Failure can be devastating, but only if you let it be.
Here are some of the lessons you can learn from the failures of four great leaders.
Failure is a necessary experience if you want to eventually be successful. That may seem like an illogical statement, since failure and success are generally considered complete opposites. However, the experience of failure is both enlightening and motivating as long as you view it with the right perspective; learning from your mistakes and working harder to achieve your goals are both important ingredients in finding success.
In the moment, failure can range from disheartening to devastating, depending on the severity of the experience. As a young professional, or an entrepreneur, or anybody trying to achieve something significant, failure has the potential to hold you back indefinitely–but only if you let it. Take inspiration from the hundreds of radically successful individuals who reached their peak only after multiple rounds of significant failure. Here are some of their stories.
Bill Gates is one of the most recognizable figures in the tech industry, responsible for creating Microsoft and currently standing as one of the wealthiest people on the planet. Many people attribute his success to a kind of luck or sudden twist of fortune; he had a great idea at just the right time during the technology boom, and got rich developing it to perfection. But the reality is, Bill Gates experienced a crushing failure before he had anything to do with Microsoft. Originally, Gates created a product called Traf-O-Data, which analyzed data from traffic tapes. The product didn’t work properly, and the company never took off, so Gates decided to try something else.
Traf-O-Data never had any hope of being successful, but that was no reflection on Gates’s potential. if your idea, even though it seems great, doesn’t pan out the way you thought it would, remember that you still have plenty of ideas and opportunities ahead of you.
One of the most recognizable novelists of the modern era, Stephen King is widely regarded as a master of horror writing. Despite now having dozens of financially, critically, and popularly successful titles in circulation, King’s first novel, Carrie, was almost a failure. The novel was rejected 30 times before it was finally accepted and published, leading to King’s breakout career. King considered quitting, and many people would have quit, but his perseverance led to greatness.
Simple adjustments can turn a failure into a success. Revising your idea, targeting a different audience, or redefining your brand identity could all easily take a failed concept and turn it into something more successful.
A mastermind of technological innovation and corporate vision, Steve Jobs is responsible for making Apple the company it is today. However, his past is littered with failures, setbacks, and crushing defeats. Jobs started Apple in 1976 and the company began to take off, but after an unsuccessful product launch in 1985, Jobs was kicked out of his own company. Most ordinary people would have given up at that point, but instead, Jobs founded a new company called NeXT. NeXT was considered unsuccessful as well, at least for a time, until it caught the eye of a struggling Apple in 1997. Apple purchased the company and brought Jobs back into a leadership position, which he used to develop and launch Apple’s breakthrough products, including the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Perseverance is everything. Because he committed himself to doing great things, Jobs was able to work past his personal and professional failures, and eventually leave behind a monumental and unprecedented legacy.
Today, Disney is an entertainment giant of nearly unfathomable scale. It holds hundreds of properties, including Marvel Studios and the Star Wars franchise, and continues producing record-setting films and operating theme parks around the globe. Behind the initial company was the innovative, imaginative genius of Walt Disney himself. While many people recognize his earliest successful films, few know the difficulties he faced prior to making them. Disney’s first animation studio was dissolved, and Disney could not afford to pay his rent. Even after the successful premiere of Snow White, many of Disney’s early movies–classics like Pinocchio and Fantasia–were financial failures.
The strength of an idea cannot be objectively measured by its relative success or failure. Most of Disney’s earliest films are considered masterpieces, even though commercially, they were objective failures. Even Disney’s first studio, which went under, likely produced some amazingly high-quality work.
The next time you experience failure, on a small or large scale, remind yourself that you’re in good company. In your own life, ask anyone you feel has been successful in achieving their goals or living their dream if they’ve ever experienced failure. The answer is, invariably, yes. Failure is never the end of the road–it is only a small step in the greater journey. Pick yourself up, learn what you can from the experience, and force yourself to move on.