If you're building a business, searching for a new job, or making some other transition in your life or career, something you may come to realize is that failure and rejection suck; like seriously, they blow.
Now, I'm an infamous believer in the idea that "everyone's journey is different and you shouldn't compare your journey to anyone else's." and I also firmly believe that if you work hard enough and smart enough, that the goals you set will be all yours when the time is right. Though it’s hard to keep this mindset when it feels like you just can’t seem to win, what I’ll say to you (and myself) is this: Keep focused on your journey regardless of whether you feel like you're lagging behind in some sort of race to the top or not. This simple mantra of sorts is a byproduct of my faith in God and a personality trait that allows me to be relentless and suborn enough not to give up when maybe most people would. But even I sometimes get caught up in the low of the lows.
So what helps me get out of those lows when my Positive Patty philosophies just aren't working? Thinking about other "failures". There's nothing like knowing that someone else has also failed to lift your own spirit. Yes! I’m not alone in this failing thing. Wait, what? Before you pass judgment, I'm not talking about the “misery loves company” feeling. What I’m getting at is, there is reassurance in knowing that experiencing failure is a normal part of the journey and someone or several someones have managed to find the way out through the failure and onto success.
Let’s take a look at some famous failures. Shall we?
Kevin Systrom - CEO, Instagram
Unbeknownst to him at the time of his departure, Kevin Systrom was working for a company that would eventually become Twitter. His stroke of luck or misfortune (depending on how you want to look at it) landed him at Nextstop, a travel tip site that was eventually sold to Facebook. Systrom thought he’d missed out on both the Twitter and Facebook boats. In 2010 he co-founded the photo-sharing app, Instagram. In 2012 he was offered $1 billion in cash and stock for the app.
Brian Acton - Co-founder, WhatsApp
Back in 2009 after doing a lengthy stint at Yahoo and then taking a year off to gallivant across South America, computer engineer, Brian Acton applied for a job at Facebook. He didn't get it. Clearly an optimist, Acton tweeted about his rejection focusing on the apparent silver lining presented in the opportunity to “connect with fantastic people.” That same year Acton partnered with fellow programmer Jan Koum to co-found WhatsApp, an instant messaging application for smartphones. In August, 2014 Facebook acquired WhatsApp for approximately $19 billion, in a deal that reportedly earned Acton more than $3 billion in stock and cash for his share in the company. Oh the irony! Imagine how differently life would have turned out if he had landed the job he thought he wanted with Facebook back in 2009.
According to his Twitter account, Acton was also rejected by Twitter.
I get it. Long commutes are awful.
Shawn “Jay Z” Carter - Rapper/Entrepreneur
Some times we think the answer is in being granted some kind of opportunity when the answer is really in creating the opportunity for ourselves. Even with a considerable amount of street buzz, Jay Z couldn’t get any bite from any of the major record labels. With few other options, the aspiring rapper began selling CDs out of his car. In 1995 he partnered with Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs to create their own independent label, Roc-A-Fella Records. In 1996, under his own label he released his first album, Reasonable Doubt, an album, which would eventually be included in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. To date he’s gone on to sell more than 100 million records and earned 21 Grammy awards for his musical work. He’s parlayed his musical success into various successful entrepreneurial ventures and assets, including entertainment company, Roc Nation, champagne brand, Armand de Brignac and most recently streaming service TIDAL, which just announced its expansion into Mexico. The self-made superstar currently boasts an estimated net worth of nearly $520 million. Funny how the record industry that once ignored him now has no choice but to grant him its full attention.
Sean “P. Diddy” Combs - Rapper/Producer/Entrepreneur
Kayne West isn’t the only college dropout in the hip-hop world. Combs attended the illustrious Howard University as a business major but dropped out in 1990, after only two years. He became an intern at Uptown Records, eventually working under founder Andre Harrell as an A&R rep, helping to develop acts like Jodeci, and Mary J. Blige. In 1993 with continuous problems arising from trying to control the rebellious youngster and disagreements on creative direction of acts like Heavy D and The Notorious B.I.G., Harrell fired combs. Shortly thereafter Combs established Bad Body Records, taking B.I.G. with him. He soon landed a $10 million deal with Arista Records and launched the career of The Notorious B.I.G., who would eventually be widely regarded as one of the greatest rappers of all time. Today Comb’s estimated net worth is approximately $735 million, deriving from his ventures in music, spirits, clothing, media, and startups, which include clothing line - Sean John, alkaline water brand – Aquahydrate, tequila brand - DeLeon and a huge stakes in multi-platform television network - Revolt. In an ironic turn of events, after Andre Harrell was fired as the head of Motown in 1997, Combs brought him on as president of Bad Boy. Harrell is currently still serving under Diddy as Vice Chairman of Revolt. Combs was once quoted as saying: “I’ma shake the game up. I’ma make MCA and Andre regret firing me.” I would say mission accomplished and in the famous words of Diddy himself, “Take that. Take that.”
