Great Leaders and Their Failures: How to Fail Forward


I heard a story about a man who was wandering around the woods.  He had experienced three personal failures and forgot who he was.  I can’t stop but think how  many of us are like this man.  We may not be literally in the woods, but we are wandering because in light of a failure we forgot who we truly are.  Am I the summation of failures in my life I have experienced?  After life crumbles around me where does my identity lie really?  Perhaps its your career, a loss of job or relationship or just a perceived failure.

My favorite story is that of the great  men like Abraham Lincoln who at one time experienced failures.  Lincoln ran a post office and it had the worst efficiency rating of the whole county.  He went to war a captain and returned a private.  A pretty substantial failure for man for a person born to lead.  But he still was Abraham Lincoln, one of the most beloved and most remembered Presidents of all time.  He fulfilled his destiny after those other facts.

Jerry Seinfeld- The first time he walked on stage at a comedy club he looked at the audience, froze and was jeered and booed off stage.  The next night he went back to complete it because he knew he could do it and the rest is history.  I always loved Jerry Seinfeld cause he could make me laugh like no one else on the planet.

Sidney Poiter- At his first audition he was told, “Why don’t you stop wasting people’s time and become a dishwasher?” Now that is just cruel.  Did you see him act in To Sir with Love?  His acting was ground breaking and highly stellar.

Lucille Ball- Her drama instructors told her, “Why don’t you tell another profession.”  Seriously has anybody seen I Love Lucy!! Who didn’t love Lucy?

Walt Disney– He was fired by a newspaper editor because he,”lacked imagination” and, “had no good ideas.” He started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended in bankruptcy.  I have to laugh because the very point some of these great men and women failed at were the core of their identity.

Akio Morita-Sony Their first product was a rice cooker that didn’t cook rice so much as burn it.  But their first setback didn’t stop the makers of Sony products.

Oprah Winfrey- She was fired from a job as a TV reporter because she was, “unfit for TV”.  Now that is a hoot!

Dick Cheney- He flunked out of Yale twice.  I didn’t know if you flunked out of Yale you could go back again.  Bush used to tease if you graduate from Yale you can become President, but if you drop out you get to be Vice President.

Albert Einstein- He didn’t speak until he was four and didn’t read until he was 7.  He was expelled from school, yet went on to be a genius.  Because he already was Albert Einstein, circumstances don’t dictate who you become in life. You do!

Winston Churchill- He failed sixth grade and was defeated in every election till he became Prime Minister at the age of 62.  Its never too late for a comeback!

Fred Astaire- His first MGM screen test told him, “Can’t act.  Can’t sing.  Can dance a little.”  He was always my favorite old time actor to watch dancing in his movies because he was such a natural.

Marilyn Monroe-She was told by a modeling agency she should consider being a secretary.  Ha!  Who couldn’t see a star in those curves?

Charles Schultz- He had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook before he went on to make Peanuts and Charlie Brown famous.

Steven Spielberg- He was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater three times.

Steven King-His first book Carrie was rejected 30 times and he threw it in the trash in exasperation.  His wife picked it out of the trash and it went on to be one of the best horror movies made from a book.

Elvis Presley- In 1954 was fired by Jimmy Denny after one performance and told, “You ain’t going nowhere son.  You ought to go back to driving a truck.”

Now that is a good end note because I can’t believe the all time IRONY of the words spoken over these GREAT MEN and women.  You can settle for stinking thinking that your Not going anywhere, but I bet whoever you REALLY ARE is BORN FOR GREATNESS.  Don’t settle!

I’d like to know what these people think today after all these famous folks became who they are ; rejected at the very core of their true talent.  If you are experiencing frustration in your life over not arriving to your destiny or calling consider you are in good company. Just don’t give up or stop.

Ironically who we are is determined by what we chose to believe in the FACE OF FAILURE.  Especially in the face of what others tell us about that failure and speak to us and over us.  But you know the most important thing of all is what you tell yourself.  Tell yourself the truth about who you really are.

The failure mindset speaks like this:  I made these choices and I am ______. (no good, useless, worthless)

Because X happened to me I am________. ( a failure)

The winner mindset says:  X happened now how did I get here? How do I get out?  How do I show the world what I am really made of?  Nothing will stop me because I know who I am!

I made this choice at this time and it didn’t work out, but I am free to fail, fail, fail and create something new however long it takes.









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