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7 Successful People Who Failed

What we can learn from JK Rowling, Jay-Z, Vera Wang and 4 more failures.

Image: Zsuzsanna Kilian, Stock.xchng

We all know that failure is a part of learning and success. When we were children it was part of everyday life, without our embracing of failure we would never have learnt to swim, ride bikes, drive cars or pretty much any of the other skills we've accumulated during our lives. Yet as we become older our fear of failure paralyses us to such an extent that we do not dare to even begin to pursue our goals and dreams. I have selected seven very successful people who have had to use their failures to achieve their goals.

1. JK Rowling

The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination

Video / ByJK Rowling

JK Rowling is the best selling author of the Harry Potter series. It took 12 rejection letters and one year before she found a publisher for her first book. In this profound and inspirational address to Harvard Alumni she talks of her much more personal failure - that of being a divorced single mother and living in poverty. "Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me."

2. Kurt Theobald

9 Lessons From A 10-Time Startup Failure

Article / ByEric T. Wagner

Classy Llama is a successful e-commerce agency. It is ranked as one of the Top 500 Fastest Growing companies in the US by Inc. For co-founder Kurt Theobald it was his 11th attempt at being an entrepreneur. He had already failed with 10 businesses in the short period of five years prior to finally getting it right with Classy Llama. He probably knows more than most about what it takes to create a successful business.

3. Jay-Z

Empire State of Mind: How Jay-Z Went From Street Corner to Corner Office

Book / ByZack O'Malley Greenburg

No major record label would sign him, so Jay-Z sold his CDs out of his car, before co-founding Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995. Since then he's gone from rapper to lifestyle brand and business empire. Not all his business ventures have been successful. This is the story of his rise to the top, his business failures and successes. And the financial ramifications of his marriage to Beyonce.

4. Richard Branson

Richard Branson on the Secret to Success: Failure.

Article / ByRichard Branson
Richard Branson has had many many failures ; Virgin Cola, Virgin Clothes, Virgin Wine, Virgin Cars even believe it or not Virgin Flowers. Yet he still remains one of the wealthiest businessmen in the UK - because he has had more success than failure. He thinks we can learn from our failures. "Failure is one of the secrets to success, since some of the best ideas arise from the ashes of a shuttered business." Read Like a Virgin for more of his business secrets.

5. James Dyson

James Dyson on Using Failure to Drive Success

Article / ByNadia Goodman

James Dyson spent 15 years creating 5,126 failed versions of his Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner before coming up with one that worked. He now has a multi-billion dollar company. He believes that failure spurs your creativity. "You don't have to bother to be creative if the first time you do something, it works. Creativity is creating something that no one could have devised; something that hasn't existed before and solves problems that haven't been solved before. Making something work is a very creative thing to do."

6. Vera Wang

First Person | Vera Wang

Article / ByTommye Fitzpatrick

Vera Wang wanted a career in figure skating but when she failed to make the 1968 US Olympic team, she decided to change course and pursue her interest in clothing. She joined Vogue where she moved up the ranks for 15 years but left when she was turned down for the editor-in-chief position. It was only at this point at age 40 with her impending wedding and a lack of suitable wedding dresses that she finally started to pursue her passion for design. "Success isn't about the end result, it's about what you learn along the way."

7. Nick Woodman

Five Startup Lessons From GoPro Founder And Billionaire Nick Woodman

Article / ByRyan Mac

While the others on this list embraced fear, Nick Woodman was petrified it would happen again. He had already failed with his two previous startups, the second after raising $3.9 million in investor funding. His failures were the driving force in the success of his GoPro cameras. "That’s what the first boom and bust did for me. I was so scared that I would fail again that I was totally committed to succeed."

I am the founder of I love reading personal development books and try very hard to implement the stuff that resonates with me. For the most part I am paralysed by fear and indulge in the fine art of proscrastination. So it's small changes for me.

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