10 Brutal Rejections of Successful People by Doubters

Even successful people face failures and rejections in life. Check out brutal rejection quotes from doubters of successful entrepreneurs that were proved wrong.

10 Successful Entrepreneurs Share Inspirational Quotes from Their Biggest Rejections

We all face failures and rejections from time to time in life. Whether it is in our professional or personal lives, setbacks are inevitable. It is not failure or doubt that determine how we will fair in life; it is how we respond to challenges, setbacks and our doubters that ultimately determine our success.

Even the most successful people in the world faced disappointment and doubters before they overcame and became who they are today. These people are amazing entrepreneurs, artists, innovators, leaders and even motivators because they did not allow failure and rejection to stop them in their tracks. They believed in themselves and thier dreams despite the naysayers. They plotted their success, they tried again and again, and they won.  

The key to success isn’t complex. Rather, it is the cumulative effect of your daily habits and attitude while pursing your dreams that bring success. It is about rising above setbacks, rejections. As writer and poet Khalil Gibran says, “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”


Gut Wrenching Rejections of Highly Successful People


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People were calling for Oprah Winfrey to run for US president in 2020 after she spoke out against sexual harassment in the entertainment industry at the Golden Globes held earlier this year. But can you believe the talk show host and media proprietor was once fired from a news show because she was "too emotionally involved" in the stories she was reporting about?

Thomas Edison was one of the greatest inventors of all time, with over 1,000 patents held in his name in the US alone. He revolutionized everyday life with inventions such as the light bulb and the phonograph. And yet his doubters initially said he was, “Too stupid to learn anything.”

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and artistic director at Condé Nast, was fired from her position as a fashion stylist at Harper’s Bazaar after only 9 months. Her detractors told her: “You'd never understand the American market.” However, the fashion icon believes setbacks are just another part of life and recommends that everyone go through this experience at least once.

Notice something common with these highly successful people? They did not let obstacles and failures dissuade them from perusing their dreams. They pushed on despite challenges to become some of the most successful business people and entrepreneurs of all time.

You mustn’t let challenges discourage you, either. Push on, grind it out and you’ll emerge successful. You’ll set yourself up for great success.


Top Rejection Quotes of Successful People by Doubters


Below is the list of highly successful people and their biggest rejection quotes from doubters. These 10 inspirational people proved their critics wrong and succeeded in their chosen field, including Oprah Winfrey, Jay Z, and J.K Rowling.


1. Oprah Winfrey's Rejection

“Unfit for TV and too emotionally invested” - that’s what Oprah was told upon being fired from a news show. Today, people call for Oprah to run for president.


2. Thomas Edison's Rejection

“Too stupid to learn” - that’s what teachers declared to a young Edison. Edison went on to become one of the greatest inventors of all time.


3. Anna Wintour's Rejection

“You'd never understand the American market” - that’s what Wintour was told. Today, the British-American is editor in chief of Vogue since 1988, and one of the most powerful women in media.


4. James Dyson's Rejection

“You must be mad” - that’s what Dyson was told when he developed his revolutionary vacuum technology. The problem was that no manufacturer wanted to sell Dyson’s vacuum cleaner, as it didn’t include the traditional technology of bags and filters and was seen as bad for business.

After perfecting the design for 15 years and selling his first device model in the Japanese market, Dyson founded his own company in 1993 - and the rest is history.


5. J.K Rowling's Rejection

“Get a day job. It's impossible to make a living writing children’s books,” J.K Rowling remembers being told. Not many people have ever been as wrong as the person who told Rowling she would never be able to make a living out of her biggest passion.

Over 500 million copies of the Harry Potter novels have been sold, making them the best-selling book series of all time. Rowling has gone on to become a billionaire from her Harry Potter books. 


6. Jay Z's Rejection

“This guy is terrible. He is nothing” - that’s the response Jay Z got when he tried to sign with a record label at the beginning of his career. No record label wanted to take a chance on a young rapper from Brooklyn named Shawn Corey. Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the bestselling musicians, eventually founding his own entertainment company Roc Nation.

In 2017, Forbes listed Jay-Z as the second-richest hip hop artist in the US with a net worth of $810 million. Since then, Jay-z has more than doubled his fortune and is now a $2.5 billion business man, as of 2023.


7. Sheryl Sandberg's Rejection

“I would never hire anyone like you” Sheryl Sandberg was told by a tech CEO. It is hard to not get discouraged when the CEO of a tech company tells you he would never hire someone like you, but that is exactly what happened to Sandberg during an interview.

In 2001, she was struggling to establish herself in the tech industry, but between 2008 and August 2022 she was Facebook’s chief operating officer. Today, she is recognized as a prominent tech executive, philanthropist, and writer who's worth $2 billion as of 2024.


8. Steve Jobs's Rejection

“Hey we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet,” Steve Jobs was told dismissively. When Jobs and Steve Wozniak who are pioneers of the personal computer presented their ideas to Atari and HP, the rejection was immediate and indisputable. One company argued that Jobs hadn’t even graduated - not knowing that they had just dismissed the future co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc


9. Arianna Huffington's Rejection

“This website venture is the sort of failure that is simply unsurvivable,” Arianna Huffington was told when launching the Huffington Post blog. Arianna Huffington is no stranger to rejections and failure: her second book was rejected by publishers 36 times and she suffered humiliating results during her 2003 run for governor in California.

Likewise the launch of the Huffington Post blog (now HuffPost) was accompanied by lots of ill-wishes and expectations of certain failure, but Huffington surprised everyone by co-founding one of the most influential media outlet of recent times.


10. Rob Law's Rejection

“You think you have something. I tell you, you don’t,” a critic told Rob Law upon presenting his idea of a ride-on suitcase called Trunki. Law was told by BBC Dragons’ Den judges that his invention was absolutely worthless. How did he respond? By celebrating 10 years of successful business in 2016 and bringing his latest invention into the market by expanding the usability of his product to teenagers.

Check out this GoCompare’s illustrations of these highly successful and inspirational people and the criticism they got below.

Photo: Vic / Flickr