16 Extraordinarily Successful People Who Failed Miserably Before They Made It

If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again. List inspired by these answers on Quora.

1. Will Smith’s life got flip turned upside down when he owed the IRS $2.8 million in taxes in 1989.

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

In 1990, he signed with NBC and created The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

2. Vincent van Gogh only sold ONE painting out of 900 in his life, Red Vineyard at Arles.

van Gogh / gaelle_kermen / Creative Commons / quora.com

He is one of the most recognized artists today. Also, he only removed a portion of his ear, not the whole thing.

3. Lady Gaga got dropped by a major record label after only three months.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

As of 2013, she’s sold about 125 million singles. She deserves that applause, applause, applause.

4. Sidney Poitier was brutally rejected by the American Negro Theater for his Bahamian accent and difficulty reading.

The Evening Standard / Getty Images / quora.com

He became a dishwasher as he practiced his accent and reading. Six months later, he was accepted by the theater and went on to be the first black man to win an Oscar.

5. Michelle Yeoh’s dreams of being a ballerina were crushed by a spinal injury.

Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

She went on to play the most BADASS Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies and was nominated for a BAFTA for her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

6. Steven Spielberg was denied by USC’s prestigious film school not once, but twice.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images / quora.com

USC named him an honorary alumni in ‘94 and dedicated a building to him as a thank you for his donations. Ah, sweet revenge.

7. In her lifetime, Emily Dickinson published fewer than a dozen of her 1,800 poems.

Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers / Wikimedia Commons

Allegedly agoraphobic, she was a shut-in for most of her adult life. Her complete works were published posthumously. A feminist icon, she has inspired millions of teenagers to write angsty poetry.

8. As a sophomore, Michael Jordan was rejected from his high school’s varsity basketball team.

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images / quora.com

But now, he is literally the most famous basketball player of all time.

9. Lisa Kudrow was cast as the original Roz in Frasier, but cut shortly after.

Araya Diaz / Getty Images

Kudrow rebounded with Friends a year later, which just wouldn’t have been the same without Phoebe’s rendition of “Smelly Cat.”

10. Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was refused by 27 publishers.

Ron Galella, Ltd. / WireImage

In his lifetime, he published more than 60 books. Also, the first book he ever illustrated was called The Pocket Book of Boners. Um, yeah.

11. Ang Lee failed Taiwan’s college entrance exam TWICE.

Evan Agostini / Getty Images

He enrolled in a three-year art college instead, and became a director. In fact, to date, Lee has won three Academy Awards, three BAFTA awards, three Golden Globes, and more.

12. At 18, Frida Kahlo was in a car accident that caused her to have more than 30 operations in her lifetime and left her unable to bear children.

She turned to art, creating more than 200 works — namely, her 55 iconic self-portraits, which have immortalized her gorgeous unibrow.

13. Allegedly, Bruno Mars was passed over by a music industry exec because he wasn’t white.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

According to Bruno Mars, the executive wanted Mars’ song “Nothin’ On You” for a white singer. Mars performed at this year’s Super Bowl. The industry exec probably feels real dumb now.

14. Winston Churchill lost his first campaign for Parliament.

Getty Images / quora.com

Nicknamed “The British Bulldog,” as prime minister he helped orchestrate the Allies’ victory of WWII.

15. Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure-skating team.

Mark Von Holden / Getty Images / Via quora.com

Vera Wang gave up professional skating at 19 as a result and began a career in fashion. Today, she’s a major figure in the bridal gown industry and her retail empire is valued over $1 billion.

16. And Oprah Winfrey was fired from Baltimore’s WJZ-TV for being too “emotionally involved” with the stories she reported.

Stephen J. Boitano / Getty Images / Via quora.com

What? Oprah would be nothing without her emotions, as proven by The Oprah Winfrey Show. As of 2013, her net worth is approximately $2.9 billion.

Correction: Hattie McDaniel won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1939 for Gone with the Wind. An earlier version of this post said Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win an Oscar. He was the first black actor to win a competitive Oscar for a leading role.

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