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Notable Failures. History is full of examples. Creative and imaginative people are often not recognized by their contemporaries. Even more often, their abilities are not recognized by their teachers or employers. Albert Einstein.

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Notable Failures


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notable failures

Notable Failures

History is full of examples . . .

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Creative and imaginative people are often not recognized by their contemporaries. Even more often, their abilities are not recognized by their teachers or employers.
albert einstein
Albert Einstein

Einstein’s parents thought he was retarded. He spoke haltingly until he was nine, and after that he answered questions only after laboring in thought about them. He was advised by a teacher to drop out of high school.

“You’ll never amount to anything, Einstein”

isaac newton
Isaac Newton
  • Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school and was allowed to continue only because he failed at running the family farm.

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

-- Sir Isaac Newton

ludwig von beethoven
Ludwig von Beethoven
  • Beethoven’s music teacher once said of him, “As a composer, he is hopeless.”

Every real creation of art is independent, more powerful than the artist himself and returns to the Divine through its manifestation. It is one with man only in this, that it bears testimony to the mediation of the Divine in him. - Beethoven, in a letter to Goethe

thomas edison
Thomas Edison
  • When Thomas Edison was a boy, his teachers told him he was too stupid to learn anything.
f w woolworth
F.W. Woolworth
  • F.W. Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was 21, but his employers would not let him wait on customers because he “didn’t have enough sense.”
walt disney
Walt Disney
  • A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney, claiming he had “no good ideas.”

“We’re not trying to entertain the critics. I’ll take my chances with the public.”

-- Walt Disney

enrico caruso
Enrico Caruso
  • Caruso’s music teacher told him, “You can’t sing. You have no voice at all.”

“I was often hungry, but never unhappy.”

-- Enrico Caruso

leo tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
  • Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college.

"I am convinced that nothing has so marked an influence on the direction of a man's mind as his appearance, and not his appearance itself so much as his conviction that it is attractive or unattractive."

from Boyhood

wernher von braun
Wernher von Braun

At ten years of age, von Braun decided his goal in life would be to “help turn the wheel of time.”

Dr. Von Braun also worked with Disney Studios as a technical director for three television films about Space Exploration. Over the years, von Braun continued his work with Disney, hoping that Disney’s involvement would bring about greater public interest in the future of the space program.

  • Von Braun flunked ninth grade algebra.
admiral richard e byrd
Admiral Richard E. Byrd
  • Admiral Byrd had been retired from the navy as “unfit for service” until he flew over both Poles.

When Richard E. Byrd contemplated the vast unexplored regions of the South Pole and the Antarctic, a land thought only to be bleak, barren, and forbidding to most, he saw a place of promise. Byrd envisioned a spot that “God had set aside as man’s future – an inexhaustible reservoir of natural resources.”

louis pasteur
Louis Pasteur
  • Louis Pasteur was rated as “mediocre” in chemistry when he attended the Royal College.

“There is no known circumstance in which it can be confirmed that microscopic beings came into the world without germs, without parents similar to themselves,” he concluded, in 1864.

“Chance favors the prepared mind.”

-- Louis Pasteur

abraham lincoln
Abraham Lincoln

He failed as a business man - as a storekeeper.

He failed as a farmer - he despised this work.

He failed in his first attempt to obtain political office.

When elected to the legislature, he failed when he sought the office of speaker.

He failed in his first attempt to go to Congress.

He failed when he sought the appointment to the United States Land Office.

He failed when he ran for the United States Senate.

He failed when friends sought for him the nomination for the Vice-Presidency in 1856

He was elected President.

louisa may alcott
Louisa May Alcott
  • Louisa May Alcott was told by an editor that she could never write anything that would have popular appeal.

Life is my college. May I graduate well, and earn some honors!”

~Louisa May Alcott

winston churchill
Winston Churchill
  • Winston Churchill failed sixth grade.

"We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!"

Speech about Dunkirk given in House of Commons June 4, 1940.

charles darwin
Charles Darwin
  • Darwin’s father said to his son, “You will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family.”

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.”

-- Charles Darwin

from The Origin of Species

henry ford
Henry Ford
  • Henry Ford barely made it through high school.

Obstacles are those frightful things you see

when you take your eyes off the goal. -- Henry Ford

pablo picasso
Pablo Picasso
  • Picasso was pulled out of school at age ten because he was doing so poorly. A tutor hired by Picasso’s father gave up on the young artist.
leonardo da vinci
Leonardo da Vinci
  • The machines of the world’s greatest inventor, Leonardo da Vinci, were never built, and many would not have worked.

Anyone who conducts an argument by appealing to authority is not

using his intelligence; he is just using his memory. Leonardo da Vinci

edwin land
Edwin Land
  • Land’s attempts at instant movies (Polarvision) failed completely. He described his efforts as “trying to use an impossible chemistry and a nonexistent technology to make an unmanufacturable product for which there was no discernable demand.”
oscar hammerstein
Oscar Hammerstein
  • After the success of the show South Pacific, composer Oscar Hammerstein put an ad in Variety that listed over a dozen of his failures. At the bottom of the ad, he repeated the credo of show business:“I did it before and

I can do it again.”

joe paterno
Joe Paterno

"Money alone will not make you happy. Success without honor is an unseasoned dish. It will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good."

  • Asked once about how he felt when his team lost a game, Joe Paterno replied that losing was probably good for them since that was how the players learned what they were doing wrong.
charles goodyear
Charles Goodyear
  • Charles Goodyear bungled an experiment and discovered vulcanized rubber. In one of the most celebrated “accidents” in scientific history, a patch of his sulphur and rubber gum mixture landed on a hot stove, and when Goodyear scraped it off the stove, his eyes lit up.
robert pirsig
Robert Pirsig
  • Pirsig’s best-selling book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was rejected by 121 publishers.

It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.

spike lee
Spike Lee
  • Spike Lee applied for graduate study at the top film schools in the country. Due to his scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), both schools turned him down.
jaime escalante
Jaime Escalante
  • Escalante is a nationally known educator and the subject of the film Stand and Deliver. When he first tried to get a teaching job in California, the state refused to accept his credentials from Bolivia.