons & Co. of this world didn’t all succeed at their first try. Some of the most successful business people today and in the past had to try quite a few times before they had any success. Here are few failures to inspire you to be more determined to succeed in whatever your passion is.

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  • Henry Ford went broke five times before the Ford Motor Company became a success.
  • After being turned down for a job at Toyota, Soichiro Honda, started making scooters and eventually started his own company.
  • He invented a rice cooker that burnt the rice and he lost everything, but that didn’t put Akio Morita off and today he is the founder of the multi-billion strong company, Sony.
  • Traf-O-Data was the first flop of Harvard university drop-outs, Bill Gates and Paul Allen. We all know what happened when they started Microsoft. Maybe the name was to blame…
  • Colonel Harland David Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) fame’s chicken recipe was rejected by 1009 restaurants before someone had the vision to buy it.
  • Walt Disney was fired from his newspaper job because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He ended up bankrupt but believed in his ‘no good ideas’. Today Disney’s company is billions worth and still going (and growing) strong.

Not only people in business failed before succeeding in life. Not all scientists, inventors, politicians, great leaders, actors, artist, musicians and writers and sportsmen had it easy either.

  • It was thought that Albert Einstein was mentally handicapped, seeing that he only started speaking at four and learning to read at seven. (What is so bad about that? In our country children learn to read at age six/seven. Maybe there is still a chance for us to become geniuses!) He got expelled from one school and was refused entry by another. Not bad for a genius Nobel Prize winner in physics, is it? Remember that one of his greatest quotes was “Imagination is more important than knowledge…”
  • Another scientist-dude first ‘failed’ at school and then ran the family farm into the ground before becoming a math-genius. His name was Isaac Newton. Maybe this was one of those cases of doing something while having other talents.
  • Thomas Edison was told by teachers that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” He was also fired from several jobs. We all know by now that we can be thankful to Thomas for not believing his teachers and bosses and that he just pushed forward and tried and tried and tried more than a thousand times to invent the light bulb. In the end he just said that he had found more than a thousand ways not to do it before he found out how to do it! Now, that’s what I call ATTITUDE! Thanks, Mr. Edison for adding a little light to our lives. J
  • And then there were bicycle makers Orville and Wilbur Wright who didn’t give up in spite of depression, family illnesses and lots of broken prototypes, before they fulfil every man’s dream to fly.
  • Although he failed Grade 6 and was defeated in many, many political elections, Winston Churchill just kept going and became the British prime minister at the age of 62 and lead Britain through WWII. He just had to wait for the Creator of History’s perfect timing for him to make his difference in the world.
  • A young man called Abraham Lincoln went to the war as a captain, was demoted and returned home as a private! He went on to start quite a few failed businesses, but Abe hung in and eventually became one of the U.S.A.’s greatest presidents (and an enormous statue). It just shows you again that you must find your niche to succeed in life.
  • Oprah Winfrey was allegedly abused as a child and fired from her job at a television station because she was “unfit for TV”. I’m sure you know who she is now and what she did for the past 20 odd years. Yes, she became a successful television (!) host and one of the most powerful people in the world – even influencing law making in die U.S.A. today.
  • Jerry Seinfeld, actor and stand-up comedian (and the voice of Adam in Bee Movie) was booed off the stage on his first job because he froze, but he went back on stage, tried again and audiences haven’t stopped laughing since.
  • He was told that he didn’t have what it takes to become a star, but Harrison Ford went on and did just that. Who else could have played Han Solo of Indiana Jones but him?
  • Vincent Van Goch died in poverty, selling only one painting in his life. Today his more than 800 paintings bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. I personally don’t understand the fuss over some of the paintings, but nevertheless…
  • Theodor Seuss Giesel or Dr. Seuss, as we know him wasn’t an overnight success either. His first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers.
  • The University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television rejected Steven Spielberg three times before he joined another film school from where he dropped out before finishing his studies to become a director. He eventually went back after 35 years and completed his BA-degree in 2002! How’s that for perseverance? And he didn’t even have to do that because he was already successful in what he did!
  • Although Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the best music composers ever, he died with very little to his name due to depression, restlessness and ‘unfavour’ from
  • Ludwig Von Beethoven was told that he couldn’t compose music, but he went on to compose some of the most beautiful music ever written. If you don’t know Ode to Joy, get a copy and listen to it. On top of all, he did all it being deaf! How cool is that?
  • Elvis Presley was told by an agent “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” We know now that he didn’t listen to that no-good agent.
  • “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.” A quote from Michael Jordan, probably the most famous basketball player ever, who was cut from his high school team…

