How the world’s most successful people view failure and overcome it

Successful people aren’t great because they never fail — they’re great because they’ve failed and are willing to fail again. They know that it’s about failing forward: learning from mistakes and setbacks and turning them into stepping stones towards success.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re somehow immune to the sting of failure. In fact, they sometimes experience disappointment even more profoundly than others, as they tend to be driven by a deep sense of mission and pour their heart and soul into their work.

Deconstructing the way the world’s most successful people view failure and overcome it can help you on your own journey towards accomplishing your goals. Because when it comes to failure, it’s not about if but when it happens — at least when you’re striving to reach places you’ve never reached before, which means doing things you’ve never done.

So if you’re ready to understand how super-achievers deal with failing, read on and take notes. Not only will it make you feel better about the fear of falling flat on your face, but it will also fuel your determination.

Sara Blakely

The billionaire founder of Spanx spent seven years selling fax machines and getting doors slammed in her face after failing the LSAT twice.

Going to law school was her initial dream for as long as she could remember, and she felt lost. But she never let her present reality defeat her. Instead, she used that time in her life to introspect and figure out her next steps.

“During my fax-selling stint, I would spend much of my free time trying to figure out what I really wanted out of life and what my strengths were,” she told author Gillian Zoe Segal.

“I knew I was good at selling and that I eventually wanted to be self-employed. I thought, ‘Instead of fax machines, I’d love to sell something that I created and actually care about.’”

Not long after, she cut off a pair of pantyhose to get silhouette-boosting benefits while wearing open-toe shoes — and the rest is history.

The takeaway: Instead of ruminating and spiraling into negativity when faced with undesired life outcomes and situations, use what you don’t want as feedback to help you get clear on your deepest desires.


The first time Jerry Seinfeld stepped on a stage, he froze. Pretty devastating for an aspiring comedian, right? And it wasn’t for a lack of preparation — he had rehearsed all night the evening before, but his nerves got the best of him.

“I stood there for about thirty seconds … saying absolutely nothing, just standing there, freaking out,” he shared. “And then, I was able to just remember the subjects I wanted to talk about … I stood there and went, ‘The Beach … ah, driving … your parents …’ and people started laughing because they thought this was my act.”

After about three disastrous minutes that ended in him getting booed, he got off stage. But thankfully, he didn’t let a couple of minutes discourage him from pursuing his dreams and becoming one of the most famous and wealthy comedians.

The takeaway: Don’t let a short moment of disappointment discredit the hundreds — or thousands — of hours you’ve invested in reaching a goal.

Oprah Winfrey

Did you know that Oprah produced and starred in a movie called Beloved? If not, it might be because it ended up being a total box-office flop. And it was one of the most crushing, public failures of her life, as she was already hugely successful back in 1998 when the movie came out.

“I actually started to think: Maybe I really am depressed. Because it’s more than ‘I feel bad about this.’ I felt like I was behind a veil. I felt like what many people had described over the years on my show, and I could never imagine it. What’s depression? Why don’t you just pick yourself up?” she told Vogue.

At first, she bought blocks of tickets to try to get the box office up. Then, she turned to overeating. Then, she started a gratitude practice and emerged from her setback with a broader perspective.

“It taught me to never again—never again, ever—put all of your hopes, expectations, eggs in the basket of the box office. Do the work as an offering, and then, whatever happens, happens.”

The takeaway: Trying to control the outcome at all costs can cost you your sanity. Instead, practice acceptance and gratitude.

Whitney Wolfe Herd

Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd just became the youngest woman to take a company public. But the very idea of Bumble came after the sour ending of her job at Tinder, where she was a marketing executive.

She resigned and filed a sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the company (they later settled). Going on her own was a huge leap of faith, but she was fueled by a determination to create safe experiences for women. Despite the fact many naysayers told her women would never be willing to make the first move on a dating app, she persisted and proved them wrong.

“I think fear and fear of the unknown and perceived failure is what holds people back,” she told CNBC. “For me, I am more scared of complacency than having something not work out. I’d rather take a leap of faith and fall than stand on the edge forever.”

The takeaway: Sure, what-ifs can be scary. But what-ifs also hold the promise of unlimited potential and success. Get out of your comfort zone and take the first step while remembering that the potential reward of success far outweighs your fears.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is an athletic legend and considered to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time. And he’s shared some famous words on the topics of success and failure:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Jordan had the mindset of a champion long before he became one. And that’s exactly why he was able to get up and try again, train for countless hours and aim to perfect his game on and off the court. He wanted to be the best so badly that, when faced with an obstacle, he found ways around it — even if it took several attempts.

The takeaway

If you want something badly, try again as many times and in as many different ways as you need to. Find different ways to improve your skills, seek support, and fuel your motivation by keeping your end vision in mind.