Before launching Microsoft, Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout and co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O-Data. Driven by his passion for computer programming, Gates built what would become the world's largest software company. Microsoft went public in 1986, and by the next year its rising share price made then-31-year-old Gates the world's youngest self-made billionaire. An investor in the initial public offering would have seen a return of 30,207 percent.
The man who evaluated Fred Astaire's first screen test wrote, "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little," according to the Chicago Tribune. Astaire spent his film career proving that exec wrong as he sang, danced, and acted his way through some of America's most beloved musicals, such as Top Hat (1935) and Shall We Dance (1937).
Today the word "Einstein" is synonymous with genius, but young Albert didn't speak fluently until he was nine-years-old, causing teachers to think he was slow. He was expelled from school for his rebellious nature and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He went on to revolutionize science's understanding of the world, taking physics beyond its Newtonian view by developing the theory of General Relativity. He won the Nobel Prize, with his research leading the U.S. to build an atomic bomb, and influenced all aspects of culture, from religion, to art, to late-night television.
This former Vice President and businessman managed to flunk out of Yale University not once, but twice. Former President George W. Bush (Yale '68) said jokingly at the school's commencement ceremony in 2001: "A Yale degree is worth a lot, as I often remind [Cheney]. So now we know -- if you graduate from Yale, you become president. If you drop out, you get to be vice president."
While Elvis Presley went on to sell more than 1 billion records globally, according to the official Elvis Presley website, after his very first performance his manager Jimmy Denny said, "You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." Fortunately, Elvis, a hard-headed man, just couldn't help believin' in himself, and returned that advice to sender.
As a young boy, Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was "too stupid to learn anything." He did not have much more success in the workplace, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. Even as an inventor, reports claim that Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Happily for night owls across the globe, attempt 1,001 worked out differently.
Sidney Poitier grew up in poverty in the Bahamas, and his acting career was initially stalled due to rejection by the American Negro Theatre, according to the BBC. After his first audition, Poitier was told by the casting director, "Why don't you stop wasting people's time and go out and become a dishwasher or something?" Poitier never quit pursuing his dream of acting, however, breaking new ground by becoming the first black actor to win an Oscar for best actor and becoming one of the most well-regarded professionals in the business.
Michael Jordan once said, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Today, Jordan is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, with career stats including 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, and 32,292 total points, according to NBA.com.
Due to poor grades in high school, Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California three times. He was awarded an honorary degree in 1994 and became a trustee of the university in 1996. "Since 1980, I've been trying to be associated with this school," joked the 62-year-old filmmaker. "I eventually had to buy my way in," he told the Los Angeles Times. Spielberg has to date directed 51 films and won three Oscars. Forbes Magazine puts Spielberg's wealth at $3 billion.
'The Oprah Winfrey Show' became one of the highest ranking shows in American history, according to CNN, though Oprah's first boss told her she was too emotional and not right for television. In 2011, Oprah was the best-paid female in the entertainment industry, according to Forbes Magazine, and remains the richest self-made woman and only black female billionaire.
In 1923, Babe Ruth set the record for the most home runs in a season... while also striking out more than any other player in Major League Baseball. Over his career, he struck out 1,330 times, according to the Seattle Times, but rose above his failures to hit 714 home runs.
"We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell." Those were the words of one publisher who passed over the manuscript for "Carrie," which King submitted when he was 20. In fact, before becoming an iconic thriller, "Carrie" was rejected by 30 publishers, finally causing King to give up and throw it in the trash. His wife retrieved it and urged him to resubmit it. The rest is history. King has since published more than 50 books, all worldwide bestsellers, according to Amazon.com.
When The Beatles first auditioned for a recording compact in 1962, Decca Records rejected them. The band members recall being told "we don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." The Beatles signed to EMI and are the best-selling music group of all time, and their music is still downloaded and listened to globally.
The mastermind behind Apple dropped out of Oregon's Reed College after one semester. He also quit one of his first jobs to backpack around India and take psychedelic drugs, according to CNN. He later said that these experiences helped him create an iconic brand and the largest technology company in the world. While he famously accepted an annual salary of only $1, his net worth was $8.3 billion when he died in 2011.
At age 22, Walt Disney was fired from a Missouri newspaper for "not being creative enough." One of his early ventures, called Laugh-o-gram Studios, went bankrupt. The creator of Mickey and Minnie Mouse went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards, winning 32, all for his unparalleled animations. He still holds the record for the most Oscars won by an individual, according to WaltDisney.com.