You Think You’re a Failure in Life? So What?

You Think You’re a Failure in Life? So What?

We all have that feeling now and then, don’t we? You know, the (usually loud) voice that says, “You’re a failure! Give this up!”

Or is it just me?

Because lord knows I’ve thought that many times.

I work in a fairly brutal industry. Publishing is just unforgiving when it comes to selling fiction to Traditional houses. I’m not talking about the self-publishing craze, but the way of producing books the old-fashioned way—where your manuscript sells to a publisher, who pays you an advance, undertakes all the costs, and then pays royalties.

You know, the way it once was exclusively done.

It’s always been exceedingly tough to sell to a Traditional publisher, and I’ve been blessed in that area. And with the digital revolution over the last decade and a half, it’s gotten even more incredibly difficult.

What once was a literal million-to-one shot is now more like 3-million-to-one.

a million to one shot

It’s not difficult to feel like a failure here.

I bet your industry is tough as well. Many who read this are bloggers, trying to succeed in a huge market. The latest statistic I could find said that 6.7MM people publish blogs on blogging websites, and another 12MM write blogs using their social networks.

And that was from an article that listed 45 reasons to blog!

Still, that’s a lot of folks out there trying to get messages out.

And I’m not even sure I know what “successful blog” translates to.

Many, many professions are tough to succeed in. And that doesn’t even mean being at the top of the pyramid, but merely finding success in the middle.

We all begin starry-eyed. And none of us likes to fail.

But no matter what you aspire to, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Absolutely no one succeeds all the time.

But no matter what you aspire to, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

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And if you’ve failed, you’re in good company.

Don’t you always love those stories about famous folks who failed a zillion times before they succeeded?

And aren’t their takes on it eye-openers?

I always loved that Thomas Edison quote, when asked if he felt like a failure after so many tries that didn’t work.​

“Why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up? I now know definitely over 9,000 ways an electric lightbulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” ~Edison

Okay, I have to admit, I haven’t tried anything 9,000 times.

And I’m fairly happy that Edison didn’t quit!

Or how about Walt Disney, who was fired by the editor in 1919 from his job at the Kansas City Star paper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

When I wrote my first novel, of course I believed it was brilliant (all writers do!). And of course, I had a lot to learn. As one editor’s rejection read: “Your infelicitous word choices turned me off.”

Ouch! I can’t really think of a worse criticism for a writer.

do you think that you are a failure?

And yep, I saved that one.

But, I got better and my third novel was published by a nice Traditional Literary press.

Famous rejections in publishing are legion. They are everywhere, but again, publishing is what I know.

Here are just a few of my favorite rejections:

1. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before a publisher said yes. It sold 30 million copies.

2. One publisher said of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead: “Unsaleable and unpublishable.” Random House took a chance and it sold 7 million copies in the US alone.

3. Twenty-four literary agencies turned down Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. The 25th agency took him on, and a week later it sold for 1 million smackers.

4. When Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching,” she refused to give up on her dream. Little Women went on to sell millions of copies, and is still in print today.

I could go on and on and on and on with these. When I said these rejections—and perceived failures—were legion, that’s not even close to the reality!

They all make me laugh, all bolster my courage. One that tickles me on all levels is: “Nobody will want to read a book about a seagull.” Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull has sold over 44 million copies.

So, where were the real failures?

In all walks of life, we can cite these sorts of stories. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mary Kay Ash, Oprah Winfrey, Colonel Sanders, Henry Ford, Abraham Lincoln. Shoot, just to list all the famous failures would take all day.

It is often said that your greatest success is just one more step beyond failure. But we want to see that success, no? To realize it. Preferably now.

I love the teachings of Abraham Hicks, and one I grapple with often is that of living in the success of the thing you seek. That when the desire is launched, you’re already on the journey toward it.

The thing that holds you back is focusing on what isn’t there yet. And the point is, to focus on what you want.

It keeps me motivated. Keeps me striving for that brass ring. Keeps me writing.

So if you feel like a failure, so what? You’re in awfully good company.

And why do we know these stories? Because these folks didn’t quit.

As Michael Jordan famously said:

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

What keeps you going after failure?

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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54 comments
valmg @ Mom Knows It All says September 7, 2016

I have always found that success and failure are different things to different people. For example your mention of the term successful blog, what makes it successful or not is what the writer’s goal is.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    So true, Val. We all have different goals, no? And success is so very individual.

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Cyndi says September 7, 2016

I needed to read this today! Thank you! I’m actually trying to make it in a new a emerging industry and have had my fair share of failures along the way. Being on the cutting edge of a new field like virtual reality is just as difficult as trying to make it in a saturated market like blogging. Just got to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There are no failing experiences, only learning experiences.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    Being on the cutting edge sure gives you opportunities to find out what doesn’t work! You go, Cyndi! Sending you tons of success!

