25 resilient people who overcame failure to achieve huge success

We all want to succeed.

But life and fate throw so many curveballs our way that it can confuse and intimidate even the most resilient people.

Fortunately, there are inspiring examples of those who overcame hardship and tragedy to achieve amazing success.

These individuals show how there’s no place so far down you can’t come back from it.

Failure isn’t final, it’s fuel.

25 resilient people who overcame failure to achieve huge success

1) Charlize Theron, actress

Charlize Theron is a South African actress who’s famous around the world for her incredible acting and beautiful elegance.

Theron grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but life wasn’t easy.

Her dad was a violent drunk and frequently threatened to beat and kill Theron and her mom. One day, when Theron was only 15, her mom killed her dad during a fight.

Theron’s mom was found not guilty by reason of self-defense.

As for Theron, she had a lot of trouble fitting in at school, including various medical problems. It was only later began an acting career and rose to success.

The pain of her early life is not something Theron talks about often, but watching her best performances you can see the depth that she brings to the screen.

2) Elvis, rock star

Elvis is a great example of a famous failure.

From “Love Me Tender” to “Blue Hawaii,” almost every Elvis song is a memorable piece of music.

But Elvis himself was no instant success. In fact, he grew up feeling like he didn’t fit in and did terribly in school, including in music class.

When he started trying to become a musician it went awfully, and he ended up taking a job driving trucks instead.

Still, the dream didn’t die and Elvis kept putting in time at the studio and playing gigs.

Eventually, it paid off big time, with his debut album Elvis launching him into superstardom in 1956.

3) Michael Jordan, athlete

Michael Jordan isn’t shy about all the times he failed.

In fact, he says that all the missed shots are what built him into the athlete he became.

Looking at Jordan’s success on the court, many aren’t aware that he was dropped from his team in high school and was seen by coaches at the time as a slacker.

Jordan didn’t let it get to him and kept practicing harder and harder until making it onto the Tarheels at the University of North Carolina and on to the Chicago Bulls.

All of this was for one simple reason, according to Jordan: never giving up.

As he says:

“I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

4) Tony Robbins, motivational speaker

Tony Robbins is a bestselling author and motivational speaker who’s helped turned millions of people’s lives around.

But Robbins himself never had an easy ride of it.

He grew up in an abusive home with a poor stepfather, and his mom forced him to leave home when he was only 17.

Robbins drifted, including working as a high school janitor. He was overweight and depressed, believing he would never amount to anything.

Then he began to work on himself including his health, outlook and job prospects.

He’s now worth millions and idolized all across the world.

As Robbins says, real change doesn’t happen in the mind:

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.”

5) Nelson Mandela, leader

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Nelson Mandela was never a failure, but he certainly got handed some bad cards.

The renowned South African leader was put in jail due to political persecution and stayed there for 27 years.

What would have made most people give up completely, only made Mandela more determined than ever that justice come to pass.

He continued to oppose apartheid and stand for his beliefs, leading the nation after finally getting out of jail.

In jail he famously kept a note with the lines from Henley’s poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate: 

I am the captain of my soul.” 

6) Oprah Winfrey, TV star

Oprah grew up poor and mistreated in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

She got impregnated by relatives who were sexually abusing her when she was only 14 years old and had a miscarriage.

This tragedy might have sunk most people into lifelong bitterness, but Oprah went on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment, entering journalism and overcoming numerous obstacles for a woman of color.

She went on to become one of the most loved celebrities in the world and host her show which reaches millions.

Instead of feeding fury and bitterness, Oprah has let her early trauma contribute to her compassion and strength.

7) JK Rowling, author

Harry Potter author JK Rowling is an incredible success story that begins with outer failure.

When she was writing her novels, Rowling was struggling immensely.

She was a single mom who could barely make ends meet and her books were getting zero interest.

Her tale of a misunderstood boy wizard was rejected dismissively by dozens of publishers who said it didn’t have merit.

Finally, Bloomsbury books decided to accept it, giving Rowling an advance of 1,500 British pounds (only about $2,050).