J.K. Rowling - Author, Harry Potter
At one point in her life mega-successful author J.K. Rowling was just a single mother living on welfare trying her hardest to make ends meet. She’d once worked as a Secretary for Amnesty International but was fired after spending too much of her time day dreaming about being a writer. In her own words: “I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”
In 1990 she came up with the idea for Harry Potter while on a delayed train. Her first book was written on an old manual typewriter. It took her five years to complete the book about the adventures of the young wizard and it would take an additional two years before the book would be published. In 1997 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released. The book would climb it’s way to the top of the New York Times best-selling fiction list by 1999 and remain there for much of that year and into the next. Today the Harry Potter series is the best-selling book series in history with sales of more than 450 million copies worldwide. From welfare to near billionaire, J.K. Rowling has earned a seat among the richest women in the world and is reported to have an estimated net worth just under $1 billion.
Steve Jobs – Co-founder/CEO, Apple Inc.
Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976. Together they would deliver the Apple I and Apple II personal computers. Life was good. The Apple II dominated the personal computer market and Apple was winning accolades like "Machine of the Year", a Time Magazine alternative to "Person of the Year". And then... enter stage left, Bill Gates and Microsoft circa 1981. The introduction of cheap IBM-PC clones that ran on Microsoft MS-DOS destabilized Apple. As the Windows user interface improved, it increasingly took more and more market share from Apple. With the board planning to oust Jobs from the Macintosh group and render him powerless (read: fire him), he resigned from Apple in 1985 and started NeXT, a computer platform development company specializing in state of the art, higher end computers for higher-education and business markets.
Whadd'a ya know, by 1997 Apple was nearly bankrupt and found itself at the mercy of Jobs. Apple would purchase NeXT from Jobs and the NeXTSTEP platform would eventually become the foundation for Mac OS X. Steve retruned to Apple as interim CEO and ultimately CEO, returning the company back to profitability by 1998. In 2005 Jobs was quoted as saying: "I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”
Bill Gates – Co-founder, Microsoft
While we’re on the subject of computer geeks and college dropouts, let’s talk about one Mr. Bill Gates. It’s widely known that Gates was a Harvard dropout but before that, actually at the tail end of his high school career, he and friends Paul Allen and Paul Gilbert started a company and began work on a project called Traf-O-Data. The company would build specialized computers for evaluating traffic flow data. The computer would allow for the data captured on paper tapes to be retrieved without having to unroll them and process them by hand. However, Traf-OData was a true failure and only one functional machine was ever sold. Bummer.
Allen notes that "Traf-O-Data was seminal in preparing us to make Microsoft’s first product a couple of years later. We taught ourselves to simulate how microprocessors work using DEC computers so we could develop software even before our machine was built." In Bill Gates’ own words: “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”
Walt Disney – Co-founder, Walt Disney Company
Disney dropped out of high school at the age of sixteen to join the army but was rejected for being too young. He moved on to plan B and joined the Red Cross where he drove an ambulance in France for a year. He moved back to Kansas City in 1919 to start his artistic career. In what is probably the most ironic of his failures, legend has it that Disney was fired from The Kansas City Star because in his editor’s opinion, he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Dude? However, according to The Kansas City Star, he applied for a permanent job with The Star as a cartoonist, clerk and even truck driver - but the newspaper turned him down each time.
Disney would later acquire Laugh-O-Gram, an animation studio, which he ended up driving into bankruptcy because of his inability to run a successful business. Finally, he and his brother moved to Hollywood, California and began producing successful cartoons including Alice comedies and Mickey Mouse. His success to follow would include development of Disney Studios, Disneyland, Disney World and EPCOT among others. Imagine that!
Anna Wintour – Editor, Vogue Magazine
Even the devil wears failure. Wintour landed a job as a junior fashion editor at renown magazine, Harper’s Bazaar in 1975. What more fabulous way would there be for a girl to start her career in fashion? Now if only she wasn’t fired after a measly nine months of working there. Her edgy shoots may have impressed some but editor Tony Mazzola wasn’t among them. Her next opportunity was as an editor at Viva, a women’s adult magazine. After that publication was shut down she had stints at Savy and New York before eventually ending up at Vogue in the early eighties where she’s reigned ever since. She’s described getting fired as a great learning experience even going so far as to say: "Everyone should be sacked at least once in their career because perfection doesn't exist. It's important to have setbacks, because that is the reality of life."
Oprah Winfrey – Chairwoman and CEO, Harpo Productions
Winfrey got her start as an evening news anchor for local Baltimore station, WJZ-TV. After only seven and a half months as co-anchor she was fired for becoming too emotionally involved in the stories. What? Oprah? Emotional? No? Heartbroken, her next position was a much lower-profile role reading news headlines on a morning segment. She would eventually go on to host “Baltimore is Talking” which became a hit and then on to host a low-rated, half-hour morning talk show called “AM Chicago” in 1984. The show quickly became the highest rated talk show in Chicago. Oprah eventually parlayed these opportunities into the Oprah Winfrey Show and well, you know how the story goes from there. All the rest of the world could do was sit back and watch as she built her empire. She revolutionized the talk show industry and we ate it up like fresh apple pie, emotions and all.