Famous Failures Who Will Inspire You

Jake Ducey's new book, Purpose Principles, is chock-full of examples of high achievers who persisted despite overwhelming tough odds.

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By Meiko Patton • Jan 2, 2015

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What do Sylvester Stallone, J.K. Rowling, Abraham Lincoln and Jay Z have in common?

Believe it or not, they were all failures or struggling amid hardscrabble circumstances before they became famous and hit it big. Reflect back over your past year. Did you achieve everything you set out to do for your health, business, spirtuality, finances and relationships?

If not, don't despair: You'll get another crack at things in 2015.

But maybe a better thought to ponder is the one posed by millennial motivational speaker Jake Ducey in his new book The Purpose Principles: How to Draw More Meaning into Your Life.

"What would have to happen in the next year for you to look back and say it was your most successful and fulfilling year?" Ducey asked. Confronting an introspective question like this can really get your creative juices flowing. Contemplate the examples set by some of the people Ducey described. Here are just a few:

Related: 6 Stories of Super Successes Who Overcame Failure

In one chapter, Ducey profiled Sylvester Stallone, who wrote many movie scripts but couldn't sell any. He barely had any money and sold his dog in order to buy food. Not long after that ordeal, he got the inspiration to write Rocky and did so in short order.

But what's so impressive about Stallone is that when movie studio managers offered him a large sum for the script with the caveat that he not play the lead role, he said no. They came back again and offered him more and he again declined. Eventually he was offered less along with the lead role and he took it. Stallone was determined to stay on his path despite the outcome.

Are you just as determined?

Another person profiled by Ducey is J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. According to Ducey, Rowling considered herself the "the biggest failure" because although she had graduated from a university, her marriage failed and she had a child to care for but no job. She was living on government benefits.

"Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential," Ducey quoted Rowley as saying. "I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me."

Rowling now is the author of best-sellers. She hit rock bottom and let herself learn from the situation. What have you learned from your failures in 2014?

Ducey also profiled rapper Jay Z, who grew up in New York City public housing.

He was raised by a single mom after his father abandoned the family. When no one would give him a record deal, he sold CDs out of his car. He and a few friends decided to create their own record label. Jay Z did not stop when all the circumstances around him told him no. He forged ahead.

Jay Z believed he is a great artist and that's how he became a millionaire despite growing up amid limited circumstances. What beliefs do you hold about yourself?

Related: 4 Motivating TED Talks to Help You Bounce Back From Failure

Ducey's chapter on persistence is one of my personal favorites. Born into poverty, Abraham Lincoln struggled to overcome every setback in his life. His mother died while he was young. He acculmulated debt and struggled to pay it back. Lincoln ran for office and lost more than once. A fiancée died, prompting a nervous breakdown.

Still Lincoln did not give up. Finally he ran for president of the United States -- and, of course, you know the rest. Lincoln failed numerous times but did not stay down in defeat. He learned, pivoted and is remembered as one of the best presidents in history.

Ducey has provided other marvelous insights about how to draw more meaning into life, contending that you don't know how strong you are until you have no choice but to be that way.

These achievers didn't know they had what it took to succeed in life, until they were forced to test their inner strength. New doors open in life only after you rise from a previous defeat and begin to walk anew. When you refuse to let failures hinder your progress, you will eventually arrive at your new destination.

So I'll ask again, "What would have to happen in the next year for you to look back and say it was your most successful and fulfilling year?"

Do what it takes to make 2015 your best year yet.

Related: Biggest Failures, Best Advice and Defining Success From 14 Inspiring Entrepreneurs

Meiko Patton

Amazon #1 Best-Selling Author

Sacramento-based Meiko S. Patton is a writer for the federal government and author of How a Postage Stamp Saved My Life.

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