It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think

Monday, April 29, 2013.

It’s true, it doesn’t matter what other people think of you.  Know why?  Because they might be wrong.

Here are forty people who were failures at one thing or another, until they found success. Many of these people were told that they would never be successful.  Some were given incredibly unflattering assessments of their talents and abilities.  A few suffered a crushing blow to their self-esteem.  Some were limited by physical ailments or poverty.  All of them kept going until they made their mark.



Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein

For someone who is regarded as a mathematical genius, Albert Einstein had a rocky start in life.  Unable to speak until the age of four, he could not read until the age of seven.  His teachers said that he wouldn’t amount to much, calling him “slow” and labeling him “mentally handicapped.”  In hindsight, it seems that his teachers must have been the ones who were mentally handicapped.

Thomas Edison was another whom the teachers called too stupid to learn anything.  His mother homeschooled him.  He became the fourth most prolific inventor in history, with 1093 U.S. patents, as well as patents in the U.K., France, and Germany.  His most famous invention is the light bulb, which is a good thing for nigh-owls like myself.  He had a fabulous attitude.  “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work,” he said, “I haven’t failed.  I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Charles Darwin, the originator of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, was told by his father that he would amount to nothing and that he would be a disgrace to his family, probably because he didn’t enjoy the practice of medicine the way his father did.  Depending on his family’s religious beliefs, he might still have been a disgrace to some family members, given the nature of his theory.  It’s true that his best friends had reservations about his ideas, and although his theory has not stood up very well to the test of time, it still provides a lens through which human beings view nature.



Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Harry S. Truman

Ulysses S. Grant, 18th President of the United States, was a failure as a soldier, farmer, and real estate agent before he entered politics. Sure, he was regarded as a Civil war “hero,” but it must have been mainly because his side won the war, and not because Grant did anything particularly brilliant as a General in the Union Army.

Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States, was rejected by the U.S. Military and Naval Academies because of his poor eyesight.  Some jobs he held before becoming president: mailroom clerk and movie theater usher.

Winston Churchill, who twice served as the British Prime Minister, reportedly did poorly in school and had a speech impediment, a pronounced lisp.  He had dentures designed to clarify his speech.  It is said that his goal in life was to please his mother, which he never seemed to succeed in doing.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, failed in business twice before going into politics; he ran a general store and had a law practice. His fiancée died, and he suffered from lifelong depression.  He had at least two nervous breakdowns.  He lost eight of the elections that he ran in.  It’s a wonder that he became one of our most famous and beloved presidents.

Sports Figures


Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan

It seems almost unbelievable that Michael Jordan, one of the most famous basketball players of all time, didn’t make his high school varsity basketball team in his sophomore year because he was considered too short. He was so crushed that he locked himself in his room and cried.  But he played on the junior varsity team, and it soon became known what he was capable of.  He grew four inches over the summer, and played varsity as a high school junior.  The rest is history.

Babe Ruth, played major league baseball from 1914 to 1935, setting a home run record of 714 home runs in his career.  That record stood for nearly forty years, until Hank Aaron beat it in 1974.  The thing about a batter is that you can’t hit a home run every time.  In his career, Ruth struck out 1330 times, nearly twice as often as he hit a home run.  It’s a good thing people remember him for the homers and not the strike-outs.



Top row: The Beatles, Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney 2nd row: Steven Spielberg, Harrison Ford, Marilyn Monroe, Ludwig van Beethoven 3rd row: Lucille Ball, Eminem, Elvis Presley, Oliver Stone. Bottom row: Jerry Seinfeld, Fred Astaire, Clint Eastwood, Sidney Poitier, Vincent Van Gogh

Walt Disney, one of the most imaginative filmmakers of all time, was fired from a newspaper job for lacking imagination and having no original ideas.  Imagine that!  Oh, and he was told that a mouse would never work as a main character.  Fortunately, his cartoon audience was children.

Oprah Winfrey, whose afternoon talk show was the highest rated show of its kind in history, was once demoted from a job as news anchor.  The reason?  She “wasn’t fit for television.”  Now she has her own TV station, and she is regarded as one of the most influential women of modern times.

The Beatles, now regarded as one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and the first so-called “studio band,” were rejected by the Decca record label because they didn’t like the band’s sound.  They said guitar music was on its way out (this was in early 1962) and that the group had no future in show business.  Just shows you what some people (don’t) know!  It’s a good thing Ed Sullivan believed in them.

Film director Steven Spielberg dropped out of high school.  He was rejected by the University of Southern California Film School three times.  He went to Cal State University in Long Beach, instead.  He directed Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Color Purple, Munich, and many other memorable films.  Without him, a great many people would not have had a good movie to go to on Saturday night.  I’m sure USC wishes they could claim him as an alumnus.

Ludwig van Beethoven was once told by a music teacher that he was a hopeless composer.  Keep in mind, also, that some of Beethoven’s finest work was composed after he became deaf.  He couldn’t hear his music or the audience applauding.

Marilyn Monroe had some dreary jobs during World War II, before she became a model and actress.  One of her jobs was that of parachute inspector.  For the sake of the sky jumpers, I hope she wasn’t too much of a failure at that. All three of her marriages ended in divorce.  Her first contract with Columbia Pictures was allowed to expire. The reason?  She wasn’t pretty enough or talented enough.  In spite of the fact that she has been named as one of the greatest female film stars of all time, she obviously felt like a failure, and her life ended in probable suicide by overdose of barbiturates.

Harrison Ford, the star of the Indiana Jones movies was told after his first movie that he would probably not succeed in show business, but today he is the third-highest-paid actor of all time.  It’s a good thing he didn’t quit after that first movie!