Despite this slow start, Rowling has gone on to become one of the world’s most recognizable names, inspiring and touching everyone with her tales.

8) Walt Disney, animator

Walt Disney built an empire that lasted until this day.

He’s inspired magic in so many people’s childhoods, but his own path to success was very rocky.

Starting out as an illustrator in his late teens, Disney was faced with criticism from his newspaper editor who said he didn’t have talent.

Disney said that this criticism early on helped shape him.

When he later moved to Hollywood and started a studio with his brother Roy, he thought about the harder times starting out in his career and it helped motivate him.

As Disney said:

“I think it’s important to have a good hard failure when you’re young… Because it makes you kind of aware of what can happen to you.

“Because of it I’ve never had any fear in my whole life when we’ve been near collapse and all of that. I’ve never been afraid.”

Walt definitely gets it.

9) Bethany Hamilton, surfer

Bethany Hamilton is an amazing surfer who came back from childhood tragedy to soar to epic heights in the pro surfing world.

Hamilton was born in Hawaii and started surfing at age three, encouraged by her enthusiastic parents.

Tragically, she was bitten by a shark when she was only 13 and lost her arm.

This would have been the end of a surfing career for many, but Hamilton kept right on going, winning huge championships and inspiring the world.

The 2011 film Soul Surfer chronicles her journey and how she’s never given up.

10) Stephen King, novelist

Today, Stephen King is one of the most famous horror writers on the planet, but for years he was a nobody getting rejected by every publisher he pitched.

Growing up, King wrote all the time but his work got rejected almost every time and people told him to give up.

He worked in a laundromat and donut shop before attending university, but things weren’t looking good.

King’s first book Carrie about a high school prom gone very wrong is now recognized as a horror classic.

But at the time he was pitching it in the early 1970s, publishers told him it was too twisted and dark.

After several dozen places turned it down King got angry and threw it away. His wife fished it out of the trash and told him not to give up.

It was published in 1974 and launched King’s massive career success.

He’s since sold hundreds of millions of books and is perhaps the most recognized writer in modern literature.

11) George Lucas, filmmaker

When most of us hear the name George Lucas, we immediately think of Star Wars and its massive success.

However, Lucas had a hard time of it starting out and his vision almost never made it to the silver screen.

The main studios in Hollywood all thought the Star Wars concept wouldn’t sell and they turned it down.

Finally, Fox took him up on the franchise, thinking back to his work in American Graffiti and hoping it would also be a success.

It wasn’t easy, however, because Lucas’ idea for Star Wars was widely misunderstood even by the people working on the film.

He was confident in his vision, however, and the series went on to become the spectacular success it is today.

12) Keanu Reeves, actor

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If you think of Keanu Reeves there’s an image that comes to mind of a self-assured, easygoing guy who stars in many of your favorite films.

But Reeves had a very rough upbringing and background.

Reeves grew up overseas in Lebanon to a British woman and an American man. His dad left them when Keanu was only three.

His mom kept marrying new guys (four in all) and Keanu had to change schools constantly as a kid.

He ended up in Canada where he got depressed and dropped out of school when he was 17 and moved to Hollywood.

Finally, things seemed to be going his way and he met a girl and she got pregnant. Then the baby died at eight months, and a year-and-a-half later so did the woman he’d loved.

Keanu didn’t give up and worked his way up to star in 1989’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and eventually 1999’s Matrix.

13) Colonel Harlan Sanders, chicken enthusiast

Colonel Harlan Sanders is the man who started Kentucky Fried Chicken.

We can thank the Colonel for his special recipe, but we may also not be aware of how many tears went on behind the scenes.

The fact is that Sanders didn’t just suddenly pop up and make it big.

He kept trying to sell his special recipe to restaurants and they dismissed him: over 1,000 rejections in total.

Finally, at age 62 he found a place in Utah that would give him a shot. The rest, as they say, is history.

When it comes to resilient people who overcame failure, Colonel Sanders deserves to be right up there with the very toughest around.