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andrea says September 7, 2016

Failure has taught be so much more than my successes! Super post. I love the rejection list too; glad those people didn’t give up

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    Failure has taught me more than success as well, Andrea. And whenever I get discouraged, that quote about the seagull always makes me laugh. And more importantly, to dive back into the game.

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Lisa Swanson says September 7, 2016

I have a daughter who is a writer, currently working on her first novel, and she gets discouraged just thinking about trying to get published! It’s certainly a tough market.

I’m not a writer, but as a fitness expert, I find in incredibly difficult to be heard out in cyber world. There are so many free offers when it comes to workouts and nutrition it’s making it quite easy to fail.

I’ll keep plugging away though! Thanks for the great article.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    Cyberspace is such a crowded world, Lisa. I think it’s tough to be heard out there in any field! But we keep plugging, no? And send those quotes to your daughter!

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Kathy @ SMART Living 365 says September 7, 2016

Hi Susan! Oh you know I love this post, don’t you? And I think you also know that I love Abraham-Hicks. My favorite quote from her/he/them is “Things are always working out for you.” Isn’t it nice to live that way? And to live knowing that even if something doesn’t turn out the way we expected it (like a mistake or “failure”) it always leads to something even better. And maybe, just maybe that is what I call grace! Thanks for these excellent reminders! ~Kathy

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    I love that Abraham quote too, Kathy! It now immediately comes to mind when something didn’t go as planned. There’s a blessing in everything, including perceived failures. And I LOVE your blog on Grace!

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Reba Linker says September 7, 2016

I’m with you 100% here, Susan. And how about Oprah Winfrey, who was told not to talk to the customers at her first job (in a store, I believe) – lol. It’s funny how people seem to be criticized for precisely their talent.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    That’s a great point, Reba–people are criticized for their precise talents! Now, that’s just tweaking me.

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Sabrina Quairoli says September 7, 2016

After failure, I lick my wounds just for a bit. Figure out what I did wrong and what needs to change and start up again. I believe life and my business are continuous works in progress.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    I love that, Sabrina. And works in progress are, by definition, a bit messy, no?

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Tamuria says September 7, 2016

Love this article Susan. I keep putting off getting into a book project and I’m sure the top reason is that if I don’t finish it I won’t have to put up with the inevitable rejection from publishers. You have to be like Dory and just keep swimming, otherwise, you go nowhere. Yes, we do need stories like this to remember that failures are stepping stones to success.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    Now that’s one I can surely understand, Tamuria 🙂 Rejections in writing are perpetual. From agents to publishers, and then once the book is out, reviewers as well. It’s not that you ever get used to it, but that sure rolls off my shoulders more easily now!

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Neely Moldovan says September 7, 2016

I think just proving myself wrong keeps me going. Failure is important!

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Jolina says September 7, 2016

Who was it who said that the only true time you fail at something is when you don’t try at all. That’s what I go by I guess. And enjoying the journey. I mean, failing sucks (and I’m pretty competitive) but I figure, if I’m happy doing what I do, well that’s not such a bad thing at all.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    That’s the absolute truth, Jolina. If you’re not failing, you ain’t tryin’. And ah, isn’t loving what you do just the bees!

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maria @closetohome says September 7, 2016

It is true failure is subjective and one should not focus on that . I love the quotes you used in this article.

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    So true, Maria. Failure is just part of the process–unless you focus on it.

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Beverley Golden says September 7, 2016

Thanks for the reminder in this post that we often don’t see how many failures are behind someone’s success. What keeps me going might be called stubborn persistence and a desire to see what is possible in the face of being told something is impossible. I do get discouraged, but then I guess that goes along with being human. I’ve been living one dream and have been visualizing it for decades it seems. If Abraham Hicks is right…it can only be a matter of time until it comes to fruition! It’s a lovely thought and yet I also know that the success you envision still has to be aligned with your soul’s purpose, and if not, well it might not be something that manifests in this lifetime. Living it the success is still a great motivator to keep going and to keep moving in the direction of what matters to you. Thanks Susan for the wonderful post!

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    Susan Malone says September 7, 2016

    That’s a great point, Beverley–living the success is a great motivator! It helps me get off the mat, dust off my backside, and stride out again when I fall. Discouragement does come, but by keeping my eyes on the prize, it falls away so much more quickly. Or maybe I’m just a bit stubborn too 🙂

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Chelley @ A is For Adelaide says September 7, 2016

That list of failures gave me some real hope. If we just keep pushing ahead and WE believe in ourselves, there are no boundaries!

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Rachel Lavern says September 7, 2016

I love the reminders here in your post Susan!

When someone tells me that they think they are a failure, I remind them that failure does not mean anything. Failure might sting—but it tells us absolutely nothing about our talent or our future.

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Liz Mays says September 8, 2016

Failure hurts a lot, but it’s through those bumps we learn the most. We’ll be better than ever, right?