Lucille Ball, undisputed queen of early TV, was dismissed from drama school because she was too shy.  Lucy?  Too shy?  Before she and her husband Desi Arnaz started their TV show, Ball was regarded as a “B-movie” actress.  Obviously, she did much better on the “small screen.”  Not only was her show, “I Love Lucy” one of the most famous and beloved of all time, but Lucille Ball became the first woman to run a major television studio, Desilu.  Not bad for a shy girl.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage at his very first performance because he froze in terror.  He went back on the following night and “killed them,” as they say in show business.  His TV show, “Seinfeld,” ran for nine years and was a favorite of many.  In 2005, Comedy Central ranked Seinfeld 12th on its list of the 100 greatest comedians of all time.

Artist Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting in during his lifetime, to a friend, but fortunately for us, he continued to paint and left a legacy of 800 finished paintings.  One of his paintings is valued at approximately $142.7 million.

Elvis Presley, the original “King of Rock and Roll,” was fired after his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry.  The manager told him he wasn’t going anywhere in show business, and that he should go back to driving a truck!  He is the second-best-selling recording artist of all time.

Actor and dancer extraordinaire Fred Astaire failed his first screen test at MGM Studios.  Notes from his test read, “Can’t act.  Can’t sing.  Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”   Filmmakers were also concerned about how his “enormous ears” and “bad chin line” would look on film.  Fortunately, most of us never noticed his ears.

Actor Sidney Poitier was told at his first audition that he should stop wasting people’s time and that he should go and get a job as a dishwasher.  We’re glad he didn’t.

Filmmaker Oliver Stone dropped out of Yale to write a novel, which was rejected by several publishers.  The book was eventually published, but not very well-received, so Stone moved to Vietnam to teach English.  While there he volunteered for the army.  His military experiences stood him in good stead when he made such films as Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, and Natural Born Killers.

Marshall Bruce Matters III, also known as Eminem, dropped out of high school, and has struggled with drugs and poverty. He even failed at a suicide attempt.  Fortunately, he has overcome his problems and is now one of the best-selling artists in the world, with 100 million albums sold around the world.

Clint Eastwood, who recently made a splash at the Republican National Convention, was fired from Universal Studios because his Adam’s apple was too big.  Fortunately, his fans don’t seem to notice.  These days he is even better known as a film director than he was as an actor.

Men and Women in Business


Top: Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Colonel Sanders, Soichiro Honda Bottom row: Akio Morita, Masaru Ibuka, Richard Branson, Vera Wang

Steve Jobs not only created Apple, Inc, but made it the most profitable company in the world. Still, when he was 30 years old, he was unceremoniously dumped as C.E.O. of Apple by its Board of Directors.  Although he was upset about it, he went on to found Next and Pixar.  His work with animated films was groundbreaking, and we all know the story of how he rejoined Apple and  successfully expanded the company’s offerings from computers to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.  Without Jobs, I would not be typing on a personal computer in my home. Believe it or not, although I own and love a Macintosh laptop, I ahve never owned an iPad, iPod, or iPhone.  When my book gets published, though, I’m going to run, not walk, to the local Apple store.

Henry Ford’s first few attempts at a business failed miserably.  What made Ford Motor Company so great?  Two things: mass production techniques and high wages for his employees.  I wonder what he would say if he could hear the arguments against raising the minimum wage today?

Soichiro Honda was turned down for an engineering job with Toyota after World War II.  Too bad for Toyota, because Honda just started his own company, which became one of Toyota’s major competitors.

Vera Wang tried out for the U.S. Olympic Ice Skating Team, but failed.  Next she became an editor at Vogue, but was passed over for a promotion. At age 40, when many others would have given up, Wang started to design wedding gowns.  She is now the most famous wedding gown designer in the world.  She also designs skating costumes for elite figure skaters.

Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka are the founders of Sony.  Their first product was an electric rice cooker that did not sell well because it burned the rice.  Fortunately, they tried something else.

Colonel Sanders had to close his restaurant because the newly-built Interstate 75 routed his customers away from his doors.  When he got his first social security check at age 65, he was angry that the amount was so little.  He decided to pitch his fried chicken recipe to restaurants all over the country. He always wore his trademark white suit, and slept in his car. His idea: If he could just interest a restaurant in trying his friend chicken recipe, their customers would love it and their business would expand.  Hee could strike a deal with them for a percentage of the profits.  1009 restaurants said, “No, thanks.”   He finally sold his idea to a man who owned the largest restaurant in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Who has not tasted his “finger-lickin’ good” Kentucky Fried Chicken at least once?

Richard Branson is the head of Virgin Group, most notably Virgin airlines.  If you don’t remember Virgin Cola or Virgin credit cards, that’s because those businesses failed.  His first business was a record shop, which he and his business partner named Virgin because they were “virgins” in business.

And Finally…. Authors


Top: Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, Robert M. Pirsig Bottom: Stephen King, Timothy Ferriss, Stephanie Meyer.

You will not believe how many times these authors were rejected by publishers.

J.K. Rowling’s first book, Harry  Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was rejected by 12 different publishers.

Tim Ferriss’ book The 4 Hour Workweek was rejected by 26 publishers.

Stephanie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, typed out 15 letters to literary agencies and was rejected by 14 of them.

John Grisham’s book, A Time to Kill, had 28 rejections, and the first order was for only 5000 copies.

Theodore Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss, got 27 rejections for his first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. 

Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times, and he was so upset about it that he threw the manuscript in the trash.  His wife saved it.

Robert Pirsig’s book. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, got a whopping 121 rejections before being published.  Something to remember when I get my first rejection slip. 🙂



Filed under Uncategorized

2 responses to “It Doesn’t Matter What Other People Think

  1. Pingback: Learning How to Unlearn | Reaching for The Sky

  2. Pingback: Worth Reading — 5/6/15 | A Touch of Cass

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s