Success Lessons from the world’s biggest rejects: Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Meryl Streep and 10 More
The road to success can be long, winding, lonely, and difficult.
But sometimes we forget. And when we run into obstacles, we think it’s a sign that we’re on the wrong path, that we should give up.
But all great successes have struggled and had setbacks along the way.
A Baker’s Dozen of Rejects
Winston Churchill’s parents ignored him, he did poorly in school, he stuttered and spoke with a lisp. They called him a disappointment and a boy of “low intelligence.”
After failing to land a role, Meryl Streep nearly gave up on acting when a director called her “too ugly.”
After his first performance, Elvis Presley was told “you ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
Dr. Seuss was turned down by 27 different publishers.
Abraham Lincoln’s fiancé died, he failed in business, he suffered multiple nervous breakdowns, and he was defeated in 8 different elections.
At age 30, Steve Jobs was depressed and devastated after being fired from the company he founded.
Ludwig Van Beethoven’s music teacher said that “as a composer, he is hopeless.”
Oprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as a news anchor, because she “wasn’t fit for television.”
Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he “lacked imagination” and “had no original ideas.”
Thomas Edison’s teacher told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
After being cut from his high school basketball team, Michael Jordan went home, locked himself in his room, and cried.
The Beatles were rejected by a recording studio that said, “We don’t like their sound. They have no future in show business.”
And Albert Einstein wasn’t able to speak until he was 4, and he couldn’t read until he was 7. His parents and teachers worried that he might be mentally handicapped and said that “he would never amount to much.”
So if you’ve ever failed and been rejected, you’re in good company!
These stories encourage us when we feel like giving up. That’s useful, but we can glean more lessons from them:
1. Keep going.
Succeeding is supposed to be hard.
The key isn’t for the journey to be easy and effortless, but rather to keep on going.
It’s scary, but we have to do it anyway.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek,” Joseph Campbell wisely said.
2. It’s not about you.
Ultimately, all our work isn’t about us; it’s about the people we’re here to serve.
Going back to our baker’s dozen of rejects who have changed the world, think of all the lives they’ve touched and all the impact they’ve made. How different would our world be without them?
Imagine a world with no Churchill, no Edison, no Dr. Seuss, no Lincoln, no Disney…. Can you do it?
And that’s only 13 people.
As Margaret Mead said, “never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
3. Greatness takes work.
Another message we might take from these stories is that we shouldn’t take our setbacks so hard, because the world is full of unappreciated genius.
But that’s the wrong message.
They experienced many of those setbacks because they were not geniuses at all.
Was Michael Jordan an unstoppable fiend on the court, but cut from the team anyway?
Of course not. He just wasn’t very good back then. But he practiced and practiced, until he became one of the best who ever lived.
When the Beatles were rejected by recording studios, it’s not because they weren’t understood. It’s because they weren’t very good.
But they kept at it, and thousands of gigs later, they had developed a unique sound and ability that would change the world.
Of course, sometimes genius is misunderstood.
But more often, it isn’t polished or packaged in the way it needs to be to create the desired impact.
And that’s on you.
When you experience setbacks, remember, the greats have, too.
And then go further and remember that the greats weren’t always that great. They struggled, and that struggle was an impetus to learn, to grow, and to get better.
So whatever you’re struggling with, give it another go, and try harder.