The world’s biggest successes and their failures
I think one of the most inspiring parts of someone’s life is their journey. Not their final title or their shining achievement but their journey towards it. Over Christmas break I read Kamala Harris’ book ‘The Truths We Hold’ and what struck me was her journey. She’s now the Vice President of the USA and the highest ranking female official in US history. She is also one of the most prominent lawyers in the country but on her first attempt she failed her Bar exam. Reading about the failure of one of the most powerful people in the world made me appreciate that no one has an easy journey. Everyone experiences a failure. Whilst consoling a young law graduate who failed the bar, Kamala says “It’s not a measure of your capacity”. Here are four other people who didn’t let a failure define them as they carved out their own definition of success.
Every part of Oprah Winfrey’s life journey deserves respect. As a child she was sexually abused and at 14 years old fell pregnant and later lost her baby. She graduated from University and was offered her first T.V job as a co-anchor on a Baltimore News Station. After seven months she was fired and told she was “unfit for television”. Ten years later she started hosting her own daytime talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, which had double the average viewership of her nearest rival. She is now worth $2.7 billion and her talk show ran for 25 years. She says her first firing “shook me to my very core”.
Around a decade after Jobs formed Apple he was forced to resign from the company due to differences between him and Apple’s CEO at the time. He felt devastated by the firing and identified it as a significant personal failure. Soon after, Steve Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilms for $5 million. In 2006 he sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion and became Disney’s largest shareholder. He also returned to Apple once more in 1997 to become their CEO.
Vera Wang is an acclaimed American fashion designer. She was also a hugely talented figure skater. She competed in the 1968 US National Championships but failed to qualify for the 1968 Winter Olympics. It signalled the end of her figure skating dream. “During this time, I had a breakdown … I didn’t feel I was achieving anything. The emptiness I experienced is what I now know is depression.” She later found a new enthusiasm for fashion. She worked at Vogue for 20 years and became Ralph Lauren’s design director before forming her own brand. As well as designing wedding dresses for Victoria Beckham, Kim Kardashian and Alicia Keys she has also been inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame for her figure skating outfit designs.
J.K. Rowling first formed her teenage wizard Harry whilst travelling on a delayed train in 1990. Three years later she was suicidal, diagnosed with clinical depression and had a three chapter draft of her first book to her name. Two years later and with a final manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” she was rejected from all 12 major publishing houses. The small literary house Bloomsbury decided to give the book a shot, publishing 500 hard back copies. In 2004 she became a billionaire.
Seeing the journey behind the achievement puts things into perspective. The accomplishments of these people may not be so relatable but their journey is. No ones road to success is seamless, there’s persistence and motivation behind the success. However, there is also failure – a time where they could have given up. I probably think about Kamala Harris and her bar exam more than she’d appreciate but it’s an important story to me. What matters is that when something fails it pays to keep fighting.
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour”
Truman Capote, American novelist