Some of the greatest failures from the world’s greatest success stories

It’s nerve-racking to try something new, and it’s frustrating to fail. But take some comfort in knowing you’re never alone. When you look at successful people, it’s easy to think that they had a straight trajectory from unknown to success story. But that’s not true. The thing they all have in common is that they tried, they failed, they learned, they tried again, this time applying what they learned. That’s why every “behind the curtain” documentary has the same narrative:

  1. Someone has a great idea.
  2. They get excited and pursue it
  3. They fail spectacularly
  4. Repeat step 1 until step 3 changes.

This narrative has applied from the early primates banging rocks together until they achieved the right shape right up to today’s billionaires. Every musician and every author you’ve ever loved has a similar story of hearing the words, “no one likes that stuff,” and persevering.

Spanx CEO Sara Blakley likes to tell how when she was growing up, her father always asked at the dinner table what his children had failed at that week. The experience made her reframe her definition of failure to mean not trying, rather than not getting the intended result. Investor and entrepreneur James Altucher has literally made and lost millions multiple times. He passed on investing early on in Google, but sold another company to for $745 million.

Many already successful names in business and entertainment try new ventures that don’t turn out well, but come out ahead. Just ask Halle Berry, who dusted herself off after the box office bomb Catwoman” with a huge payday, new friends, and an invaluable learning lesson. Or ask WWE owner Vince McMahon, who failed once at promoting football, but gave us the Sky Cam that is now used in every NFL game; he’s so confident in himself he’s ready to give it a second go 15 years later. Having a good perspective on failure is essential if you’re an entrepreneur.

If necessity is the mother of invention, perhaps failure is its father. If you’re feeling a little discouraged, here are some of the greatest failures from the world’s greatest success stories.

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