Also, if you want a laugh check out the new romantic comedy about Sanders called A Recipe for Seduction.

YouTube video

14) Jeff Bezos, businessman

Jeff Bezos may be the richest guy on earth (or in space), but he didn’t always have the golden touch.

Back when he wore mom jeans and looked even more like a member of the Heaven’s Gate Cult than he does now, Bezos was having a hard time of it.

His founding of Amazon was going quite well, ballooning out from an initial $10,000 investment and garage warehouse.

Then Bezos decided to buy half of a website called pets.com. It did really badly and went bankrupt in several years, leaving Amazon out by $50 million, which at the time was a lot of cash for the site.

Bezos took the hit and kept going regardless, turning Amazon into the internet-dominating behemoth it is today.

As he’s said of the past struggles, “you have to be willing to fail” if you really want to innovate and succeed in business.

15) Mark Cuban, entrepreneur

Mark Cuban owns an NBA team and has more money than you can shake a stick at.

He’s also well known for his hosting role on Shark Tank.

But Cuban is far from an overnight success story.

He earned his stripes as an entrepreneur, delivering papers and doing any job he could find whether he had skills for it or not.

By his mid-20s he’d even managed to lose a job at a bar because of difficulty properly opening bottles of wine and he got tossed out of a cooking job due to eating too many of the dishes.

But he had a hardworking attitude and really wanted to succeed.

He started up his own company offering software and helping with computers and it started doing really well.

He kept moving up the ranks until eventually selling another company to Yahoo and becoming a multimillionaire.

16) The Beatles, musicians

The Beatles weren’t always the household name they are today.

At one time this ragtag crew was underappreciated and couldn’t catch a break.

They had to play the red light district of Hamburg for a long time before anyone noticed who they were or even started listening, and the idea of them becoming famous would have been seen as absurd by a random music fan at the time.

They famously drove through a blizzard to go audition at a studio in 1961 and were told that their style would never be popular by the head of talent acquisition.

He was dead wrong, and they soon were picked up by Parlophone, going on to superstardom.

17) Sylvester Stallone, actor

Sylvester Stallone is famous as an action star, but he’s also a talented writer, director and painter.

His road to the top was extremely difficult and he grew up in poor conditions with people doubting him.

He was mocked for his way of talking and lifted a broom handle with cinder blocks on it for weights.

He dreamed of being an actor and went all around New York for years trying to catch a break. He got nothing and even had to sell his beloved dog for $25.

At one point he had no home and slept in the bus station, but he never gave up and wrote the script for Rocky.

This was finally his break. But agents said his condition that he be the star was a no-go, so he held out, eventually taking far less than the first offer.

In the end, the film – starring him – was a massive success. Stallone’s belief in himself and refusal to back down paid off big time and won everyone’s heart on and offscreen.

18) Charlie Chaplin, comedian

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Charlie Chaplin is a renowned comedian of the past century who grew up in less than comedic circumstances.

He was extremely impoverished as a youngster and his dad left the family when he was only two.

By age 7, Charlie lived in a poorhouse where they had basic food to eat and two years later his mom was put in a psychiatric facility for her mental health problems.

It was a horrible start to life, but Chaplin didn’t let it sap his spirit for the comedic.

He kept joking and prancing around despite the horror of his early life, and he went on to become one of the most iconic funny men of all time.

19) Peter Dinklage, actor

If you’ve seen Game of Thrones or a number of other fine films such as the fine 2003 film The Station Agent, then you’ve seen Peter Dinklage at work.

This talented actor has won a devoted following for his sheer power on screen.

But for many years he was underestimated and dismissed due to having dwarfism.

He was seen as only a joke actor suited for gag parts of laughs. He even took side jobs such as spreadsheet work in order to turn down things like being a leprechaun in an alcohol ad.

After never giving up and making himself known as a serious dramatist in The Station Agent, Dinklage was eventually cast as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones.

20) Babe Ruth, home run hitter

Babe Ruth is famous for one reason: hitting home runs.

