Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
~ Samuel Beckett
As a young man, Abraham Lincoln
went to war a captain and returned a private. Afterwards, he was a
failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, he was too
impractical and temperamental to be a success. He turned to politics
and was defeated in his first try for the legislature, again defeated
in his first attempt to be nominated for congress, defeated in his
application to be commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in
the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the
vice-presidency in 1856, and defeated in the senatorial election of
1858. At about that time, he wrote in a letter to a friend, "I am now
the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed
to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the
failed sixth grade. He was subsequently defeated in every election for
public office until he became Prime Minister at the age of 62. He later
wrote, "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in
nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to
convictions of honor and good sense. Never, Never, Never, Never give
up." (his capitals, mind you)
was called "an immoral corrupter of youth" and continued to corrupt
even after a sentence of death was imposed on him. He drank the hemlock
and died corrupting.
was booed from the podium when he first presented his ideas to the
scientific community of Europe. He returned to his office and kept on
received a C in his first college introductory-psychology class. His
teacher commented that "there was a famous Sternberg in psychology and
it was obvious there would not be another." Three years later Sternberg
graduated with honors from Stanford University with exceptional
distinction in psychology, summa cum laude, and Phi Beta Kappa. In
2002, he became President of the American Psychological Association.
gave up a medical career and was told by his father, "You care for
nothing but shooting, dogs and rat catching." In his autobiography,
Darwin wrote, "I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very
ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect." Clearly,
teachers said he was "too stupid to learn anything." He was fired from
his first two jobs for being "non-productive." As an inventor, Edison
made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a
reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied,
"I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000
"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall."
did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7.
His parents thought he was "sub-normal," and one of his teachers
described him as "mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in
foolish dreams." He was expelled from school and was refused admittance
to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and
read. Even to do a little math.
Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry.
Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
R. H. Macy failed seven times before his store in New York City caught on.
F. W. Woolworth
was not allowed to wait on customers when he worked in a dry goods
store because, his boss said, "he didn't have enough sense."
When Bell telephone
was struggling to get started, its owners offered all their rights to
Western Union for $100,000. The offer was disdainfully rejected with
the pronouncement, "What use could this company make of an electrical
who eventually was honored for his fundamental psychological
discoveries, was once told by a reviewer of his often-rejected
manuscripts that one is no more likely to find the phenomenon he
discovered than to find bird droppings in a cuckoo clock. (sort of a
cute critique actually)
Rocket scientist Robert Goddard
found his ideas bitterly rejected by his scientific peers on the
grounds that rocket propulsion would not work in the rarefied
atmosphere of outer space.
was once asked by a reporter if he had ever been lost in the
wilderness. Boone thought for a moment and replied, "No, but I was once
bewildered for about three days."
"Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly."
~ Robert F. Kennedy
An expert said of Vince Lombardi:
"He possesses minimal football knowledge and lacks motivation."
Lombardi would later write, "It's not whether you get knocked down;
it's whether you get back up."
Michael Jordan and Bob Cousy
were each cut from their high school basketball teams. Jordan once
observed, "I've failed over and over again in my life. That is why I
is famous for his past home run record, but for decades he also held
the record for strikeouts. He hit 714 home runs and struck out 1,330
times in his career (about which he said, "Every strike brings me
closer to the next home run."). And didn't Mark McGwire break that strikeout record? (John Wooden once explained that winners make the most errors.)
Hank Aaron went 0 for 5 his first time at bat with the Milwakee Braves.
was rejected as a ball boy for a Davis Cup tennis match because he was
"too awkward and clumsy." He went on to clumsily win Wimbledon and the
U. S. Open. And eight Davis Cups.
Tom Landry, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, and Jimmy Johnson
accounted for 11 of the 19 Super Bowl victories from 1974 to 1993. They
also share the distinction of having the worst records of first-season
head coaches in NFL history - they didn't win a single game.
Johnny Unitas's first pass in the NFL was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Joe Montana's first pass was also intercepted. And while we're on quarterbacks, during his first season Troy Aikman
threw twice as many interceptions (18) as touchdowns (9) . . . oh, and
he didn't win a single game. You think there's a lesson here?
After Carl Lewis
won the gold medal for the long jump in the 1996 Olympic games, he was
asked to what he attributed his longevity, having competed for almost
20 years. He said, "Remembering that you have both wins and losses
along the way. I don't take either one too seriously."
achievements speak for themselves. What we have to keep track of are
our failures, discouragements, and doubts. We tend to forget the past
difficulties, the many false starts, and the painful groping. We see
our past achievements as the end result of a clean forward thrust, and
our present difficulties as signs of decline and decay."
~ Eric Hoffer
was fired by a newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had
no good ideas." He went bankrupt several times before he built
Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of
Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
Charles Schultz had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Oh, and Walt Disney wouldn't hire him.
After Fred Astaire's
first screen test, the memo from the testing director of MGM, dated
1933, read, "Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little."
He kept that memo over the fire place in his Beverly Hills home.
Astaire once observed that "when you're experimenting, you have to try
so many things before you choose what you want, that you may go days
getting nothing but exhaustion." And here is the reward for
perseverance: "The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed.
Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be
After his first audition, Sidney Poitier
was told by the casting director, "Why don't you stop wasting people's
time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?" It was at that
moment, recalls Poitier, that he decided to devote his life to acting.
When Lucille Ball
began studying to be actress in 1927, she was told by the head
instructor of the John Murray Anderson Drama School, "Try any other
The first time Jerry Seinfeld
walked on-stage at a comedy club as a professional comic, he looked out
at the audience, froze, and forgot the English language. He stumbled
through "a minute-and a half" of material and was jeered offstage. He
returned the following night and closed his set to wild applause.
1944, Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, told
modeling hopeful Norma Jean Baker, "You'd better learn secretarial work
or else get married." I'm sure you know that Norma Jean was Marilyn Monroe. Now . . . who was Emmeline Snively?
At the age of 21, French acting legend Jeanne Moreau
was told by a casting director that her head was too crooked, she
wasn't beautiful enough, and she wasn't photogenic enough to make it in
films. She took a deep breath and said to herself, "Alright, then, I
guess I will have to make it my own way." After making nearly 100 films
her own way, in 1997 she received the European Film Academy Lifetime
"Flops are a part of life's menu
and I've never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses."
~ Rosalind Russell
After Harrison Ford's first performance as a hotel bellhop in the film Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round,
the studio vice-president called him in to his office. "Sit down kid,"
the studio head said, "I want to tell you a story. The first time Tony
Curtis was ever in a movie he delivered a bag of groceries. We took one
look at him and knew he was a movie star." Ford replied, "I thought you
were spossed to think that he was a grocery delivery boy." The vice
president dismissed Ford with "You ain't got it kid , you ain't got it
... now get out of here."
Michael Caine's headmaster told him, "You will be a laborer all your life."
Charlie Chaplin was initially rejected by Hollywood studio chiefs because his pantomime was considered "nonsense."
Enrico Caruso's music teacher said he had no voice at all and could not sing. His parents wanted him to become an engineer.
Decca Records turned down a recording contract with the Beatles
with the unprophetic evaluation, "We don't like their sound. Groups of
guitars are on their way out." After Decca rejected the Beatles,
Columbia records followed suit.
In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance. He told Presley, "You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck."
handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions
instead of improving his technique. His teacher called him "hopeless as
a composer." And, of course, you know that he wrote five of his
greatest symphonies while completely deaf.
matter how hard you work for success, if your thought is saturated with
the fear of failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your
endeavors and make success impossible."
had to arrange their own art exhibitions because their works were
routinely rejected by the Paris Salon. How many of you have heard of
the Paris Salon?
A Paris art dealer refused Picasso
shelter when he asked if he could bring in his paintings from out of
the rain. One hopes that there is justice in this world and that the
art dealer eventually went broke.
sold only one painting during his life. And this to the sister of one
of his friends for 400 francs (approximately $50). This didn't stop him
from completing over 800 paintings.
John Constable's luminous painting Watermeadows at Salisbury was dismissed in 1830 by a judge at the Royal Academy as "a nasty green thing." Name of the judge, anyone? Anyone?
father once said, "I have an idiot for a son." Described as the worst
pupil in the school, he was rejected three times admittance to the
Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His uncle called him uneducable. Perhaps this
gave him food for thought.
Stravinsky was run out of town by an enraged audience and critics after the first performance of the Rite of Spring.
When Pablo Casals
reached 95, a young reporter asked him "Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the
greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a
day?" Mr. Casals answered, "Because I think I'm making progress."
"Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune;
but great minds rise above them."
~ Washington Irving
Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. He was described as both "unable and unwilling to learn." No doubt a slow developer.
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was encouraged to find work as a servant by her family.
Emily Dickinson had only seven poems published in her lifetime.
15 publishers rejected a manuscript by e. e. cummings.
When he finally got it published by his mother, the dedication, printed
in uppercase letters, read WITH NO THANKS TO . . . followed by the list
of publishers who had rejected his prized offering. Nice going Eddie.
Thanks for illustrating that nobody loses all the time.
18 publishers turned down Richard Bach's story about a "soaring eagle." Macmillan finally published Jonathan Livingston Seagull in 1970. By 1975 it had sold more than 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.
21 publishers rejected Richard Hooker's humorous war novel, M*A*S*H. He had worked on it for seven years.
22 publishers rejected James Joyce's The Dubliners.
27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss's first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
Jack London received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story.
English crime novelist John Creasey got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books.
William Saroyan accumulated more than a thousand rejections before he had his first literary piece published. Way to not take a hint, Bill!
Gertrude Stein submitted poems to editors for nearly 20 years before one was finally accepted. See . . . a rose is a rose.
I bet you didn't know that John Milton wrote Paradise Lost 16 years after losing his eyesight
One of Professor Pajares's first research efforts came back with a review that began,
"There are so many things I don't like about this article I just don't know where to begin."
There is a professor at MIT who offers a course on failure. He does
that, he says, because failure is a far more common experience than
success. An interviewer once asked him if anybody ever failed the
course on failure. He thought a moment and replied, "No, but there were
Let's end with Woody Allen:
"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve
it through not dying. Eighty percent of success is showing up."