We’ve all faced our share of failures. Failing sucks, but it’s how you respond that matters.
Steven Spielberg applied to the USC film school and was rejected because his C level grades were too low. He tried and was rejected again. He tried a third time and was denied admission.
Spielberg responded by finding a different school to get his education, and worked his ass off, eventually becoming the highest-grossing director of all time, and achieving critical success, winning the Academy Award for Best Director for Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan.
He eventually got an honorary degree from USC, but he only agreed to accept it if the person who had rejected him signed it. That’s a celestial crotch-chop to all the gatekeepers of the world.
J.K. Rowling endured the death of her mother, a divorce, being a single-parent, and being broke, while writing the first Harry Potter book. She considered herself a failure and diagnosed with clinical depression.
Once she finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone it was rejected by 12 major publishers before being picked-up by the smaller company Bloomsbury, who advised her to pick up a day job because she had little chance of making money writing children’s books.
As you know, the Harry Potter books went on to win multiple awards, have sold over 400 million copies and spawned an incredibly successful series of movies. The Harry Potter books are the most popular series of all time. She’s also one of the richest people in the U.K.
Rowling has an interesting thought on failure that she shared in a speech at Harvard, “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty and was sexually abused as a child. When she was sent to live with her father she focused on her studies and eventually got a scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she majored in communications.
When she got a job at a television station in Baltimore she was fired because the producer said she was “unfit for television.”
Winfrey moved to Chicago and took a job hosting AM Chicago, which was eventually named The Oprah Winfrey Show. Forbes proclaimed her the first black woman billionaire in world history, and is the richest self-made woman in America.
Oprah Winfrey has this to say about failure, “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”
There are two things I want you to take from this.
The first thing is, throughout your life, people are going to tell you that you can’t do something and those people are idiots. Don’t let anyone determine your value, or choose your path. Gatekeepers are routinely blind to your potential.
Listen to them, learn what you can from them, and then do your own damn thing.
The second thing is, sometimes failure forces us to re-evaluate or to improve.
That’s a gift to you, if you’re aware of it, and you use that lesson wisely. Maybe you need to approach something differently. Maybe you need to get better at something. Or maybe, you just need to work harder.
Spielberg, Rowling, and Winfrey became successful—wildly successful, because they used failure as a teachable moment and then got back to work. They didn’t let other people decide when it was all over.
Because, after all, it’s not a failure until you quit trying.