Famous failures? – There are any number of sanctimonious motivational proverbs about opportunity disguised as failure -- and, well, they often happen to be true. Just look at the lives of the following "failures" who, through determination and hard work, are now renowned for their achievements.
Abraham Lincoln – Two years before being elected president, Lincoln lost a Senate race to Stephen Douglas. As president, Lincoln was unpopular, even reviled, and it wasn't until after Gen. William T. Sherman took Atlanta in September 1864 that his re-election was assured.
Henry Ford – The auto magnate was a noted tinkerer of gasoline engines before going into business, but business did not start well. His first auto company went bankrupt; he left the second after clashing with a consultant. The third firm became the Ford Motor Co. we know today.
Winston Churchill – The World War II-era British prime minister struggled in grade school, was widely criticized as Chancellor of the Exchequer and spent many years in the political wilderness after being pushed out of government in 1929 -- not even his party wanted him back. He returned to government just after Germany's invasion of Poland and became prime minister in 1940. He was defeated in the 1945 elections but became prime minister again in 1951.
Fred Astaire – Though a successful dancer -- he and his sister Adele were stage stars -- his talent didn't immediately translate to Hollywood. According to legend, his screen test was dismissed with the criticism, "Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little." The quote might be apocryphal, but the screen test was, apparently, terrible. Thanks to his charm and a fortuitous pairing with Ginger Rogers, however, he went on to decades of film success.
Dr. Seuss – The author's first attempt at a children's book, "And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street," reportedly was rejected by at least 27 publishers before being picked up by Vanguard Press.
Conan O'Brien – His first stint as a late-night host was initially greeted by scathing reviews and little network confidence. More than 15 years later, he was very publicly let go from "The Tonight Show." The latter event prompted intense sleepless nights. O'Brien, however, bounced back with a comedy tour and now stays awake on his TBS late-night show, "Conan." (TBS, like CNN, is a unit of Time Warner.)
Steve Jobs – The Apple founder found himself unceremoniously removed from the computer firm in 1985. He was 30. "What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating," he said in his famous 2005 Stanford University commencement speech.
J.K. Rowling – The "Harry Potter" author was an unemployed single mother, recently separated, who worked on the series' first book in Edinburgh, Scotland, cafes to escape a chilly apartment. Her first try at an agent led to her manuscript being returned so quickly the pages "must have been sent back the same day they arrived," she wrote. "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," as it was called in the United Kingdom, was rejected by at least nine publishers.
George Clooney – His early years in Hollywood included the films "Red Surf" and "Return of the Killer Tomatoes," the TV series "Baby Talk" and "Sunset Beat," and at least 15 failed pilots. He was 33 when "ER" took off.