Here’s what the world’s most successful people think about failure

Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh's famous image of a defiant Winston Churchill.

“Ever tried, ever failed. No matter. Try again, fail again. Fail better” – Samuel Beckett

Failure is inevitable. Particularly in business, predictions are hard and there’s nothing that can forewarn you for what’s to come. A client may pull out, you might lose a team member to a rival, your company might lose all the money it’s ever made or it might never make any money at all. And if nothing else, one thing’s for sure: you can only control your business to a certain extent and never fully. Failure has come hard and fast to some of the world’s most successful people, and here’s what they think on the subject:

Walt Disney

“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you. Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”


(Image: Pinterest)

Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star for “lacking imagination and having no good ideas” and now, decades down the line, to label Walt Disney as a household name would be a complete understatement. Here’s a man who made history, one who has taken a vision that he had from a young age and created a dynasty that only continues to grow. An entrepreneur in every sense of the word, it’s safe to say that Walt Disney knew a thing or two about success.

J.K. Rowling

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”


(Image: Reuters)

J.K Rowling famously started her career completely from the ground up – coming from absolutely no money at all – and supposedly penned the initial idea for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on the back of a napkin in an Edinburgh café whilst living off of benefits. The first manuscript was sent to twelve publishing houses, every single one of which rejected it. She’s now worth an estimated $1 billion.

Michael Jordan

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”


(Image: Getty)

Jordan is the most famous American basketball player in the world, possibly the most famous athlete, but he hasn’t always had such an easy ride. Being trust into the spotlight nearly 40 years ago whilst playing for the Chicago Bulls, Jordan immediately opened himself up for scrutiny in the highest degree – and has a thicker skin for it.

Sir Winston Churchill

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh's famous image of a defiant Winston Churchill.

(Image: Yousuf Karsh)

Between 1929 and 1939, Sir Winston Churchill was exiled from his political party over his ‘ideological disagreements’ with the rest of the party. His 10 year exile ended on the day World War II started, when he was appointed as First Lord of the Admiralty. The year later, he became Prime Minister.

Johnny Cash

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.”


(Image: My Treasure bootleg cover)

The hard done by, scorned and beaten-down musician is the role that Cash lived: one proved by his problems with addiction and struggles to make it in the notoriously competitive world of music. Although on the outside, Cash’s life as he came more and more famous started to spiral out of control, he knew that failure – no matter how great – could ever get in the way of his now-legendary career.

Sir Richard Branson

“The best lessons are learnt from failure. You mustn’t beat yourself up if you fail – just pick yourself up, learn as much as you can from the experience and get on with the next challenge.”


(Image: Owen Billciffee)

While Branson may now be one of the wealthiest and most successful men in business, it wasn’t always that way. Branson has always prided himself on making fearless business decisions, which has led to him launching north of 100 different companies – not all of which have had the success of Virgin Airlines. Take Virgin Cola, Virgin Vodka and Virgin Brides; just three of the companies Branson attempted to successfully launch but to no avail. Haven’t heard of them? We didn’t think so.

Robert F. Kennedy

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”


Bobby Kennedy, until his assassination in 1968, served as one of the most important American politicians of his time – from being Senator for New York to running the presidential campaign for his brother John in 1960 and even running for president himself. The responsibility that Kennedy had for his country meant that he was constantly opened up for scrutiny and failure, something that, like everyone on this list, never got the better of him.

(Main image: Carlo Allegri, featured image: Yousuf Karsh)

India Gladstone

India Gladstone

India is the Online Editor of Gentleman's Journal

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