Nobody likes to fail. It’s hard to set your sights on something and not quite achieve it. But you’re not alone. Everyone fails at some point. In fact, some of history’s greatest inventors and the world’s most inspiring leaders failed many, many times before they got it right. In the words of Robert F Kennedy, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly”.1
Here are some examples of people who really did achieve greatly … after many failed attempts.
Now this was a man with a ‘bright’ idea. One of the most successful innovators in American history, it is fair to say Thomas Edison changed the world … eventually. Attempting to find a modern electric solution to the gaslight, Edison tried and tried and tried again.2 In fact, history has it that he tried thousands of times before the light bulb finally shone.3 Throughout it all though, he never gave up, famously stating “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”1
A woman made of magic, J.K. Rowling rose from the ashes like her very own phoenix, Faux. Struggling with life in general, newly divorced and living on benefits with her young daughter, Rowling was the biggest failure she knew.4 But she embraced it, she used it to fuel her, to drive her forward. Out of failure, Harry Potter was born.4 It doesn’t stop there though, Harry was rejected not once, not twice, but 12 times before he found a home with the publisher Bloomsbury and became the global phenomena he is today.5
A piece of advice from someone who rose above the failure: “You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. 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.”4
When you think of genius, most people think of Einstein and his sensational hair. Einstein turned classical physics on its head. He changed the way we think about everything from space and time to gravity and energy.6 But it wasn’t easy. Although he showed natural talent in the sciences from a young age, he managed to fail his college entrance exam the first time he took it – languages, history, geography, they just weren’t his thing.7 Even once he became a fully fledged physicist, it took him 9 years before he was accepted for a job in academia.6 These days, we all know his theory of relativity – E=mc2 – but in 1905 when he published his ideas, and for many years after that, people doubted the truth of his theory.6,8 Despite that, he remained passionate about his work, and continued to search for answers to the universe. After all, “you never fail until you stop trying”.9
He inspired most of our childhoods. He allowed us to dream. His creativity and vision have led to some of the most iconic cartoon characters of all time. And yet, he was fired from one of his first jobs – his editor at the Kansas City Star said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”… Tell that to Micky Mouse!10 But that wasn’t his only failure. Disney tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at an animation studio, which he drove into bankruptcy. But after all that, he teamed up with his brother and moved to Hollywood.10 The rest is history, and a success story that we all know well.
A household name, a TV favourite, a star of the big and small screen, Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first TV role. Her producer went as far as saying she was “unfit for television”.11Nothing could be further from the truth. She became the best-paid female in the entertainment industry and remains the richest self-made woman and only black female billionaire.12 Through the years, she’s had her ups and downs, but she has come through all of it, seeing every failure as a positive: “There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”13
So you see, it’s not just you. It’s all of us. Failure is a part of life, a part that makes us stronger, better, smarter. A part that we can learn from. The same applies to quitting – a recent study showed that it may take some people 30 or more quit attempts before finally succeeding.14
Remember, every failed quit attempt is a step closer to success. You can do it.
If you're ready to try again, why not enlist the help of your doctor this time? You're actually 4x more likely to succeed in quitting with the support of your healthcare professional compared to quitting unaided.15 Make that appointment today – and give your next quit attempt the best possible chance of success.