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We hear about success much more often than we talk of failure. But even our greatest heroes have withstood rejection and despair. In fact, here are nine successful people who failed repeatedly before making it big:
1. J.K. Rowling
We all know this story, right? Part of J. K. Rowling’s fame is her origin story: she wrote the first drafts of Harry Potter in coffee shops and cafes and the manuscript was rejected (and quite rudely) by the first agent she queried and then by twelve publishers after that. Now she’s one of the richest women in the world and Harry Potter is one of the top-selling books of all time.
2. Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman is a well-known actor, and not just for his portrayal of Snape. But for all his fame, he didn’t get his big US film break until he costarred in Die Hard at the age of 42. He’d had small roles on British television and had earned some accolades as a stage actor, but his film success took much longer to blossom.
3. Vera Wang
We all know the famous dress designer’s name now, but believe it or not, Vera Wang was not always successful. Her original dream was to ice skate in the Olympics, but she gave it up when she couldn’t balance a heavy academic load with her practice schedule. Later in life she spent a decade and a half trying to work her way up at Vogue but was ultimately passed over for the editor-in-chief position. Undeterred, Vera kept working and eventually found her niche in the wedding fashion industry.
4. Bill Gates
These days he’s most famous for his charitable foundation, but the original inventor of Microsoft wasn’t always the success he is today. In his youth, he ended up dropping out of Harvard and founding the almost immediately unsuccessful company Traf-O-Data. Even Microsoft wasn’t initially successful: its early incarnations were called “Micro-soft!”
5. Colonel Sanders
Colonel Sanders’ real name is Harland David Sanders and, though we all know and love his recipe today, it took him more than a thousand rejections to find one restaurant that agreed to work with him and incorporate his recipe.
6. Henry Ford
Before starting the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford had a string of failed businesses, most of which have been forgotten to history. His rejections came from consumers, the press, and even his business partners. It took a long time before he was able to find success in the mass production of cars.
7. Abraham Lincoln
If there is a better example of not letting failure and rejection get you down, we can’t think of a better one. Before he became one of our most beloved and famous presidents, Abraham had been demoted in the military (he started out as a captain, came home as a private), opened and shuttered a string of failed businesses, and lost a bunch of elections before finally being allowed to hold office.
8. Louisa May Alcott
Before Little Women, Louisa May Alcott had been told over and over again—even by her family—that she would never be a writer and her work was never going to be good enough. Instead, they told her she should become a servant to a wealthy family. It was her letters home during the Civil War that helped her find her big break and prove herself to her skeptics.
9. Barbara McClintock
Her mother insisted that sending a girl to college was a waste of money, and the science community largely belittled or ignored her research. But Barbara McClintock never gave up her study of genes and how they function. Eventually her colleagues caught up to her, and we now know far more about genes than we would have if she hadn’t been so persistent in continuing her study. She went on to be the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for medicine.
All of the people on this list were told they couldn’t be the people they wanted to be or achieve the dreams they wanted to achieve. Thankfully they fought through that rejection to go on to accomplish amazing things. And so can you!