For more failure stories, visit http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/02/16/50-famously-successful-people-who-failed-at-first/ and http://www.onlinecollege.org/2010/05/17/50-iconic-writers-who-were-repeatedly-rejected/

Just think about it for a moment; If these people just gave up after the first try we could have been without KFC today! Or some of the greatest animation movies, planes, trains, some of the best music, electricity, the telephone, some very good cars and we would never have been able to enjoy some great books or the talents of some very good athletes. OK, that’s only partially true, because someone else would probably have invented the light bulb, the aeroplane and animated movies, but it could have taken a lot more time. And we wouldn’t have known who Thomas Edison, Mozart or Spielberg was.


So what do we learn from these people’s failures?

  • If you don’t keep trying, someone else will and ‘steal’ your idea. It really isn’t nice to see someone else do something that you wanted to do, but didn’t do just because you didn’t have the guts to try or because you gave up.
  • Don’t listen to people telling you that “it can’t be done” or that “you’re not good enough” or “you will never make it” or “you are too stupid” or anything like that, just because they can’t imagine what you can. Winston Churchill and Steven Spielberg didn’t believe people like that. Why should you?
  • Learn to know yourself. Think about life. Know what you like and what you are good at. If you fail at something you’re not good at, try something that you are good at and which matches your personality and passions in life.
  • Don’t try to be someone else or do something that others are doing or follow other people blindly. You were made a unique person, with something unique to give to this world. Don’t aspire to other people’s dreams.
  • And last but not least – in spite of what the great and mighty Oprah says: Not every person “can do what they put their minds to”. Of course a person with serious intellectual and learning disabilities won’t be able to become a rocket scientist or a 250 kg girl won’t be able to become an underwear model. So, parents stop telling your children that! Stop setting impossible goals for yourself and/or your children, or trying to fulfil your own unfulfilled dreams through them, because that is the surest way to failure.

Maybe you are ‘just’ someone who started a small business to support you and your family for the rest of your life. That is a very good and noble thing. But just maybe you have something else to give.

By persevering, Bill Gates gave the world something that almost everyone has to use every day. He change the way of how much work could be done by one person in a day! He also changed the way how work is done.

Oh, and back to Mr. Branson. He dropped out of school to start a magazine. Through the years he built up eight billion-dollar businesses in eight different sectors (read an interview with him at http://www.touchahead.com/blog/entrepreneur-leader-richard-branson/). He introduced fun into business. Today he inspires, explores and writes books about business. Did I mention that he is dyslexic? (As some of the smartest people in the world were/are.)

Just maybe you have something like that in you too. If you think you have, never stop dreaming and never stop trying. And never listen to people trying to stop you from trying.

And that’s pretty much what I have to say about learning from another people’s failures. I’ll end from a quote from Winston Churchill himself:

Never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in – except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. (This is the original version of the popular ‘Never, never, never give up’ quote, by the way.)


Fielies De Kock is also a wife and mom and hope to become a more successful writer of novels in the very near future. She currently resides in Cairo, Egypt, with her family, where they are trying to survive a new language and culture, while missing their family, friends and four dogs and where they are slowly and unwillingly warming up towards the building’s official ginger cat, known as The Cat.

Fielies is also known as Riëtte De Kock. Her first children’s book, Yeovangya, is available as an ebook at http://www.amazon.com/Yeovangya-ebook/dp/B008CP2RQ0


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