Failure to Success

By Joeel Rivera

I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.—Thomas Edison, addressing his thousands of failed attempts at creating a light bulb

Somewhere along the line, most of us have learned that failure is something negative, that we should avoid it, and that we should strive for perfection. However, the opposite is true. Failure is one of the biggest keys to our success because if we never failed, we probably have not tried to accomplish anything monumental in our life.

If you want to make achievements outside of your comfort zone then you have to be willing to fail. Successful people are eager to do things they’re not already good at.

The best way to embrace failure is to realize that the greatest contributors to our society, whether in sports, entertainment, technology, science, the arts, or any other field you can think of, were all professional failures at one time. In other words, they failed their way to success. Failure taught them valuable lessons that enabled them to gain experience and knowledge.

Imagine if when you were learning how to walk or how to read you had just given up on the goal because you didn’t get it right the first time. Imagine if your parents or teachers had said, “Well, he tried, and that’s what counts…She’s obviously not succeeding at this, so she might as well give up.” They did not do this. Why? Because they knew that through every fall you learned how to gain more balance until you perfected the art of walking. The same thing happened with reading. So why is it we’re so quick to give up and consider ourselves a “failure” as adults?

Failing is not the problem. Not learning and growing because of it is the problem.

Einstein states, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By this definition, we can conclude that we have many people in the world that are living in insanity by refusing to learn from their failures and just reliving them over and over again in different forms. For example, when working with people, we often see patterns, such as individuals recreating the same negative relationship with new partners, getting into another job they hate, or finding themselves in the same financial struggles as they did in the past. The problem is not that they failed but that they weren’t learning the lessons and subsequently growing.

When you fail, take the time to reflect and learn to make the changes that will lead to your eventual success. More importantly, do not see it as a negative, but instead see it as a stepping stone to your eventual success. Below, we will look at stories of well-known individuals who have gone from failure to success. If they can do it, so can you.

Soichiro Honda

Honda Corporation started with one man making a decision and following his passion and desire until he achieved a result. He labored day and night trying to create a new piston ring technology with the goal of getting Toyota to buy his product. After two years of trying, they turned him down. He went back to school and was ridiculed for his ideas, but he kept going. Two years later, Toyota gave him the contract. He would need to build a factory to fulfill the orders, but the Japanese government was going into war and wouldn’t give him the concrete he needed to build. But he didn’t let it get him down…He developed a way to make his own concrete and he built the factory anyway.

During the war his factory was bombed twice, and, finally, an earthquake leveled it. Anyone else would have quit, but not Honda. After the war there was a gas shortage. He attached a small motor to his bike to get around, and soon neighbors were asking if he could make them a “motorized bike.” He ran out of motors and then had to build a plant to make more. He didn’t have the money, but he wrote to the bicycle shops in the country and got them to invest. He created the famous “Super Cub,” earned the “emperor’s award,” and then started exporting the vehicles to Europe. In the 1970s, he began making cars, and now Honda employs 200,000 people and is the 2nd largest foreign seller of cars in the United States.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney, one of the most creative geniuses of the 20th century, was once fired from a newspaper because he was told he “lacked creativity.” However, he continued and formed his first animation company, called Laugh-O-Gram Films. He was able to raise $15,000 to begin the venture, but eventually he failed when he lost a critical distributing partner. He was left broke and desperate and ended up in Hollywood where he continued to fail in other ventures. In fact, throughout this whole process he experience three nervous breakdowns. However, he continued with his dream and took away lessons from each failure until his first “now-classic” films started to skyrocket, which gave him the foundation to create an entertainment empire.

Milton Hershey

Everyone knows Hershey’s chocolate today. However, Milton Hershey had a humble beginning. He was fired from an apprenticeship with a printer, after which he started his first a candy venture. He failed with his first three candy companies. Time and time again, he found himself desperate and broke, but he focused on his dream and continued to try. It was not until he created the Lancaster Caramel Company that he found success. He eventually founded the Hershey Company and became one of the most well-known names in the industry with his milk chocolate. Through his failures, Hershey learned what people did not want, and so he then knew exactly what he needed to create—and he did it, which made him wildly successful.

Thomas Edison

Edison was both hearing impaired and fidgety, and only lasted three months in school. Teachers told his parents that he was “too stupid to learn anything.” As a result, he was homeschooled by his mother. As an adult, he became an inventor who failed literally thousands of times. In fact, he failed more than 1,000 times just creating the light bulb. However, every time he failed he saw it as an opportunity to learn, stating that he “just learned 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.” His ability to see failure as a way to learn the small changes he needed to make for his inventions to work is what made Thomas Edison one of the best-known and most impactful inventors in history.

Colonel Harland David Sanders

Late in his career, after being fired from dozens of jobs, Sanders traveled across the country trying to sell his chicken recipe to restaurants. He went to more than 1,000 restaurants until he finally got a “yes.” From that one, long-awaited success, Sanders grew his company, KFC, to become a worldwide business with more than 18,000 locations.

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers. However, he did not stop submitting his work until he found a publisher that could see his vision. He has since sold over 600 million books and is a legendary children’s author, known around the world.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford had several failed automotive companies. People ridiculed him for believing that his idea would become a success. Time and time again he found himself broke, but each time he would pick himself up and try again. He was willing to risk everything to change the world with his vision of automobiles for the masses, which he achieved.

The list goes on and on of people who have overcome failure and challenges in their life in order to realize their dreams.

Note: It is not that they succeeded even though they failed; it is that they succeeded because they failed.

You can probably look back at your life and see how what seemed to be a failure actually turned out to be a great opportunity. As you reach for your dreams and you are faced with challenges or failures along the way, remember to look for the lessons and see them as the necessary stepping stones that they are.

Ask yourself:

What led to this failure?

What can I learn from this?

How can I apply what I learned in my future actions and decisions?

What good came from this?

Think of a time in your life that you failed at something or a time that you experienced extreme change and/or pain. Then, consider how that situation created a learning experience or shift that lead you to success or to something that added value to your life. Ask yourself, what are you most proud of having accomplished? And then ask yourself, what specific challenges (big and small) you have overcome? Pay special attention to the ones that initially felt insurmountable to accomplish.

Take time to celebrate your failures as you ring in the New Year. May they serve as your valuable teachers and move your closer to realizing your dreams!

Joeel A Rivera, M.Ed., is a visionary, entrepreneur, and motivational speaker. From an early age, Joeel faced adversity, including immigrating to the United States, failing his freshman year of college, losing his brother, and being in a nearly fatal car accident. These experiences inspired him to return to college, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Education and is currently completing his dissertation for his Ph.D. in Psychology, with an emphasis on happiness. Joeel opened a non-profit teen center in honor of his brother and developed curriculums for the Juvenile Justice System. In almost a decade, Joeel has reached over ten thousand people as an educator, entrepreneur, speaker, and consultant. Visit

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