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Failure Lessons|18 August 2022

Real-life success stories that will inspire children to overcome failure

Written by Avantika Bahuguna
An ex-journalist and editor, Avantika Bahuguna is a popular mom influencer based in Mumbai with a decade of experience in parenting and community building. She has hosted 100 plus parenting sessions online and otherwise and was a co-host on the digital parenting show Nine Months that was telecast across Network 18 digital platforms and Voot.

Haven’t we all heard or read the popular saying – “failure is the stepping stone to success”? Then why is it considered taboo to discuss failure in front of our kids? Time and again, we are told and retold stories of superheroes, legendary warriors, mythological characters and Gods and Goddesses who were so mighty that perhaps we believe that they were born to only succeed and nothing else. 

Such is the impact of these stories on our minds that as kids we start feeling that we can only achieve success in whatever we do if, and only if, we have some kind of supernatural power or unless we are better than the best. Somehow, many successful stories of heroes and popular idols highlight only the good part of their journey, conveniently editing out the difficult phases of their stories, oftentimes forgetting the fact that failure is an important part of success. We never teach our kids to overcome failure by narrating stories of inspirational human beings and how their life was not a bed of roses from the start and that they had their fair share of challenges before becoming successful.

This is why we must celebrate and talk about real-life success stories that are filled with failure and rejection with the same gusto and enthusiasm. Today we look at failure-to-success stories of some phenomenal people who have inspired and continue to inspire many generations to come on how they overcame challenges to achieve greatness.

1. JK Rowling

The first failure-to-success story is of JK Rowling– the author and creator of the magical world of Harry Potter. Did you know before she became a global name for her Harry Potter series, JK Rowling struggled to make ends meet as a single mother in England? She was so fed up with surviving on welfare aid that many times she contemplated ending her life in desperation.

“I was the biggest failure I knew and as poor as one can be in England without having to be homeless”, Rowling said while addressing a gathering at Harvard University Commencement Speech in 2008.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone– was born during a train journey from Manchester to London in 1990. Rowling did not even have pen and paper to write down the characters that came to her mind but she kept thinking and imagining during that four-hour journey. Unfortunately, she lost her mother during that same year and the tragic demise halted her writing process for a while. The next two years were even more tumultuous with her getting married, becoming a new mother and then getting separated from her husband because of an abusive relationship. 

It was her time in Scotland with her sister in 1993 that inspired her to write again. During times of despair, Rowling would often get lost in an imaginative world and start thinking of characters who had magical powers and lived in a dreamland. When she was done with the first three chapters of her first book, she submitted it to at least 12 publishers and all of them rejected her book until Bloomsbury, the 13th publisher finally decided to publish it. Talk about all those people who consider 13 to be an unlucky number!

And, rest as they say is history!

Till date, the Harry Potter series has sold more than 450 million copies in 78 languages worldwide and Rowling is known as the most successful literary author of all time. Who would have thought she would come so far after her initial tryst with failure?

2. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

India’s 11th president also known as the missile man of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was an inspiration for many because of his motivational quotes and speeches. His success story from being a newspaper boy to the President of India is the one that motivates many every day to dream big.

However, not many know that before he saw success, Dr APJ Kalam, the famous Indian scientist and President, saw a lot of failures growing up in a poor family of five children in a fishermen’s village in Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu.

Interestingly, one of his most shared quotes is on failure where he said, “Don’t read success stories, you will only get a message. Read failure stories, you will get some ideas to get success.”

Dr Kalam started working at the tender age of 8 as a newspaper boy in the morning to help his family and then would rush to school to attend his classes. Despite a tough childhood, he was always motivated and excited to do new things including studying hard and was known as a bright and diligent student.

Dr Kalam went on to become a scientist in the Indian Space Research Organization and the Defense Research and Development Organization of India. However, Dr Kalam’s first major project at ISRO, the launch of the missile SLV-3, was a big failure, which he often said was “the best management lesson” of his life.
A year later, in 1980, he re-launched the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3), successfully. Thereafter, he went on to launch various missiles and came to be known as the ‘Missile Man of India’. He was the man behind the development of the Prithvi and Agni missiles as well.

In 2002, he was elected as the President of India but still lived as a humble, down-to-earth man from his village in Tamil Nadu. His simplicity and zest for learning made him the most loved and adored President of all time, especially among kids.

3. Steve Jobs

Next up is the super inspiring failure-to-success story of Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs. A college dropout, Jobs founded Apple from his garage when he was only 20 years old along with his friend with a vision to have a computer in the hands of everyone, sparking the PC revolution in the year 1976. 

In the next 10 years, Apple employed around 4000 people and had a turnover of 2 billion dollars. However, soon enough some differences cropped up and the board of directors took a mutual decision to fire Steve Jobs from a company that he had founded! Unbelievable, right?

Jobs was disappointed and depressed but he took failure in his stride and after spending 5-6 months not knowing what to do, he founded two new tech companies –Next and Pixar that went on to be known as the pioneers in technology and filmmaking in America. Soon after, Apple bought Next and Steve Jobs was asked to once again join the company he founded as the CEO.

“This would have not happened if I was not fired from Apple. That incident was like having the most bitter medicine for me. It was bitter, however, it was essential for my well-being. Sometimes in our life, we are attacked by big problems, but we should not lose faith. Only one thing saved me during that time–the love I had for my work. No one job can bring us the success that we do without love,” Jobs said in an excerpt from his biography by Walter Isaacson.

In 2001, Job revolutionized Apple even further by launching the iPod, iTunes and other gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad in the years to come. Interestingly, the “i” before each gadget name stands for “internet”, while some people say it also stands for “imagine”. Whatever it might be, Jobs most definitely created a failure-to-success story that no one would have ever imagined. 

Do share these real-life success stories of these well-known personalities with your kids for they have the power to inspire them to overcome failure without feeling discouraged.

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.

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