6 Famous Failures and the Importance of Persistence


Both winners and losers have dreams. The difference that drives their opposing outcomes is that losers fantasize while winners are more pragmatic. Winners begin, do, finish. They are not defeated by adversity.


Steve_JobsSteve Jobs, at 30, was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he started.

Chicago Bulls Michael Jordan 1997Michael Jordan, after being cut from his high school basketball team went home, locked himself in his room, and cried.


Oprah_WinfreyOprah Winfrey was demoted from her job as news anchor because she “wasn’t fit for television”.

Malcolm-ForbesMalcolm Forbes, once publisher of Forbes Magazine, one the largest business publications in the world, did not make the staff of the Princetonian, his school newspaper at Princeton University.

Liv_UllmannLiv Ullmann, two-time Academy Award nominee for Best Actress, failed an audition for the state theater in Norway. The judges said she had no talent.

Barbara_JordanBarbara Jordan, U.S. Representative from Texas from 1972-1979, was defeated in an election for president of her freshman class at Texas Southern University. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as numerous other honors before her death in 1996.


So what happened here? What made these famous failures into the wildly successful people they ultimately became?


These noted achievers refused to be held back by defeat, failure, or negative advice. Instead they ventured forth boldly. They firmly believed that ‘when one door shuts, another opens…”


The solution to a crisis or a problem may not be easy to discover. However, a winner will relentlessly pursue new avenues and consistently experiment. In the final analysis, success may only be a matter of persistence.


Persistence is not taught, but modeled. Someone in their lives showed our “failures” above that setbacks are only temporary. We, as parents and teachers, must continuously demonstrate the need for beginning a difficult task, for hanging in there, and following through. This may be the most important attribute we assist our children in developing during their formative years.

And for those of us well beyond our early years, we can develop this persistent quality yet. By picking ourselves up when we fall, over and over if necessary, and with the dogged determination of a toddler, keep pushing ourselves on. Success can be just around the corner.

Does it help to know that those we know has huge successes actually failed, often many times, before they succeeded? Are there other qualities successful people bring to bear? How do you demonstrate persistence in your daily life? Tell us in the comments!

And please, if you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and even Pinterest because people always love to receive inspiring words. There are sharing buttons below.

Or ‘like’ the Six Seconds Facebook page for more valuable information about emotional intelligence. I would so appreciate it! Thank you.
The 7th International NexusEQ Conference is taking place at HARVARD UNIVERSITY in Boston, June 24-26, 2013. Please reserve the date, you can read more details about it here.

About the author - Anabel Jensen

President of Six Seconds and professor of education, Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is a master teacher and a pioneer in emotional intelligence education. A two-time Federal Blue Ribbon winner for excellence in education, she was Executive Director of the Nueva School from 1983 to 1997 where she helped develop the Self-Science curriculum featured in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.

View more posts from Anabel Jensen

Comments for this article (16)

  • niloufer says:

    what would be some tools to increase/enhance optimism when it shows low scores ?

    • Zeph says:

      Niloufer, that’s a great question. I think that creating resilient optimism is an exciting challenge. It requires a shift in one’s being and bringing an optimistic outlook to every facet of life. If optimism is not applied across one’s lifescape, their optimistic outlook will inevitably deteriorate because being optimistic is a language of living. In other words, the tool needs to encourage a paradigm shift: Try the meta-analysis for well-being ( https://freedomsway.net/Intro/introduction.aspx?ma=1&cn=1&a=0&u=2 ) .

    • Joshua Freedman says:

      Hi Niloufer – Seligman identifies the importance of noticing when your pessimistic voice creeps in, and disputing it. Lots of resources on optimism on the site, check out: http://www.6seconds.org/tag/optimism/

  • Tauqir says:

    Thanks Anabel for all the reminders and words of encouragement we all need to go through life. The message in the “6 Famous Failures….” is powerful. I’ll certainly apply myself and share with others. We need to pursue this noble goal.

  • The list is much longer. The article of Anna Horowitz lists 15 people who were fired from their jobs and after became filthy reach, some examples: Thomas, Edison, Walt Disney, Jerry Sifield, Madonna, Elvis Presley, Howard Stern, and more.

    Yes, persistance and trying is important, but we have to change approach in order not to fall into a trap “doing the same over and over and expecting different results”.

  • Christina says:

    Thanks Anabel,

    Inspirational. Just keep trying. Improvement is guaranteed as long as you keep working at it.


  • Anita says:

    Thanks for this article, it’s remind me that, failure can give value in my life depend on me. God bless you!

  • Laetetia says:

    Whilst consistent failures is very demanding on one’s soul and levels of confidence, Tough times, but I know that I am learning invaluable life lessons.

  • This infact reminds me that “Failure indeed is never a Hindrance to Success”. You may stumble in LIFE many times but the important thing is YOU get UP and fix yourself..Come out STRONG amidst all the the trials that come your way.PERSISTENCE is the key to SUCCESS…Be Persistent with your Dreams and Ambitions in Life no matter how many times you fall…and experience failures…

    Hidelisa Hidy T.Dela Victoria

  • Joshua Freedman says:

    Hi AJ – great reminders. I think Marsha talked, many years ago, about the idea that we can intensify modeling by “modeling out loud.” Walking the walk… and talking about it. Maybe that can help our kids, employees, friends see the challenges and the possibility of moving through?

  • Joyce Schulte says:

    It would certainly help our society if we could teach this process in a more organized and consistent manner. There are 3 families in Ohio hurting because emotional intelligence never got to their families, and certainly not to their children. How many other families are in the same situation? And the loss to our nation and world is what? Count the ways.

  • Great Article! I found it very inspiring and encouraging.
    I am on my way to make my dream come true. I always felt inside myself what I desired to achieve but didn’t know how and when. I have met many ..huge obstacles on my path but, although I suffered much, I never gave up. Optimism, motivation, persistence, but also self-confidence, passion and significance are very important allies that support us in our journey, to not become victim of our fears but rather to use them to go beyond our limitations, even when everything and everybody around us do not believe in what we do…in who we are.

  • Anabel–lovely article. I used it last week in my work with college students in South Africa and they loved the photos and stories. It is universally a critical concept! Thanks!

  • hameed says:

    The article reminds me of martin Seligmans famous Words:

    Learned Optimism-A problem is not Pervasive, Permanent,Personal.Its Specific, Temporary and Universal.

  • Sarah Whyte says:

    I LOVE hearing about these famous examples of perceived ‘failures’ who go on to experience huge success despite their adversities and have used this many times with children to emphasise the importance of resilience and optimism. Samuel Beckett’s quote is one I return to time and time again, for myself and with others: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’ It is only through failure that we learn and improve- it’s so important to keep on going.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *