Failure Breeds Success Essay

Posted on by Gat

Long before the iPhone made him the god of gadgets, Steve Jobs launched his tech career by hacking land lines to make free long-distance calls.

Bob Dylan’s band, the Golden Chords, lost a high-school talent competition to a tap dancing act.

Behind every success story is an embarrassing first effort, a stumble, a setback or a radical change of direction. It’s these first clumsy steps on the road to fame and fortune that fascinate writer Seth Fiegerman, who edits the blog OpeningLines.org, a collection of case studies on the origins of famous careers.

“When you see someone who’s very successful, you almost imagine that it was a foregone conclusion, that they’re a genius, that they were destined for great things,” says Fiegerman, who began the blog in 2009, after an early setback in his own career. “I think the big takeaway is failure and setbacks, far from being uncommon, are in many ways essential.”

After Fiegerman, now 26, graduated from New York University in 2008, he landed a coveted first job as a research editor at Playboy magazine. But he had worked there for just half a year when management announced that most of the staff would soon be laid off.

As unemployment loomed, Fiegerman felt adrift. He began to explore the Playboy archives, discovering a trove of interviews with celebrities ranging from Marlon Brando to Malcolm X. Many of these successful people shared tales of their less promising early days, and Fiegerman quickly became obsessed with these origin stories.

“It kind of paired well with this feeling that I had of, ‘Oh my God, what do I do?’” Fiegerman says. “And I found solace, in some ways, reading about the obstacles that famous figures had to overcome.”

He began devouring biographies and soliciting interviews with writers and musicians he admired, using the blog to document the fits and starts that began the careers of the famous and the infamous. Success, he learned, was less a matter of innate talent and more the product of perseverance, a willingness to stumble and stand up again and again.

“You kind of assume that great geniuses [are] like Mozart,” Fiegerman says. But few successful people were child prodigies, and prodigies don’t necessarily find success. “Most people don’t stick to it.”

Author Jennifer Egan stuck with it. She told Fiegerman that her first novel was so bad even her mother hated it. But Egan kept writing, and her writing got better—in 2011, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel about growing old in the digital age, A Visit From the Goon Squad.

Like this article?
SIGN UP for our newsletter

About Amy Crawford

Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.

Read more from this author | Follow @amymcrawf

We Recommend

May 28 2014 2:48 PMRe-AnimatorHow Stewart Butterfield created Flickr and Slack out of the ashes of failed projects.David Auerbach

May 27 2014 4:32 PMCongratulations, You FailedMost Silicon Valley startups are doomed. That’s not a bad thing.Will Oremus

May 21 2014 9:05 AMThe Deliberate AmateurHow outlandish experimentation and “grazing shallow” led to a Nobel Prize win.Sarah Lewis

May 19 2014 7:00 AMLearning to Move Fast and Break ThingsIs fear of failure holding back innovation in China?Joshua Keating

May 27 2014 4:55 PMA Portrait of the Billionaire as a Young Tax CheatHow getting caught for tax evasion helped set Richard Branson on the path to success.Jordan Weissmann

May 23 2014 9:43 AMThe Dropout FallacySome of tech’s greatest superstars never finished college. So what?Alison Griswold

May 19 2014 12:00 PM“Down in the Hole”What’s the key to a successful Harvard commencement address? One word: fail.Ben Blatt and Andrew Bouvé

Categories: 1

0 Replies to “Failure Breeds Success Essay”

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *