The hallmarks of successful men are often universal. A good work ethic, cleverness, a willingness to experiment and thinking outside the box are all quite common among the world’s most prosperous. However, not everyone tastes success on their first try. These 15 men failed miserably, some several times, before grabbing the brass ring and finding their path to fame and fortune. Our selections are in no particular order.
1. Donald Trump
Although now worth over 3.5 billion dollars, Donald Trump had to file for bankruptcy several times before clawing his way to the top. Investments made in a casino didn’t pan out as planned, and several other business ventures failed before he made his mark as a real estate maven in the Big Apple.
Since achieving success, The Donald has branched out in reality television with his series The Apprentice, owns his own Scottish golf course, and has other businesses ranging from apartment buildings to ice cream parlors. Trump also backs the Miss Universe beauty pageant, has authored a political tome, and may even run for president in the future. Not too bad for a guy who was one over 900 million dollars in debt and bankrupt!
2. Walt Disney
The man behind the Happiest Place on Earth had his share of disappointments before making it big. He dropped out of high school to enlist, only to be declined due to his young age. His first two business ventures failed and resulted in bankruptcy.
Throughout all of the adversity, Disney never gave up on achieving his goals in animation, voice acting and producing. He finally found wide-spread acclaim with the help of a silly animated mouse he named Mickey. The rest, they say, is history.
3. Stephen King
The Master of Horror was no stranger to disappointment in his younger years. Raised by a single mother in an era where this was considered quite shameful, King received so many rejection slips that he had an entire box full of them by the time he graduated from the University of Maine at Orono.
He approached over 30 publishers about an novel idea he had, and was rejected by every one. It was only the encouragement of his wife, fellow novelist Tabitha King, that caused him to finish his breakout novel Carrie. She had rescued his first fledgling attempts from the trash can. They were living in a rented trailer at the time, and King wrote the novel tucked into the laundry area with a typewriter balanced on his knees.
The paperback rights sold for 400 thousand dollars and launched a career that placed King among the wealthiest writers in the world. His perseverance is what got him where he is today, which is a lesson every man can learn from and appreciate.
4. Ray Kroc
You may not be familiar with his name, but we can almost guarantee that you are familiar with his brainchild, fast food franchise McDonald’s. As a young man, Kroc tried his hand at being a jazz musician, playing the piano for tips and even tried selling paper cups. None of these ventures panned out and Kroc had lost his confidence.
However, an employer took a chance on him and hired him to sell milkshake machines. This is where Kroc finally gained the experience and confidence necessary to make himself successful. He scraped together every penny he had to buy the rights to McDonald’s, and then franchised it out in every town he could. The business grew exponentially, and Kroc’s estate’s net worth stands at over 500 million dollars.
5. Milton Hershey
The Hershey brand of chocolate and candies is know world-wide, but the man who started it all had quite a rough start. Raised on a farm and the only surviving child in his family, he quit school at only 14 years old because his parents had moved him around so much that he’d fallen behind in coursework. He tried his hand at being a printer’s apprentice, but the work was long, backbreaking and boring. Later, he became an apprentice to a candy maker and found his true calling.
However, his first attempt to form his own candy business failed due to lack of sales. Undeterred, he tried again. At an event, he witnessed German machinery that could make huge quantities of rich, milky chocolate. He eagerly purchased some of the machines and began to make a name for himself at last.
Although Hershey passed away over 65 years ago, his legacy lives on with a booming chocolate and candy empire, a school for orphans located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and a theme park that bears his name.
6. Thomas Edison
While not raised in abject poverty like some of the other men listed here, Edison’s struggles as a child and young man were concentrated in his constitution. While still a boy, he suffered through countless ear infections that robbed him of all hearing in one ear and may have severely damaged the other. He also contracted scarlet fever and nearly died.
His fortune turned, however, when he saved a child from being struck by a train and was offered a job as telegraph operator. He began to tinker, and before long had invented a recording machine, a phonograph, and a host of other inventions, some of which are still in use today. He was known to try and fail at creating a working prototype thousands of times before perfecting it, and this dogged determination is what earned him his place in the history books.
7. Bill Gates
Gates is the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to discussing the rise and explosion of computer technology, yet his first few attempts were absolute failures. Born into a prosperous family and a student at Harvard, Gates dropped out to pursue his passion with computers. He originally teamed up with a friend, Paul Allen, and they launched a business called Traf-O-Data.
This attempt failed miserably and Gates was distraught. However, the duo tried again and named their new venture something you may have heard of: Microsoft. Credited with leading the way in computers, Gates is now thought to be worth over 72 billion dollars. Not bad for a college dropout!
8. Harland Sanders
Who doesn’t like a big, juicy piece of friend chicken with 11 herbs and spices? Apparently, 1009 restaurants didn’t care for it. That is the number of times Sanders’ recipe was rejected before he could gain traction. Now one of the largest and most successful fast food establishments in the country, KFC regularly turns over revue in excess of 15 billion dollars a year.
As for Sanders, he sold his interest in the business in 1964 for two million dollars, retired to signing autographs, and lived to be 90 years old. Persistence paid off for the Colonel, despite an overwhelming amount of rejections.
9. Albert Einstein
When Einstein was a toddler, his family and teachers thought he might be mentally handicapped. He didn’t speak until he was four years old, and his instructors at school thought he would never amount to anything. He didn’t learn to read until he was seven, causing even more speculation that he was a special needs child in a time where terms such as ‘retarded’ and ‘idiot’ were used to describe such conditions.
Things looked bleak for young Albert. However, as he grew, his intelligence began to assert itself in a way others could understand. His ideas were so radical and outlandish he was often laughed out of classes as a young man. His brilliance soon became apparent, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics in 1921. He is now considered the father of modern physics and scholars today still haven’t decoded all of his notes.
10. Abraham Lincoln
The 16th president of the United States just couldn’t catch a break when he was young. Born in a one-room cabin and raised in poverty, he went off to war a captain and returned at the lowest rank possible as a private. He had four sons and three of them died. Numerous business ventures failed, and he lost in several elections for various posts.
It was only when he ran for president that he found success and became one of the most respected and revered presidents in the history of the nation.
11. Ted Geisel
The man who wrote under the silly pen name Dr Seuss is beloved the world over for his fanciful and colorful children’s books. He received a wonderful education, eventually earning a PhD in English Literature from Lincoln College, but was roundly dismissed by over 27 publishers before finally selling his first book.
After that, his career followed a meteoric path that included over 60 books that have been translated into more than 20 languages. He also won a Pulitzer and two Emmy awards. The publishers who passed him up must still be kicking themselves.
12. Jack London
Another writer of great fame and fortune on our list, London did not have an easy start in life. Raised by an ex-slave and a mentally deranged mother, his father denied him and told his mother to abort him. His father’s further denial devastated London so much that, after receiving the letter from the man he’d believed to be his father denying paternity, he dropped out of school and went to the Klondike.
The weather was bitter and the land inhospitable. He got scurvy and had a drinking problem, but London fell in love with this harsh land. He began to write stories, using the Klondike as his setting. He was rejected by over 600 publications before receiving an acceptance. He went on to publish over 20 novels and countless short stories, and is credited as one of the greatest American writers to even put pen to paper.
13. Michael Jordan
Lauded now as one of the greatest basketball players ever, Jordan did not grow to his impressive 6’6″ height until late in high school. His unimpressive stature led him to be refused a spot on the varsity basketball team, causing him to lock himself in his bedroom and cry. However, Jordan was not a quitter. He wowed everyone with an impressive showing on the junior varsity team, and when he grew taller he kept on impressing everyone with his work ethic, talent and teamwork skills.
He is a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, a gold medalist in the Pan Am Games, a six-time MVP, and a six-time NBA Champion, among scores of other accolades and awards. His fighting spirit and willingness to commit himself to his goals are lessons that Jordan hopes to pass on through various charity causes and speaking engagements in which he is involved. His net worth is estimated at 650 million dollars, with an annual income of 80 million from endorsements, appearance fees, and smart investments.
14. Franklin Roosevelt
Imagine all the stress and exhaustion that comes with being named the President of the United States. Think of all the late nights, speeches, appearances and interviews that running for the position requires, and everything that is demanded once sworn in. Now, imagine doing all of that suffering from post-polio syndrome and being paralyzed from the waist down in an era where people with disabilities were referred to as ‘the afflicted’ or ‘invalids’.
Roosevelt wasn’t having any of that sympathy nonsense. He continued to campaign and preside over the nation in grand style for 12 years and four terms, spearhead the creation of what became The March of Dimes, and put through The New Deal. Pretty impressive for a man who could not stand unaided.
15. Benjamin Franklin
Franklin was born into a family that was so poor, they could only afford to send him to school until he was ten. After that, he was on his own. He went to work at the age of 12 and learned the printing process and also how to set type, all while completing his own education by reading everything and anything he could get his hands on. Possessed of a brilliant mind, he invented the lightning rod and bifocal eyeglasses, as well as the odometer and the Franklin stove.
Not content with inventing, he is also credited with being ‘The First American’, as he campaigned for the unification of the Colonies. Truly a scientist, scholar, politician and musician, Franklin never let his lack of formal education stymie his dreams.
While all of these men are or were vastly successful, it was no mean accomplishment. If you are ever feeling frustrated, or think a goal is simply impossible, look at these men’s stories to find inspiration and determination in the face of adversity. The only limits that exist in life are the ones you place upon yourself.