7 Influential Women Who Failed Before They Succeeded

07/24/2013 01:26 pm ET
  • Julie Zeilinger Author of College 101: A Girl's Guide to Freshman Year and A Little F'd Up: Why Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word. Founder and Editor of the FBomb (thefbomb.org).
Getty

"Looking back at my own life, there are the things that can trip us up and dampen that spirit," Arianna Huffington told graduating high school seniors last year. "The first thing is failure -- or even the fear of failure."

But an important part of achieving what we set out to do -- and something that seems to be particularly difficult for women -- is overcoming bumps in the road we may experience along the way. We forget that failure is often a necessary part of eventual success. In order to remind ourselves of this, we've gathered the stories of seven fearless women who experienced failure before ultimately becoming legends in their respective fields.

lucille ball

1. Lucille Ball

Lucile Ball is now remembered as the first woman to run a major television studio (she gained full control of Desilu Productions in 1962) and the winner of most every major entertainment industry award (including 13 Emmy nominations and four wins), but her success was hardly immediate. In fact, Ball's first films were failures, and she was even dubbed the "Queen of the 'B' Movies" in the 1930s and 1940s. Luckily for all of us, Ball went on to star in "I Love Lucy" and pave the way for women in the entertainment industry.

marilyn monroe fbi file

2. Marilyn Monroe

Though Marilyn Monroe became a successful actress (whose films grossed more than $200 million), her first contract with Columbia Pictures expired in 1948 before she had acted in a movie. Soon after, though, Monroe met agent Johnny Hyde, who took her under his wing. Eventually she landed roles in "The Asphalt Jungle" and "All About Eve" and the rest is Hollywood history.

oprah winfrey

3. Oprah Winfrey

Before Oprah hosted a talk show that dominated daytime TV for 25 years and became the queen of her own media empire, she was demoted at one of her early jobs. After working as a news co-anchor on Baltimore's WJZ-TV for seven and a half months in her early twenties, Oprah was put on morning TV (the "morning cut-ins" as she recalls) -- a significant step down from her original role. But the experience wasn't all bad: Oprah met her best friend Gayle while working in Baltimore, and her initial failure arguably launched her on her path to incredible career success.

vera wang wedding

4. Vera Wang

Vera Wang's path to becoming the insanely successful designer she is today was hardly conventional. First, Wang -- who was a competitive figure skater in her youth -- failed to make the 1968 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team. Thankfully for fashion fans, this failure prompted Wang to take a job as an assistant at Vogue in 1971, where she was promoted to senior fashion editor within a year at 23. After 15 years with the magazine, Wang was ultimately passed over for the editor-in-chief position. But she ended up exactly where she needed to be and is now an incredibly successful and iconic fashion designer. It's hard to even think of wedding attire without her name coming up.

stephenie meyer sundance

5. Stephenie Meyer

Before the Twilight series broke sales records, author Stephanie Meyer faced the failure of rejection -- multiple times. Meyer wrote 15 letters to literary agencies and received 14 rejections. Luckily, one literary agent took her on and eight publishers bid on the rights to publish the now wildly successful series which ultimately earned the author a place on the 2011 Forbes Celebrity 100 List (and an ever-growing fortune to boot).

jk rowling

6. J.K. Rowling

The Harry Potter author's story is practically the stuff of legends. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (the first book in the series) as a struggling single mother on welfare and faced 12 rejections from publishers, eventually selling the book for the equivalent of $4,000. The series went on to break numerous sales records, be turned into an incredibly successful film series and earn a permanent place in the hearts of children and adults all over the world. J.K. Rowling is now worth an estimated $1 billion.

arianna

7. Arianna Huffington

Though Arianna Huffington is one of the most powerful businesswomen out there, she is the first to admit that she is no stranger to failure. While the first book Huffington wrote was well-received, her second book was rejected by 36 publishers. But failure, Huffington has said, is often the key to success. She told CNN this past March, "You can recognize very often that out of these projects that may not have succeeded themselves that other successes are built." She is now the author of 13 books as well as the President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.

Also on HuffPost:

Inspiration From Brilliant Women

CONVERSATIONS