In the United States, many of us think of celebrities as the ultimate rags-to-riches success stories. Our favorite singers and actors often come from obscurity and their tales of success usually involve the right combination of hard work, opportunity and luck. Sometimes it can seem like celebrity success stories are everywhere. The truth is that some of the most successful celebrities were also once failures.
It seems like every other day, celebrities are launching fragrances, restaurants, clothing lines and the like. Although many of these ventures fail, we don’t often hear about it thanks to the hard work of dedicated publicists. Ever wonder what happened to Britney Spears’ restaurant, Scarlett Johansson’s singing career or the Bruce Willis Band?
Although we don’t often hear about celebrity failures, they happen frequently and usually in the form of ill-advised brand extensions. As it turns out, lots of women want to smell like J.Lo. JWoww? Not so much. Lots of women want to dress like Kim Kardashian but very few want to hear her sing. Even the most successful celebrities have not been successful in every project they attempted, as we can see in The Huffington Post’s “7 Businesses That Flopped Despite Star Power” and Business Insider’s “26 Successful People Who Failed At First.”
Today’s most prolific celebrities share two common traits: the strength to ignore detractors and persistence.
Lauren Conrad, Lucky magazine’s March cover girl, is described by the magazine as an author/entrepreneur/reality TV star and all-around role model, but she has experienced her share of failure as well. Her eponymous clothing line folded in 2009 and her solo reality show was rejected by MTV. She also reveals in the interview that although she is a bestselling author, HarperCollins did not want the first book she pitched, which was about dating (if you watched Laguna Beach or The Hills, you might understand why).
Katy Perry spent several years in the music industry before becoming the megastar she is today. She released her first album as a Christian artist in 2001 under her given name, Katy Hudson. After her first record label went bankrupt, she was picked up and dropped by two additional recording labels before signing with Capitol Records.
“Everyone kind of looked at me a little bit like damaged goods,” she told CBS’s Sunday Morning in 2010. Despite her early difficulties, she expanded her horizons beyond gospel music and worked with producer Glen Ballard on her 2008 album, One of the Boys, which sold more than three million copies.
Steve Jobs was fired from Apple at age 30 but later said that the firing was the best thing that could have happened to him:
“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
In 1995, J.K. Rowling submitted the first Harry Potter manuscript, now the bestselling book series of all time, to twelve publishers, all of whom rejected it. Even after the first book was published, Rowling’s editor advised her to get a day job since she had little chance of making money by writing children’s books. In her address to Harvard’s class of 2008, titled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure,” Rowling pointed out, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where I truly belonged.”