What’s less well known is all the times he didn’t hit home runs.

The point is that Babe Ruth went to bat a hell of a lot, and he had a very high amount of strikeouts. In fact, despite his 714 career home runs, he also had 1,330 career strikeouts.

That’s a lot of misses, folks.

There was actually a long era where Babe Ruth had the strikeout record, not just the home run record.

His quote on this issue is perfect, however:

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

21) Lily Rice, paralympian

Lily Rice is a paralympian from Wales, UK.

She’s not world-famous – not yet – but she deserves to be.

Since birth, 13-year-old Lily has had spastic paraplegia which makes it difficult to walk or run.

That hasn’t made her give up and she’s a competitor in Wheelchair Motocross, recently landing a successful backflip.

She’s very encouraging to other athletes and is a perfect example of never giving up even when life gives you setbacks and starting disadvantages.

22) Chris Pratt, actor

Chris Pratt is another successful star who had to fall to the very bottom before he rose up.

Pratt had a very hard time making his way to the top and eventually ended up sleeping in a van at 19 in Hawaii.

He was working in a restaurant at the time and had so little money that he ate leftovers from customers in order to survive.

There’s a reason that there are so many of these hard-luck stories with celebrities and others: because that’s often the kind of struggles people go through before major success.

Pratt is a devout Christian and hardworking actor who always maintains a positive attitude.

He’s always encouraging others and has made it clear that no matter what it takes, it’s always worth doing your best and leaving the rest to God.

23) Ludwig von Beethoven

Beethoven wrote some amazing music, but he had a very hard life.

He grew up playing violin and was terrible. He also wasn’t very into it, at least at first.

He kept up with music and eventually started writing as well, eventually going on to write the compositions we all know and love.

Most of all, Beethoven did most of his most notable work while he couldn’t hear a thing and was deaf.

24) Stephen Hawking, scientist

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Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest scientific minds who’s ever lived.

However, Hawking had a very difficult life due to his early diagnosis at age 21 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

At first, doctors said Hawking wouldn’t last more than a year or two anyway.

But he lasted many more years, going on to live to 76 and writing 15 books that expanded everyone’s ideas of physics, astronomy and the universe we live in.

Hawking never gave up when he was handed a death sentence or forced to communicate through eye movements.

Instead, he doubled down on the work he was doing and succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

As Hawking said:

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist.

“Be curious.”

25) Jack London, writer

Jack London was an incredible writer who was born in 1876 and died in 1916.

Growing up I couldn’t get enough of his books like White Fang and The Call of the Wild.

London had a very hard life, however. His mom tried to kill herself when she got pregnant due to pressure to have an abortion from her abusive husband William Chaney.

London grew up adopted and loved writing at university, but attempts to reconnect with his family were rejected and his dad even denied being his dad.

London was devastated and moved to the north to the Klondike to be alone, after which he started writing about the experiences.

This wasn’t just a pipe dream: London wrote 1,000 words a day no matter what. Publishers said it was junk but he kept trying.

At age 23 he got published for the first time and by 27 he was a major national success with the publication of The Call of the Wild.

Finding your inner resilience

Do you know what holds people back the most in achieving what they want? A lack of resilience. 

Without resilience, it’s extremely hard to overcome all the setbacks that come with success. Look at all the examples above! They didn’t reach success the first time around, it took years of resilience to reach the lives they have now.

I know this because until recently I had a tough time overcoming a few hurdles holding me back. I had little direction and not much hope for the future.

That was until I watched the free video by life coach Jeanette Brown

Through many years of experience, Jeanette has found a unique secret to building a resilient mindset, using a method so easy you’ll kick yourself for not trying it sooner. 

And the best part?

Jeanette, unlike other coaches, focuses on putting you in control of your life. Living a life with passion and purpose is possible, but it can only be achieved with a certain drive and mindset. 

To find out what the secret to resiliency is, check out her free video here

Your inner champion is just waiting to be discovered.

Let’s make this a list of 25 into a list of 26 in the near future.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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