How to overcome failure: top tips, quotes and motivational advice

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"Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement" - C.S. Lewis

Failure is a powerful motivator.Whether you've failed at a job interview, lost money or been on the brute end of a relationship going south, mistakes are crucial for us to learn, carry on and grow bigger and bolder.

In fact, many people would contend that without experiencing failure you can't really live - unless you anaesthetize yourself to the extent that you don't take any risks.

Here, famous figures from the world of business, literature, showbiz and beyond share their insights into failure. These are the people who have been dealt life's blows time and again, and simply dust themselves off to try once more.

And yet we still see them as successful; many of them credit their mistakes as being central to that success. Come feast on their words of wisdom:

Photos: Rex Features

  • C. S. Lewis

    Narnia author

    "Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement."

  • Oprah Winfrey

    TV chat show mogul

    "I don't believe in failure. It is not failure if you enjoyed the process."

  • Johnny Cash

    Country music icon

    "You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it."

  • Sophia Loren


    "Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life."

  • Ellen DeGeneres

    Comedian and TV host

    "It’s failure that gives you the proper perspective on success."

  • Eleanor Roosevelt

    US politician (and the longest-serving First Lady of the United States)

    "Do one thing every day that scares you."

  • JK Rowling

    Harry Potter author

    "Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I’ve met people who don’t want to try for fear of failing."

  • Truman Capote

    In Cold Blood author

    "Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour."


    President of international for Sony Pictures Entertainment

    "My parents always allowed me to fail when I was growing up, and I think that gave me a lot of strength going forward in my life. I lost high-school and junior-high elections when I ran for class president. I learned early in life to get up and dust yourself off and keep going."

  • Wilma Rudolph

    Athlete (the first American woman to win three gold medals in track and field during a single Olympic Games)

    "Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday."

  • Steve Jobs

    Apple co-founder

    "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

  • Marilyn Monroe


    "Just because you fail once doesn't mean you're gonna fail at everything."

  • Winston Churchill

    Politician and WW2 Prime Minister

    "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

  • Marian Wright Edelman

    American activist and advocate of children's rights

    "Failure is just another way to learn how to do something right."

  • John Keats

    Romantic poet

    "I was never afraid of failure, for I would sooner fail than not be among the best."

  • Paloma Faith

    Singer and songwriter

    "Once you accept that we're all imperfect, it's the most liberating thing in the world. Then you can go around making mistakes and saying the wrong thing and tripping over on the street and all that and not feel worried."

  • Samuel Beckett

    Novelist and playwright

    "Go on failing. Go on. Only next time, try to fail better."

  • Anne Sullivan

    Teacher (and lifelong companion of Helen Keller)

    "Keep on beginning and failing. Each time you fail, start all over again, and you will grow stronger until you have accomplished a purpose - not the one you began with perhaps, but one you'll be glad to remember."

  • Beverly Sills

    Opera soprano

    "You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try."

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

    The Great Gatsby author

    "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."

  • Maya Angelou

    Writer and poet

    "You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it."

  • Mary Pickford

    Silent film actress

    "If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down."

  • Joely Richardson


    "You grow up by making mistakes. I've made a ton of them, but as long as I keep on failing better, I don't mind."

  • Benjamin Franklin

    Author and politician (and one of the founding fathers of the United States)

    "Do not fear mistakes. You will know failure. Continue to reach out."

  • Julie Andrews


    "Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th."

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