You will never succeed in life... ?
November 2, 2006 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I have found that when you are motivated to something unusual or difficult people dont hesitate to tell you how flawed your dream is, and why you will never and cannot physically succeed. Sometimes, these thoughts creep into my head, which I would like to combat, thus my question. I need quotes or excerpts about people who claimed someone famous in history would never succeed, who ended up making themselves look rather foolish when that person did infact succeed. (examples inside)

I am planning on making a collage of sorts with all of these examples, and hanging them in my wall so i remember I make the choice whether I succeed, not short sighted folks who have nothing better to do that put down other peoples dreams.


- A professor claimed that no human would ever make a flying machine, no matter how far technology progressed. He wrote a rather indepth article about how it was physically possible. The ironic, or perhaps pathetic part is that the Wright brothers had already made their famous flight at the time of this distinguished professor's article.

- The creator of Nike, or another well-known show company wrote up his business plan for his company as his final project for a college class. His professor gave his plan an F, saying it would never work. So the guy dropped out and started the company anyways, making millions.

So if anyone knows more specific examples than these, or perhaps a website that contains many examples, please share, and thank you in advance.
posted by JokingClown to Society & Culture (34 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Not quite the same thing but close:
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals.
Henry Ford
posted by Xoder at 1:55 PM on November 2, 2006

Someone said the Beatles would never amount to much.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:57 PM on November 2, 2006

Here are some quotes from famous computer experts about the future of computers. My favorite:

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers" --Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943
posted by decathecting at 1:59 PM on November 2, 2006

There is the old song "The Last Laugh"

"They all laughed at Christopher Columbus
When he said the world was round.
They all laughed
When Edison recorded sound..."
posted by briank at 2:02 PM on November 2, 2006

Alas, all I have is a roundabout answer, but it is an answer.

One of the best books I've read this year is 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon. The book is simply a catalog of capsule summaries of books about success, taking a view pages to distill the core values from each. On at least one occasion (probably more), TBB cites books that deal with the very issue you raise: how to achieve success when those around you say it is not possible. So, what I'm saying is that if you can get a copy of this book, it will lead you to others that contain the info you need.

Like I said: a roundabout answer.
posted by jdroth at 2:08 PM on November 2, 2006

"You'll catch cold!" - Hannibal's mother
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:15 PM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

The list of "Lincoln's failures" is pretty well-known. It does not directly answer your question but is worth perusing.
posted by yclipse at 2:17 PM on November 2, 2006

There is a somewhat overblown story that I like nonetheless.

Refer to Businessweek for an interview explaining the origin.

The short version is that the founder of Fedex supposedly got a "C" from his professor for a paper describing the idea that eventually became Fedex.
posted by Invoke at 2:28 PM on November 2, 2006

"I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year. -- Editor, Business Books, Prentice Hall (1957)

"But what ... is it good for?" -- Engineer, Advanced Computing Systems Division, IBM (1968), commenting on the microchip

"The 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo (1876)

"The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urging for investment in radio in the 1920s.
posted by ericb at 2:42 PM on November 2, 2006

It might not be exactly what you're looking for, but the photo of Truman holding the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline always reminds me that "it ain't over 'till it's over."
posted by annaramma at 2:45 PM on November 2, 2006

And don't forget that Babe Ruth led the American League in Strike Outs in 1918, 1923, 1924, 1927 and 1928.
posted by ericb at 2:46 PM on November 2, 2006

It's not really motivational, but I think that it is invaluable to read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" to gain some insight into how big change happens. 20 years ago a lot of folks worked very hard to move Kuhn's principles into all sorts of applications where it didn't likely belong... but nevertheless it's a well-made case that the big ideas are by definition beyond the capacity of most people - especially expert practitioners - to really "see" in the early days of the idea.
posted by mikel at 2:46 PM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

This may not be what you're specifically asking for (given your examples), but this fable of Aesop's strikes me as relevant to your first sentence.
posted by kimota at 2:51 PM on November 2, 2006

"Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." -- Winston Churchill
posted by thinkpiece at 3:01 PM on November 2, 2006

Werner Herzog Eats his Shoe
posted by sanko at 3:07 PM on November 2, 2006

Someone at Decca records refused to sign the Beatles because "groups with guitars are on the way out"
Also, John Lennon's aunt told him there wasn't any money in being a musician.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:19 PM on November 2, 2006

One of Harlan Ellison's English professors gave him a failing grade, and said that he'd never be a writer.

For the next 40 years, Harlan sent the mistaken prof every story, article, and book that he has ever published.
posted by spinifex23 at 3:46 PM on November 2, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Scroll down to the "famous failures" section right at the bottom.

