What We Can Learn From Celebrity Career Failures
1:30 pm, February 4th | by Kimberly Couzens
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.”
Failure isn’t something a lot of people like to discuss. Ordinary people fail to accomplish their goals, launch businesses, get into the school of their dreams or obtain their dream job all the time. It bothers me when I ask someone I haven’t seen in a while whatever happened to that grad school plan/company/job they were pursuing last time we spoke, and they act like they have no idea what I’m talking about, claiming that their plans have changed naturally.
I get the impression among non-celebrities that people are afraid to admit that the reason their plans changed was because they failed. I think it’s more honorable, for example, to admit to getting rejected from law school in Miami and deciding to change career paths than to make up a lie about how it’s simply much too hot to live in Florida. I don’t enjoy seeing people fail at things — unless they were mean to me in high school, in which case I sit back and relish every moment.
In college I worked as a contributor to the opinion section of the student newspaper. I sent an article to my editor about being tall and how I had grown to embrace it. He immediately rejected it for a bunch of reasons I found silly. I never totally abandoned the idea, though, and several years later a retooled, updated version of the article made the front page of The Huffington Post.
So while celebrity failures might be the ones we hear about more often than the failures of family and friends, failure is common. It’s all around us. Whether your goal is to improve your health, write a book, pay down debt, go back to school or launch a business, remember that you might have to try more than once, you might have to change your plan, and failing today is not a predictor of whether you’ll succeed tomorrow — it’s just another chapter in your longer success story.
[Photo via Twitter]