Many people know that while working as a patent clerk Einstein came up with the theory of Special Relativity. I wonder if people are aware of the fact that the reason he was working as a patent clerk was because he had spent two years applying for positions at academic institutions and had been rejected by each and every one of them. Einstein wasn’t the only one to fail.
The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein attempted to find interest in London for the new band he was managing only to be rejected by every studio he contacted. The studios included Columbia, Pye, Philips, and Oriole. One studio who was prepared to let them audition was called Decca records. They recorded the Beatles performing 15 songs. Then rejected them with the words “The Beatles have no future in show business”. Decca decided instead to go with an act called Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. The world famous label EMI also turned down the Beatles. No one could have blamed them if, after such stinging failures one after the other they had called it a day. Eventually they only became the band we know because George Martin, himself responsible for comedy albums, picked them up while working in a subsidiary of EMI.
Of course Harry Potter creator J K Rowling considered herself to be a failure while writing the first Harry Potter novel. At that point in her life she was an unemployed single mother who has described herself as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless.”
Despite these setbacks she was able to turn failure into success, actually finding the strength to view unemployment as liberating in allowing her to continue with her writing. Despite being picked up quite quickly by a London literary agent, her book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected by no less than 12 publishers. Even after Bloomsbury picked it up editor Barry Cunningham advised her to get a job saying she wouldn’t make much money.
Other books that were notable failures until they achieved success include Chicken Soup for the Soul, which was rejected a stunning total of 140 times! MASH the novel was rejected 21 times, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 33 times before King threw the manuscript away. He then fished it out of the trash and was rejected a few more times before getting it published. Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell suffered failure for her manuscript 38 times before finally seeing it published.
Closer to home most people are aware of the success of Jewish Home leader Naphtali Bennett has had in the business world. Less people are aware of the utter failures he experienced after founding Cyota, the company he and his partners eventually sold for $145 million. In an interview to Haaretz he admitted that”:
We raised, in stages, $12 million for development of the first product, which totally failed. We found ourselves in a situation in which we had a company with 70 or 80 employees, an American CEO whom we’d brought in, and a product that had gone bust. We were living in a student apartment, scrounging to make ends meet to save the company. I lived in New York for four years, during which I did not know if I was going to make it to the end of the month.
Perhaps the basketball player and famous failure Michael Jordan said it best:
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 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.
Wherever you see success you see failure. If you haven’t failed at anything then you haven’t been trying, if you haven’t experienced the soul crushing experience of being told you’re not good enough then you haven’t been doing anything. In this world success is only achieved through failure and no one is just going to hand you anything.
But if we keep going, if we refuse to accept the view others have of us and insist that failure will only make us more determined then perhaps we, like the many other failures out there, will be giving an interview of our own to an incredulous audience talking about how, even we, were once failures.
Whether it’s in blogging, acting, business, composing or another of the many passions we have, the only time we’re really failures is when we believe the negatives that others throw at you. And so I hope that in 2015 we all fail at many, many things. Right up until the point at which we succeed.