And ironically, given your purpose, I'll point out that everyone - mega success or mega failure - has at some point had someone tell them they're going to fail, so just ask anyone who you consider successful, and they'll be able to give you their own examples. (Same goes for people who weren't successful in their endevour or who did give up).
posted by -harlequin- at 4:02 PM on November 2, 2006

When Steven Spielberg applied to film school, he was rejected (twice).
posted by wryly at 4:08 PM on November 2, 2006

Response by poster: Awesome, pretty much every post has something useful, keep them coming. I plan to compile them all in a large group, if anyone wants a copy I can send them one.
posted by JokingClown at 5:03 PM on November 2, 2006

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and the story you mentioned I had always heard as Invoke's version -- the paper was about FedEx.
posted by andifsohow at 5:17 PM on November 2, 2006

and to follow up, according to wikipedia, the guy doesn't know what grade he got, but says the paper was probably poorly thought out, so it might not be the motivator in fact that it is in idea. so it goes.
posted by andifsohow at 5:24 PM on November 2, 2006

Einstein was a poor achiever in school.

The guy who invented Monopoly went to Parker Brothers, who told him it would never sell. He then made 1000 copies of the game and sold them all, at which point Parker Brothers changed their mind.
posted by twirlypen at 5:38 PM on November 2, 2006

My favourite comment on this, from Ryunosuke Akutagawa's short story Yam Gruel:

"A man sometimes devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled. Those who laugh at this folly are, after all, no more than mere spectators of life."

Also, there's an old Hollywood legend that Fred Astaire's screen test for RKO said "Can't sing. Can't act. Balding. Can dance a little" (although according to WP it was actually "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances").
posted by Paragon at 7:14 PM on November 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

"Too many notes, my dear Mozart." - Emperor Joseph II on Mozart's first Viennese opera.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:48 PM on November 2, 2006

Great topic! I find a few things out of Steve Job's life inspiring. He's got a reputation of being a bit arrogant, but the following quotes are worth noting. The guy's got a knack for speaking the truth well...

First, there's the words from some guy at Atari who's probably kicking himself now - he told Jobs and Woz, “Get your feet off my desk, get out of here, you stink and we’re not going to buy your product.” (source here - other good examples on that page).

Then there was the whole getting fired from the company you cofounded fiasco. Imagine how embarassing that must of been - yet Jobs said later that "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. 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.". That quote came from the commencement speech he gave at Stanford, which is a must read/listen (there's a podcast of it). This is a guy who's also beaten cancer, which is always motivating as well.

Finally this snippet from the speech should be a reminder for ALL of us:

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
posted by rmm at 11:41 PM on November 2, 2006 [3 favorites]

Supposedly Napoleon told Robert Fulton regarding his steamship:

What, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.

Here's a page with many bad predictions.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:14 AM on November 3, 2006

Casey Kasem on U2:

This is bullshit! Nobody cares! ... These guys are from England and who gives a shit!
posted by maxpower at 12:45 AM on November 3, 2006

I would like to also refer you to The Innovator's Dilemma for some examples of what happens when large companies fail to heed the change that is always in the air. It is always easy to come up with why something won't work and this book if filled with examples that did work - for someone else.
posted by ptm at 1:01 AM on November 3, 2006

Scott Adam's recent blog entry "In Over My head" is interesting reading. He is talking not so much about ignoring naysayers as about how often one succeeds by simply being ignorant of the poor odds of doing so. By contrast he notes how many times he has failed when trying to do something he believed to be easy.
posted by rongorongo at 2:39 AM on November 3, 2006

Savage Garden sent about 100-150 demo tapes and got rejected by all but one. That one was John Woodruff, who got them onto Sony... and the rest is history.

(of course, they've since split, and Darren Hayes is creating music off-label, but that's besides the point.)
posted by divabat at 5:17 AM on November 3, 2006

Excellent collection here , including " many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value," from the committee advising King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain regarding a proposal by Christopher Columbus, 1486.

From here, a touching comment from Lindbergh, although it's certainly not a positive one: "But I have seen the science I worshiped, and the airplane I loved, destroying the civilization I expected them to serve." — Charles A. Lindbergh, 'Time,' 26 May 1967.

(And for the cynics among us, "They laughed at Einstein. They laughed at the Wright Brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. - Carl Sagan")
posted by Jaie at 8:05 AM on November 3, 2006

Wrong quotes... be careful about listening to the 'expert' nay-sayers.

"Everything that can be invented has been invented."
Charles H. Duell, Office of Patents, 1899
posted by sLevi at 9:19 AM on November 3, 2006

A LOT of people out there want YOU to fail. Either because they've failed, or are too lazy to aspire to anything greater than just "getting by."

People are quick to criticize but not to encourage. Don't let the bastards get you down, go for your dream and ignore criticism. It's your life, and it's now or never. You ain't gonna live forever.
posted by PetiePal at 11:33 AM on November 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

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