What’s Important? Failure.

It’s not that failure is good. It’s inevitable. Expect it, factor it in.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Dear daughters.

When you started walking — you fell a lot. Then you got up.

Failure has become a big thing recently. It’s very popular these days to treat failure with reverence, as something to welcome rather than avoid, learn from rather than hide.

For example, take Sara Blakely.

She’s the founder of Spanx who, in 2012, became the youngest self-made woman billionaire in the world.

When she was a child, at the dinner table, her dad used to ask her and her brother: “What did you fail at this week?”

This, she says, contributed a lot to her success.

It’s not that failure is good. It’s inevitable. You will experience failures. Even if you achieve what you set out to do, there are always micro-failures along the way (anything from writer’s block to using the wrong units; from putting too much salt to forgetting your bag at home).

Nothing can ever go perfectly. So, by definition, you will have failed just by trying.

Good. Now you know it’s coming

Be it silly mistakes to colossal catastrophes, expect failure as a step along the way. Looking at it as part of the process makes it easy to get on to the next step and not think that something necessarily went wrong. It just didn’t go the way you were hoping. But if you factored failure in, it doesn’t have to mean that it didn’t go according to plan.

If you want to create great art — you WILL make some less so.

If you want to find a publisher for your book — you WILL receive many rejection letters.

If you want to reach Mars — you WILL crash some rockets.

Failure is only a failure if it’s the end point, if there are no steps after it. So make that next step. Don’t stop now.

Recommended reading:

  • Feck Perfuction, by James Victore
  • How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

Famous ‘Failures’

Winston Churchill

Many know Winston Churchill as a key component of Allied victory in World War II and a driving force behind Britain’s involvement in it, but that wasn’t always the case. He was actually estranged from his political party over differing ideology in the years leading up to the war. He only became the British Prime Minister at the old age of 62, a year after the war broke. Nevertheless, Churchill’s leadership helped save the world. Churchill was no stranger to success outside of politics as well, being a lauriete of the Nobel Prize in literature, as well as being awarded many decorations for courage and military achievements.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” — Winston Churchill

Abraham Lincoln

You may be surprised to know that Abraham Lincoln failed — a lot. Here’s a brief rundown of the troubles he faced in the years leading up to his Presidency: Defeated for political office 7 times, failed in business, lost jobs, lost his fiancée and had a nervous breakdown. Lincoln was not content with his failures, though, and in one of the greatest stories of persistence ever told went on to become the 16th President of the United States, guiding the country through one of the most tumultuous times of its brief history.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

“Let no feeling of discouragement prey upon you, and in the end you are sure to succeed.”

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.”

- Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was a restless and relentless man, but did you know that Edison was told by his teachers that he was, “too stupid to learn anything”? Edison would go on to patent more than 1,000 inventions, including the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, and a movie camera. He is considered one of the most prolific inventors in history.

“Restlessness is discontent — and discontent is the first necessity to progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man — and I will show you a failure.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”

“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”

- Thomas Edison

Vincent van Gogh

In just over a decade, Vincent van Gogh produced more than 2,100 pieces of art — including 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. But here’s a bit of trivia that might surprise you: He only sold one painting during his lifetime, and that was months before his death. Despite the toll his struggling art career took on him, both financially and emotionally, van Gogh continued to paint, saying, “For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.”

“Only when I fall do I get up again.”

“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.”

“Success is sometimes the outcome of a whole string of failures.”

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”

“Don’t lose heart if it’s very difficult at times, everything will come out all right and nobody can in the beginning do as he wishes.”

“If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it — keep going, keep going come what may.”

“I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.”

“The beginning is perhaps more difficult than anything else, but keep heart, it will turn out all right.”

“In spite of everything, I shall rise again; I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.”

“It is not only by one’s impulses that one achieves greatness, but also by patiently filing away the steel wall that separates what one feels from what one is capable of doing.”

- Vincent van Gogh

J. M. Barrie

J. M. Barrie faced adversity right from the start. Wanting to become an author from an early age, his family wanted him to become a minister, instead. Reaching a compromise, he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh studying literature. After his early works received mixed reviews, he printed the book Better Dead at his own expense which failed. He suffered another failure when a comic opera he wrote failed, yet then the play “Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” first performed in 1904. Barrie continued to receive many honors, but most of all — Peter Pan became one of the best known and beloved characters. Barrie gave the rights to the Peter Pan works to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, which continues to benefit from them.

“We are all failures — at least the best of us are.” — J.M. Barrie

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” — Peter Pan

Albert Einstein

While it’s long been debated whether or not Albert Einstein had a learning disability, it is a fact that he did have trouble learning and communicating in a traditional school setting– actually failing an entrance exam to the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zurich (if that’s not an argument against standardized testing we’re not sure what is). He overcame that, however, and went on to win the Nobel prize in physics for uncovering the photoelectric effect, and his theory of relativity is one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) achievement in all of science.

