Many successful people have failed

Recently, my wife and I watched three separate music documentaries – the eight part series on Country Music, one on Motown and one on David Bowie. What I find interesting is how many artists had to fight failure to get a chance and gain eventual success. These failures reminded me of other similar stories I have been exposed to.

Garth Brooks, one of the biggest selling artists of any genre, was turned down by every studio in Nashville. The night of the most recent “no, thank you,” Brooks performed at a small venue and that same record producer was in the audience and saw something.

David Bowie made records and even albums, but they went nowhere for years. He never lost hope. After much experimentation, he came up with the idea about a man in space. “Ground control to Major Tom…” became the lyric that peeked our interest in “A Space Oddity.”

The Beatles intrigued a young record producer named George Martin, but he recognized the band needed to practice to learn how to play. Many people don’t know that a fifth Beatle named Stu Sutcliffe was very inexperienced. So, Martin sent them to Hamburg, Germany to play seven shows six nights a week. They had to learn new material.

The Supremes led by Diana Ross were called the “no-hit Supremes” for years as they could not break through. Eventually, Berry Gordy and his writers came up with the right song, “Baby, baby. Where did our love go…”

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the team the following  year. As Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach would say defending his decision to start Jordan as a freshman, “I put him on the blue practice team and they won. I put him on the white practice team and they won. It did not take a genius to realize we had a better chance to win if he played.”

Steve Jobs was successful with the Apple, but failed to develop the next generation machine. Fortunately, while the team he led was failing, another Apple team plodded along and developed the Macintosh. Jobs took it over and it made history. We should also note, Jobs was later fired from his own company, but  returned to save them and launch the hand held I-series of devices.

Hewlett-Packard failed at its first business. It was a bowling alley scorekeeping system. Yet, they created an organization that allowed the development of new products and were hugely succesful with computers and printers.

Everyone fails at something or even more than a few things. The key is what do you do next. When life knocks you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are walking through hell, the key is to keep walking.”

8 thoughts on “Many successful people have failed

    • Me too. I don’t know if I have enough fingers and toes to count mine. It is one good reason to play sports – it teaches how to deal with failure.

    • If you have not seen the documentary, I think it is called “David Bowie, the early years.” He had the misfortune of having one album come out the week “Sgt. Pepper” was released. Sales were minimal and it got lost. Critics said it was pretty good.

  1. Note to Readers: The story on Stu Sutcliffe is he was John Lennon’s best friend. They loved Buddy Holly and the Crickets, so they developed the name “Beatles” changing the spelling. Sutcliffe left the band in Hamburg, but died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage shortly after. It may be yet another reason, Lennon was so introspective.

    As for other failures, Johnny Cash was dropped from his record label late in his career. After a few years of struggling, a hip-hop and heavy metal record producer worked with Cash on some albums that won Grammy awards and were huge sellers. Loretta Lynn became an outspoken feminist simply by singing songs from a woman’s perspective. A personal favorite is “Don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind.” One called “Now that I’ve got the pill,” was not played on some radio shows. She did not care and ventured forward.

  2. Note to Readers: My sister reminded me of a poem our mother would recite to us, by Frank L. Stanton. The title and chorus is called “Keep-a-goin’.” It is appropriate to the above discussion. Here is the first stanza:

    If you strike a thorn or rose,
    Keep a-goin’!
    If it hails or if it snows,
    Keep a-goin’!
    ‘Taint no use to sit an’ whine
    When the fish ain’t on your line;
    Bait your hook an’ keep a-tryin’–
    Keep a-goin’

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