7 Successful Women Who Failed Early in Their Careers

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It would appear that women like Beyoncé, Arianna Huffington, and Anna Wintour stepped on an express elevator to career success (and in Bey’s case, worldwide domination), but they definitely haven’t always enjoyed a view from the top. Like most of us, these strong females have experienced some pretty daunting career setbacks—even flat-out failures.

Getting cut from a talent competition? Fired from a high-profile job? Booted from a minimum-wage gig? All par for the course for these seven women who clearly didn’t let life’s facepalm moments stop them from doing what they do best: Being straight-up bosses.

famous people who failed

Beyoncé Knowles

Before she was Queen Bey, Beyoncé was one of three Destiny’s Child members. But if you rewind even further, 12-year-old Beyoncé was part of Girls Tyme, and the young group appeared on a 1993 episode of the talent TV show Star Search—and lost! The group was beaten by a rock band called Skeleton Crew, and Beyoncé never forgot it. In a 2013 video interview, she called it “a really defining moment in my life as a child.”

While talking about the loss, she summed up the feeling of failing pretty perfectly: “…At that time, you don’t realize that you could work super hard and give everything you have—and lose.” She added: “You’re never too good to lose; you’re never too big to lose.”

famous people who failed

Anna Wintour

Anna Wintour‘s career advice is basically the opposite of what we expected from the Vogue boss. “Everyone should be sacked at least once in their career, because perfection doesn’t exist,” she told author Alastair Campbell for his book, Winners: And How They Succeed. She added that failing is important and setbacks are key, “because that is the reality of life.”

Wintour is speaking from experience: In 1975, she was booted from Harper’s Bazaar after just nine months. Clearly, that was a minor speed bump in Wintour’s career path, and in 1988, she was named editor-in-chief of Vogue, where she’s been ever since.

famous people who failed

Oprah Winfrey

Yep, even Oprah has failed throughout the career. Today she might be worth $3 billion, but the famous media personality was actually fired from her first TV job as an anchor in Baltimore.

famous people who failed

Arianna Huffington

Media mogul, author, and businesswoman Arianna Huffington is the picture of success, but even she continues to face failures in her career: Her second book was rejected by 36 publishers, and in 2003, when she ran for governor in California, she received just 0.55 percent of the vote. It was totally NBD though, and today Huffington has penned—and published—13 books (oh, and runs the Huffington Post).

famous people who failed

Kerry Washington

Scandal fans will find it hard to believe there was ever anyone who didn’t love Kerry Washington’s on-screen persona, but the actress hasn’t always been a hit in front of the camera. In fact, she got the ax from a pilot she filmed after it was picked up. “Before Scandal, the only other two pilots I’d ever done were shows that got picked up, but I got fired,” Washington said at the Hollywood Reporter‘s Emmy Roundtable. “They recast my character on both shows.”

famous people who failed

J.K. Rowling

The millionaire author of the famous Harry Potter series was booted from her job as a secretary at Amnesty International in London. The author spent her time secretly using her work computer to tap out fictitious stories and dreaming about a teenage wizard. After getting fired, Rowling lived off her severance check so that she could focus her time on writing. So, yes, there are probably a few million readers out there who would like to thank Rowling’s former boss for that decision. 

famous people who failed


Today, Madonna’s story of failure is totally hilarious, but at the time, we bet it sucked. After dropping out of college, she started working at Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square—but she was fired on her first day after squirting jelly on a customer. Today, she’s one of the world’s wealthiest music artists with a net worth of $800 million.