Turn Failure Into Fame: Life Lessons From Famous Failures

Turn Failure Into Fame: Life Lessons From Famous Failures
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According to what you read in print, see on television or hear on the radio: The economy is failing, government is failing, schools are failing, businesses are failing…well, you get the picture. Every day brings us more doom and gloom and if you buy this lie, it could make you feel like there’s no point in even getting out of bed.

In spite of what we hear about how bad the economy is or how high the unemployment numbers are, the truth is that each of us is responsible for his or her own success. After all, if I had accepted a failure label when I was downsized from my job in the educational field, I wouldn’t be writing this article today. Here’s a look at some famous figures who turned obstacles into opportunities and an analysis of how they turned their careers around for the better.

Failure Is a Bump, Not a Barrier

Abraham Lincoln

Is failure really such a bad thing or does it simply set the stage for future success? If Abraham Lincoln hadn’t failed so many times in his life, would he still have become our sixteenth president? How did what he learned from his mistakes shape and prepare him to end slavery and win the Civil War?

The lesson from President Lincoln’s life is to learn from each failure and use that information to move to the next level. Lincoln did not let defeat stop him; when he was defeated in one election, he simply ran again in the next one. When one business endeavor did not work, he started a new one. He also learned to adjust his filter (or perception) of his skill set with each new setback and to see each event as simply a set up for his next success.

Persistence and perseverance carry you over the speed bumps in life. In Lincoln’s own words, “Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”1 Most individuals could improve their success factor in life instantly by turning off the television or radio, avoiding the newspaper and simply going to work daily with a renewed zest for their work and opportunity.

Discover What Doesn’t Work

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”2 I don’t know about you, but I’m grateful that he didn’t throw in the towel after failure number 8,999. If he hadn’t pushed on past those prior failures to finally invent the electric light bulb, I might be typing this by candlelight.

At some point in your life, you have either heard the old saying “learn from your mistakes” or someone has told you, “I hope you learned from that!”

Do we learn from our failures? As it turns out, yes, we do. Making mistakes makes our brains stronger; this fact was discovered by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, as she studied how people handle their lack of success. Our practical application from Edison’s life and Dweck’s research is to keep eliminating behaviors and mindsets that do not work and developing skills and attitudes that do. Each time we do this, we strengthen our brains and add another competitive tool to our success arsenal.

Finger Lickin’ Good Success

Colonel Sanders in Japan

Does constant rejection wear you down or do you feel like you are just too old and tired to be a success? Is it easier to commiserate with your colleagues than to make that next sales call, marketing presentation or client pitch? Well, maybe you should make a trip to your local KFC for some “finger lickin’ good” food and inspiration.

Harlan David Sanders, aka Colonel Sanders, began his famous cooking career when he was just six. His father died, and he had to cook the family meals. When he was ten, he helped support his family with various jobs, but his love of cooking continued throughout his life.

1929, he started serving what he called “Sunday Dinner, Seven Days a Week”3 to customers at his Corbin, Kentucky service station in the Sanders Café in the rear. In 1967, the construction of a new road put him out of business and out of a job. He made 1,000 sales calls (now that’s big time rejection!) before he sold his famous secret recipe. He started franchising his restaurants when he was sixty-five and at 75, sold them for $15 million.

In 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill exhorted the Harrow School students to “Never give in. Never give in. Never give in.“4 While we don’t know whether Colonel Sanders was familiar with Churchill’s advice, we do know that in his lifetime, he never gave in and that was his key to success.

Learning From Life

President Lincoln, Thomas Alva Edison, and Colonel Sanders are just three examples of individuals who achieved fabulous fame from failure after failure. Other examples include Walt Disney and Elvis Presley (both fired for poor performance), General Douglas MacArthur (rejected twice by West Point), and authors Dr. Seuss and Margaret Mitchell (whose work was rejected over twenty-five times each).

The key thing we learn as we look at these famous, extremely successful individuals is their persistence, endurance and perseverance made the difference. None of them accepted someone else’s assessment of their skills nor did they allow anyone to label them as failures. They believed in their abilities and that confidence is ultimately what gave them their competitive edge in their respective fields. They weren’t luckier than others, born into better (or worse) environments or given more advantages. Each made a conscious decision to be successful—and so can you.