Five Failures (That Actually Led to Success)

August 10, 2015

Five failures that led to success

“Everyone fails.”

“Don’t be afraid to fail!”

“Get to failing!!!”

Okay, so let’s say that after hearing your mentors repeat this phrase until their faces turned blue, you finally listened—you took a chance, you went after one of your goals…and you failed. Now you’re at the bottom of the hole you’ve dug, looking back up at us like, YO, guysI did it! That was fun! Now throw me a line!

After an epic failure, how do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and turn your life around? Well…and hear us out here….sometimes you don’t. Sometimes, you just have to keep on digging until you eventually hit China.

Here are our five favorite examples of Roadtrip Nation leaders who encountered major failures, yet kept on pushing until they hit paydirt:


David Neeleman, founder, jetBlue Airways

The Canning: In 1994, Neeleman landed his “dream job” working under his idol at Southwest Airlines. Five months later, the CEO took David out to a nice steak lunch and personally fired him. Reason given: Neeleman had a habit of loudly and passionately lecturing his superiors on all of the ways the airline wasn’t living up to its full potential.

The Comeback: Because living a good life is the best revenge, Neeleman took all of that loud enthusiasm and put it into founding a new airline, jetBlue (HEARD OF IT?), now one of Southwest’s biggest competitors.

Ben Zander, conductor, Boston Philharmonic

The Bomb: Zander’s first music compositions were deemed unfit for judging in a local competition. And by “deemed unfit,” we mean the judge literally stood up and said to the crowd, “This kid’s music is soooo bad, he should never, ever write music again.” Oh, btw, Ben was nine years old at the time. Ouch. Hey, hey, don’t cry for little Ben just yet—after that judge went all Simon Cowell on him, Zander’s creative compositions found their way into the hands of Benjamin Britten, one of the most famous 20th-century composers. You know the rest: he was taken on as Britten’s protege, became the youngest member of Great Britain’s National Youth Orchestra, founded an esteemed American philharmonic orchestra, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Craig Brewer, director/screenwriter, Hustle and Flow

The Flop: In his first attempt to make “the great American movie,” he ended up shooting $30,000 worth of film that was so bad, it never even saw the light of day. Literally, it’s still sitting undeveloped in storage somewhere.

The Flow: After coming dangerously close to giving up the dream, Brewer decided to reshoot the movie on an even smaller scale, using his home as his set, his family as his extras, and capturing it all on a digital camera. The resulting film made a splash at a Hollywood festival, and helped him network with the big shots who would later produce Hustle and Flow.

Jeff Adams, Paralympic gold medalist

The Gaffe: Going into the final turn of his first race at the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic Games, Adams was in a breakaway with two other athletes. “This is it,” he thought. “Three medals, three of usthis is the best day of my life.” Except that it wasn’t—Jeff hadn’t properly checked his wheelchair before the race, and as he approached the finish line, his right wheel broke.

The Gold: Jeff ditched his broken chair and limped through the rest of the race, finishing in last, but finishing nonetheless. Four years later, he’d learned his lesson, and he brought two gold medals home from the Atlanta Games…some pretty sick souvenirs, if we do say ourselves.

Dave McGillivray, director, Boston Marathon

The Collapse: He didn’t just “not finish” his first attempt at the Boston Marathonhe literally collapsed at mile 16 and had to be taken to the hospital. After that catastrophe, he put in a little more effort over the following year…and because of the stomach flu, he had to sit down at mile 21.

The Change-Up: OH WAIT, you thought that just because Dave sat down, he wasn’t gonna finish that race? Nahhhafter getting a miraculous second wind, he finished his first marathon and was officially hooked. He’s run the Boston Marathon every single year since—an insanely impressive total of 42 times.

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