Success Lessons from Unusual Sources

You might think that following the example of people who have “made it big” in their careers would give you a boost in the same direction. Sometimes it could, but learning from those who didn’t hit the big-time or from those who did and then lost it all can prove just as instructive.

For instance, you can find a list on Wikipedia of inventors who suffered the extreme failure of being killed in connection with their own inventions! Fortunately, most career challenges don’t carry that level of risk.

From Failure to Career Success

Quite a few people have failed numerous times before they finally achieved noteworthy success. One “failure to success” list I found included people such as the following:

  • Henry Ford: “…his early businesses failed and left him broke five times before he founded the successful Ford Motor Company.”
  • Sochiro Honda: “Honda was turned down by Toyota Motor Corporation for a job after interviewing for a job as an engineer, leaving him jobless for quite some time. He started making scooters of his own at home, and spurred on by his neighbors, finally started his own business.”
  • Albert Einstein: “Most of us take Einstein’s name as synonymous with genius, but he didn’t always show such promise. Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social.”

And from Career Success to Failure

Robert Ripley, the originator of the “Believe It or Not” concept, went from being a penniless kid to a millionaire during the Great Depression. He did it because he had a talent for cartooning and a passion for being the best at what he did, plus a good insight into what people wanted to buy. That was the success part of his story. On the other hand, he died at the age of 59 because he spent more time working and drinking than he used to on keeping in good physical shape.

Other sad stories abound. For example, “celebrity photographer [Annie] Leibovitz may have gotten up close and personal with everyone from John and Yoko to the first family…, but she couldn’t seem to focus on her finances. By 2009, she was in such dire straits that she had to put up some major collateral….”

Success Lessons to be Learned

I think most realistic people understand that they’re going to have to work to become successful in their careers, but that’s not the whole story. A key point, from my perspective, is that if you consider success to be something you can achieve and maintain regardless of what you do from then on, you’re kidding yourself. There’s a lot more to it than that.

You could lose everything at some point or, at best, discover that it wasn’t as satisfying as you thought it would be when you started. You could fail many times without achieving success, but still succeed if you keep trying and do it smartly.

Surrounding yourself with the wrong people can stand in the way of success or take it away from you. By wrong people, I mean those who flatter you into believing you’re better than you are, who build you up for their own benefit, who don’t tell you honestly when you’re being a jerk, and so on.

On the other hand, building a strong network of people who genuinely want you to succeed can make a huge difference between your success and failure.

The choice is usually yours.

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