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Failure is not the end of the road

Someone wise once said: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” These words make it evident that success and failure are intertwined and one isn’t exclusive of the other. No wonder, it is widely accepted that failure is the stepping stone to success. From early on in life, people aspire to succeed—be it in high school, at college, at work, or in the various roles they play in their personal lives as parents, spouses, friends or grandparents. However, while you are dreaming big and making plans, life happens.

That life is riddled with challenges, setbacks, and failures, your dream world comes crashing before your eyes like a house of cards. When the anxiety and the burden of repeated failures become too heavy to bear, people begin to crumble under the pressure of expectations. That’s when many lose sight of wisdom and consider themselves failures instead of objectively looking at the event or incident as something that didn’t work. As has been the case with VG Siddhartha, founder of India’s largest coffee chain Café Coffee Day. A perfect gentleman, a kindred and virtuous soul, who was revered and loved by everyone, seems to have crumbled under financial pressure. In what is reportedly being considered his last letter to his employees, he talks about how he succumbed to pressure from multiple sources and writes, “I have failed as an entrepreneur.” However, those who knew him well as an entrepreneur vouch that he wasn’t a failure.

There are numerous stories of people who repeatedly failed in their endeavours, yet they refused to give up, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Those are the people who are a source of inspiration for anyone who dares to dream big. In this feature, Soulveda brings the stories of nine such individuals who did not consider failure as the end of the road but took it head-on as the beginning of a meaningful journey of learning.

Jack Ma: Failure is the stepping stone to success

Jack Ma failed a ‘million’ times before becoming a billionaire, and one of the richest people in China. Co-founder and former CEO of Alibaba Group, Jack Ma failed at almost everything he pursued—from education to career to entrepreneurship. He failed his primary school examinations twice, the middle school exams thrice, got into Hangzhou Normal University in his third attempt, all his ten admission letters to Harvard University were rejected, he failed to land any job after graduating from the university, and his first two ventures collapsed. In an interview, at the Davos World Economic Forum, he said, “When KFC came to China, 24 people went for the job. Twenty-three people were accepted. I was the only guy who wasn’t.” However, that did not deter him from visualising and founding Alibaba. The rest, as they say, is history.

Stephen King: Do the best you can with what you’ve got

Stephen King is widely known for his books that have dominated the horror genre for the past four decades. The only author in history with over 30 bestsellers, King faced countless rejections from publishers and backlash from critics at the outset of his journey. His first novel, Carrie was rejected 30 times before it was finally published. In 1994, when his short story The man in the black suit won the prestigious O’Henry Award, Publishers Weekly declared it to be “one of the weaker stories in this year’s collection.” In response to his critics, who often criticised his work, King said in an interview on 60 Minutes, “All I can say is—and this is in response to the critics who’ve often said that my work is awkward and sometimes a little bit painful—I know it. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got.”

failure motivation

“You never fail until you stop trying.” ― Albert Einstein

Chris Gardner: The real pursuit of happiness lies in never giving up

Many people have heard the inspiring rags-to-riches story of Chris Gardner, thanks to the Hollywood movie The Pursuit of Happyness. But Gardner’s life is worth revisiting, as it has some incredible lessons to offer. As a teen, he did odd jobs working at a restaurant and at a nursing home during the day. At night, he kept his mother safe from an abusive stepfather. With no degree and experience, he began selling medical devices door-to-door. A move that eventually made him bankrupt. With no money in his pocket and a child to look after, Gardner continued to move forward. He had no roof, no support, and no godfather. All he had was his determination and the diligence to start his own stock brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co, which paved the way for his stupendous success.

Albert Einstein: Perseverance matters, not grades

It’s not just physicists or mathematicians who respect Albert Einstein for sowing the seeds of modern physics. The whole world admires the genius scientist for his contributions, his unparalleled abilities, and an out-of-the-ordinary thought process. Calling him a prodigy would be an understatement, given his 100-year-old scientific predictions that scientists have found to be accurate. But, in reality, Einstein was no child prodigy. In fact, he was one of those students who used to get passing grades in most of the subjects. In the entrance examination of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1895, Einstein failed at every test other than Physics and Math. After graduation, Einstein wanted to start his career as an assistant professor of Physics. But no one accepted him. For two years, he remained unemployed before landing a job at a patent office, where he was considered eccentric and non-traditional by most of his colleagues. Despite this, Einstein’s love for physics only soared. A few years later, in 1905, Einstein wrote his paper on relativity that made him a living legend.

failure in life

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.” ― Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin: Laugh off the hardships

The famous British actor had a tough childhood as his father abandoned the family when Charlie Chaplin was just two years old. He was sent off to a workhouse at the age of seven as his mother had no financial support and was unable to provide for her sons. She fell mentally ill and had to be kept in an asylum. Thus Chaplin and his brother were left to fend for themselves. They often went without food for days, slept on the streets during their struggle to survive. During this time, Chaplin began to use his comic talent and tap dancing abilities to do stage shows. Childhood crises had robbed him off his innocence but his mother had instilled in him a love for comedy. No matter how tough the circumstances, Chaplin ensured he made the world laugh while he hid behind his pain and tears. Initially, even Hollywood rejected and snubbed him. But Chaplin went on to become the greatest silent actor.

Stephen Hawking: Don’t be disabled in spirit

A brilliant physicist, Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with a debilitating motor-neurone disease at the age of 21. His doctors gave him just two to five years to survive. But Hawking went on to live and work until the age of 76, crafting some of his best works including A Brief History of Time.

Through his attitude toward life, he inspired people to remain curious and humorous even in the face of life-threatening disabilities. His famous words: “My advice to other disabled people would be to concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Steadfastness in times of trouble

Born into a family of musicians, Beethoven was criticised for handling his violin awkwardly and being “hopeless as a composer”. His father, a musician himself, was known to be so disappointed with his son’s failure to meet his expectations that he used to beat him up. Conspiracy theories abound that this could have later affected Beethoven’s hearing. But even after such harsh criticism and treatment from his own father, Beethoven never stopped composing music. In fact, he composed some of his best music after he turned completely deaf. To quote Beethoven: “This is the mark of distinction of a truly admirable man: steadfastness in times of trouble.”

lack of success

“It’s a matter of having the right attitude—humble, curious, determined, willing to fail and try.” – Sir James Dyson

Sir James Dyson: Embrace failure in a problem-solving way

A British inventor and the founder of Dyson, one of the pioneering manufacturers of vacuum cleaners, Sir James Dyson spent 15 years and made 5126 failed attempts before creating a prototype that finally worked. Today, he runs a multi-billion-dollar company known for its creative and innovative designs. Dyson’s journey, from being a nobody to founding a multi-billion-dollar company, is about embracing failure with a problem-solving attitude. As they say, you cannot be afraid to fail when you are trying something for the first time. “It’s a matter of having the right attitude—humble, curious, determined, willing to fail and try,” said Dyson in a previously published interview.

Milton Hershey: Focus on what makes you happy

American entrepreneur and philanthropist Milton Hershey is the founder of Hershey’s chocolate manufacturing company. Coming from a financially backward family, Hershey had little formal education and even fewer opportunities. Before founding the company, Hershey was fired from his apprenticeship at a local printing press. At 30, he went bankrupt but he started three different candy companies, all of which failed. Finally, Hershey tasted the sweetness of success with the Lancaster Caramel Company and the Hershey Company that made his sweet confection a household name. “… I started out with the determination to make a better nickel chocolate bar than any of my competitors made, and I did so,” said Hershey in an earlier interview.

Edited by Shalini K Sharma

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