“Failure is success in progress.”

“You never fail until you stop trying.”

“A ship is always safe at the shore — but that is NOT what it is built for.”

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

- Albert Einstein


Disney is a household name around the world. He built the Disney mega empire that delights children and adults everywhere. But Disney didn’t just walked into success. He was fired by a newspaper editor because he, “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He then faced a series of failures that included: Being forced to dissolve his first animation studio and living on dog food; Having one of his early characters, Oswald the Rabbit, and his design team stolen from him by Universal Studios; Having his idea for Mickey Mouse turned down outright by MGM — he was told a giant mouse on screen would terrify women. All of this before the finally successful premiere of the now classic “Snow White.”

“Everyone falls down. Getting up is how you learn to walk.”

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future.”

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

“I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn’t know how to get along without it.”

- Walt Disney

Robert Frost

Robert Frost was plagued all his years by the effects of mental illness and depression on himself and on those he loved. His life was plagued by grief and loss. Frost has held various jobs, including helping his mother teach her class of unruly boys, delivering newspapers, and working in a factory maintaining carbon arc lamps. He did not enjoy these jobs, feeling his true calling was poetry. He followed his calling for many years, and by the 1940’s, Frost was undisputedly the grand master of American poetry, winning four Pulitzer Prize and many more awards and honors. No one can say that Frost was a stranger to great adversity, not to great success.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”

“Why abandon a belief merely because it ceases to be true? Cling to it long enough and… it will turn true again, for so it goes. Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor.”

“The best way out is always through.”

- Robert Frost

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey grew up in a sheer state of utter poverty for most of her childhood life, living with her grandmother during those years, being abused for years during that time. At the age of 17-years old, she won a beauty pageant and interned at a radio station, creating a love for the media, and eventually landing a job after college as a news anchor. She was later removed by the producer for being “unfit for television”. At the age of 29-years old she took over a fledgling show which would ultimately become the Oprah Winfrey Show, the highest-ranked talk show in Chicago at the time. Today, she is a multi-billionaire and has had a major impact on a large part of the world. Oprah was able to overcome multiple failures in her life, but didn’t give up. Because of it, she reached international fame and is known around the world as a household name.

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.”

“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.”

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”

- Oprah Winfrey

Helen Keller

It would be hard to find someone afflicted by more disadvantages than Helen Keller who had become blind and deaf at age two. Despite these obstacles, Keller (thanks to her teacher Anne Sullivan) showed tremendous progress with her ability to communicate, and went on to graduate college, found the American Civil Liberties Union, and receive many honors in recognition of her many accomplishments. During her remarkable life, Keller stood as a powerful example of how determination, hard work, and imagination can allow an individual to triumph over adversity. By overcoming difficult conditions with a great deal of persistence, she grew into a respected and world-renowned activist who labored for the betterment of others.

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

“Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”

“Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them; but do not let them master you. Let them teach you patience, sweetness, insight.”

“We can do anything we want to if we stick to it long enough.”

“Instead of comparing our lot with that of those who are more fortunate than we are, we should compare it with the lot of the great majority of our fellow men. It then appears that we are among the privileged.”

“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”

- Helen Keller

Michael Jordan

Despite being the best basketball player — and one of the best athletes — of all time, success was not always a slam dunk for the Jumpman. In his words: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It became a pattern throughout Jordan’s life that a disappointment or setback resulted in a redoubling of effort. He let his failure and disappointment drive him to be better.

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

- Michael Jordan

J. K. Rowling

“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.” Those are the words of J. K. Rowling — the author whose book series has been translated into 73 languages, sold many millions of copies and accrued billions of dollars. Rowling was a broke and unemployed single-mother battling depression when she wrote Harry Potter. Her manuscript was rejected by every single one of the 12 publishers she sent it to. Finally, the 8-year-old daughter of an editor read the copy Rowling had sent her father. The little girl loved the opening chapters and begged to read the whole thing. The book — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — was soon published. Rowling is now perhaps the best selling author of all time and her books bring joy to millions of children all over the world.

“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.”

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

- J. K. Rowling

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he began — Apple. The dismissal made him realize that his passion for his work exceeded the disappointment of failure. “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,” Jobs said. After a series of ventures, some more successful than others, Jobs eventually returned to Apple and made it one of the most valuable companies in the world, transforming the entire consumer computer and phone industry.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

- Steve Jobs

Stephen King

As a paranoid, troubled child, tormented by nightmares and raised in poverty, it is no surprise that Stephen King earned his title: “Master of Horror”. An addiction to drugs and alcohol were his mechanisms to cope with the unhappiness he felt with his life. This, along with the frustration he felt towards multiple rejections by publishers brought his to a mental rock bottom. These intense emotions were those that he focused onto his writing. This became his new coping mechanism, and this is how King grew to be one of the best selling, and most adapted and beloved, authors in the history of literature.

“Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”

- Stephen King

Thomas J. Watson

Thomas J. Watson was a leading self-made industrialist and one of the greatest businessman in history. He turned the IBM company into the global force it has been during the 20th century. However, before achieving the success he’s known for, Watson had a hard time trying to find his way, quitting jobs and being fired repeatedly, and worse — having to work for people he didn’t like or respect, and doing hard and demoralizing work for very little pay. He ended up broke and unemployed. Eventually though, by becoming one of the world’s greatest salesman and a management superstar, Watson was one of the richest men of his time.

“If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

“Failure is a teacher; a harsh one, but the best.”

“You can be discouraged by failure, or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes, make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success — on the far side of failure.”

- Thomas J. Watson

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin’s life was once considered a major failure by even his own father. In fact, it was due to his interest in nature that Darwin ended up neglecting his medical studies and dropping out of school. In a second attempt at school, Darwin again realized that this wasn’t for him, as he was too distracted to finish schooling. Once again, he quit. In his autobiography, Darwin stated, “I was considered by all my masters and my father rather below the common standard of intellect.” In effect, he was summed up as a failure in life, or as an “idle gentlemen.” Of course, things didn’t remain that way. Today, Darwin is considered as one of the most influential scientific minds of our time. His theories on natural selection and evolution have had a major impact on our understanding of species and life here on earth, along with the progress of biological organisms.

“A moral being is one who is capable of reflecting on his past actions and their motives — of approving of some and disapproving of others.”

“I love fools’ experiments. I am always making them.”

- Charles Darwin

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin’s early years were tumultuous at best. Born into poverty, Chaplin’s father abandoned him at the age of 2-years old, leaving his mother with no real income. When he was only 7-years old, Chaplin was forced to go to a workhouse and work in exchange for room and board. Chaplin’s mother battled mental illness for several years after that, until she was permanently committed. In the meantime, Chaplin and his brother, Sydney, were on their own, oftentimes going without food for days while trying to survive in the wake of all the familial turmoil. During this time, Chaplin performed in stage plays and enhanced his comedic talents along with his step-dancing abilities. Ultimately, he found his way to Hollywood, where Chaplin was famously turned away and snubbed, only later to become the greatest silent-film actor to have ever lived!

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

“Nothing is permanent in this wicked world — not even our troubles.”

- Charlie Chaplin

Chris Gardner

Gardner wrote his autobiography to shed light on his early struggles and failures in life, which resulted in an immense amount of pain. Gardner had a rough upbringing. With a father that wasn’t present, his mother and siblings suffered abuse. In and out of the foster care system, Gardner was at the mercy of an unstable childhood. Years later, Gardner’s son was born while he was working as a research lab assistant, which didn’t pay enough to help support his family. This led to the decision to become a medical-equipment salesman, but Gardner failed at that as well. Gardener struggled, but was committed to living a better life, one that didn’t involve so much struggle and turmoil. He met a man driving a red Ferrari who ultimately led him on a career path to become a very successful stockbroker, as well as an investor, motivational speaker, author, and philanthropist. But, during that journey, he suffered through an eviction and homelessness, jail and an eventual divorce. But that didn’t stop him. Not whatsoever.

“It’s okay to fail; it’s not okay to quit.”

“The future was uncertain, absolutely, and there were many hurdles, twists, and turns to come, but as long as I kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, the voices of fear and shame, the messages from those who wanted me to believe that I wasn’t good enough, would be stilled.”

- Chris Gardner

Arianna Huffington

Arianna Huffington is a world renowned journalist, media mogul, and philanthropist. Despite suffering a series of rejection, criticism, and failure in her entrepreneurial journey, Huffington remained steadfast and persistent. Early on her journey, as a non-English speaker and as a girl from a relatively poor home, Huffington was severely mocked when she made clear her intentions of wanting to study at Cambridge University. Yet her mother encouraged her and found a way to sponsor her education by taking loans from friends and family. The brilliant Huffington struggled relentlessly, bearing in mind the hardship her mom overcame in order to fund her education. Huffington graduated with honors. Later, Huffington write a book that was rejected by 36 publishers. Today she is the author of 13 best-selling books. Huffington also tried politic, running for Governor of California, yet finished fifth in the election with 0.55 percent of the vote. Today, Huffington is one of the most influential women of the world. She is the co-founder of one of the most successful online news platform, The Huffington post.

“Failure is not the opposite of success, it is a stepping stone to success.”

- Arianna’s Mother

“Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It’s the mastery of fear. It’s about getting up one more time than we fall down.”

- Arianna Huffington



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