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Nicole Escat says September 8, 2016

I failed so many times but that doesn’t matter! What matters to me is the lesson that I learned every time I failed.

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Roslyn Tanner Evans says September 8, 2016

I certainly don’t have the results for our business that it appears it deserves, nor the organic readership for our blog (and we work so hard on them) but I don’t call any of it failure. I must admit disappointment slows me up for 24 hours, but it is not in my DNA to not keep going. Instead, we tear the covers off to examine what else is needed, alter course & keep charting.

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    Susan Malone says September 8, 2016

    And isn’t that the perfect prescription, Roz. Finding what isn’t going as planned. Figuring out how to fix it. And plunging back in!

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Teresa Salhi says September 8, 2016

Great examples of why failures are not really failures – if we choose to them as in a ‘life advancing, personal evolving and success inducing’ perspective. The book Think and Grow Rich always shares some wonderful examples of this too – which includes the story of Edison that you mention. It’s about our journey too right? Look at what we learn about life and ourselves when we keep going for our dreams. Thank you for the inspiration too keep going, facing our challenges and keeping our heart focused on success.

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    Susan Malone says September 8, 2016

    Exactly, Teresa–oh, what we learn about ourselves and life when we keep going for our dreams! Well said.

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Kimberly says September 8, 2016

It has taken me a while to be able to look at each failure as a necessary step toward my success, and I still forget! I need to learn from it, put it behind me as quickly as possible, and move on!

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    Susan Malone says September 9, 2016

    It takes some of us longer than others, Kimberly–which I know intimately! But the only thing that matters is getting it, no matter when 🙂

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Lori English says September 9, 2016

A great article that really points out that we all make mistakes, as long as we keep trying I feel that we can make . I liked the part about MIchael Jordon. Thank You!
Lori English

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    Susan Malone says September 9, 2016

    I’ve always loved that Michael Jordon quote too, Lori. We always think of him as so successful (which he is). How often he failed sure puts this in perspective for me!

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Joyce Hansen says September 9, 2016

Describing ourselves as failures is one of the most negative things we can do to ourselves. Rather, I’ve learned so much from failures. I’m always surprised that people are surprised and wonder how I can have such a wealth of experience. For me, failure is really about gaining experience that no one else can give you.

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    Susan Malone says September 9, 2016

    That is perfect, Joyce: “failure is really about gaining experience that no one else can give you.” How true is that. No one has walked in our shoes. No one has gained the individual experience that each of us have. Isn’t that the coolest thing!

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Joan M Harrington says September 9, 2016

Hi Susan 🙂

Really thought-provoking post! I can not tell you HOW many times I have wanted to quit this whole online thing! But I know that this is what I am meant to do, so I keep dusting myself off and getting back up and just keep going because I know I will find success as long as I NEVER EVER QUIT 🙂 Patience comes to mind and that is something I struggle with daily!

Thanks for sharing!!

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    Susan Malone says September 12, 2016

    I know the feeling, Joan. Sometimes the slog is just long. But as I remind myself in those times, it’s not over until you quit! You go, girl!

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Carol Rundle says September 9, 2016

I think that your reason why is the reason why you can continue after a failure. You have to completely believe in your mission or you will give up.

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    Susan Malone says September 12, 2016

    So true, Carol. And once we DO believe in our mission, we keep trudging on!

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Jackie Harder says September 12, 2016

What keeps me going after failure is knowing that failure is only permanent if you give up. There are always new pathways to explore.

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Sharon M Hart says September 13, 2016

Thank you for sharing the names of successful people who have experienced failure. It is encouraging to know that there are “a cloud of witnesses who have run the race before us.” Experience has taught me that not succeeding on one path is the impetus to travel along another.

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    Susan Malone says September 14, 2016

    Love that, Sharon! “a cloud of witnesses who have run the race before us.” Just beautiful!

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Jennifer Quisenberry says September 14, 2016

This brings back so many memories. I used to work at a talent agency. Oh, these conversations weren’t fun. But I have so many great stories of talented people who just kept knocking on doors until they finally got that one yes that made all the difference! Keep going! Fail up!

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    Susan Malone says September 15, 2016

    I bet you DO have stories, Jennifer! And how cool to have a front-row seat of turning failure into success. I just love: “Fail up!” Am gonna put that on my computer monitor!

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Alene A Geed says December 2, 2016

great post. I loved the part about Gone with the Wind being rejected so many times. Many years ago my father tried to get his book of famous quotes published.. but to no avail. No publishing house was interested. Finally he decided to get it printed himself (unheard of in those days) and marketed it to many publications. It became a reference tool for Toastmasters. We should never give up on what we feel is right for us.

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    Susan Malone says December 2, 2016

    What a great story, Alene! And I can see how your father’s story influenced your grit!

    Reply
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