This success chart by Demetri Martin rings so true. Everyone seems to face unexpected obstacles and detours in their career path — those it’s-always-darkest-before-the-dawn moments.

A few fun facts from a slideshow of 26 people who failed at first:

* Thomas Edison’s teachers told him he was “too stupid to learn anything.”
* Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because he “had no good ideas.”
* Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 different publishers.
* The first time Jerry Seinfeld went onstage, he was booed away by a jeering crowd.
* Oprah Winfrey was fired from her television reporting job because they told her she wasn’t fit to be on screen.

What were your WTF moments on your path to success? Alex dropped out of college for a semester and lived with his parents. I went to law school for a year and was a mess. Elvis was initially a truck driver! It always feels like the end of the world when it’s happening, but next time, just picture this chart:)

(Photo of Woody Allen by Philippe Halsman; illustration by Demetri Martin from This Is a Book)

  1. This post coincides with the blog I just started – Uncomfortable Happiness. I’ll be illustrating the ups and downs of accepting and rejecting opportunities. My gut instincts and lack of hesitation will prove to make this quite interesting.

  2. A timely reminder that success equals to clearing the obstacles, learning from the experience, pick yourself up and never say die attitude. Great post.

  3. It takes so much strength to not give up, but I am so glad all the people in this slideshow persevered. How different the world would be if they hadn’t! We keep putting one foot in front of the other and it’s amazing how far we can get. Thanks for this post, it spoke to me today.
    Love your blog, Joanna!

  4. I worked at a TV station as a web designer for 7 years and thought I lost my passion for design around year 2. I felt so lost and was trying to figure out what career might suit me better when I realized I just hated doing corporate design and preferred to work for bloggers.

  5. I just started a brand new blog that’s still in the training wheels phase. I so needed to hear this. I always remind myself that Julia Child was in her 50’s when they finally published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There’s still time. Thanks for this.

  6. Sometimes it’s just so refreshing to hear that other people didn’t get it right the first try.

  7. I love this! I’m a junior in college right now…. and I’m freaking out! I feel the need to follow a linear path to success but the only problem is that I don’t know where the heck that path is! I love this post! It hits really close to home for me. :)

  8. Gosh, I just want to hug all of you make you my BFFs. I’m just barely on the other side of my WTF moment and remind myself everyday to just keep pedaling.

  9. Living well really is the best revenge!
    1,5 years ago I was told by my boss (our CEO) that I would never make it to the top management of our firm, because I’m a WOMAN and they do not want women in top management. (Background info; I’m in my 30’s, creative industry, university education.)
    What he literally said was women=problem. WTF moment, if there ever was one, amazing to hear something like that in year 2011 and in one of the most gender equal countries in the world. (northern Europe) Also, he said, he could not imagine what added value I could possibly provide for the company (if in management team).
    Needless to say, all partners of this company are male. But I just thought, I’ll show them. Six months later, I was promoted to development manager; today, I’m a member of our management team. Not a partner yet, but I have set my goal…

  10. I entered the work force in 2008, right when the recession hit in a big way, so I took the first job I could get in marketing and was miserable for a year. Finally I took a leap of faith and jut quit, out of the blue with no plan b. Super scary. But durring that time I applied fro and was hired at a job I loved. Hope and hard work can go a long way.

  11. I always wanted to go to medical school, but then I met my scary pre-med freshman roommate the first day of college and immediately dropped the premed curriculum. When I finished undergrad I decided I still wanted to pursue medicine, but needed to take all the required prerequisites. While working odd jobs and fulfilling the requirements, I continued to pole vault to try to clear 13 feet (I had been a division 1 athlete in college but never even made it to nationals) – a goal i had set out to do in high school. While I fell terribly behind my peers in the medicine route, the time off between undergrad and medical school allowed me to keep jumping – something I would have never pursued. Wouldn’t you know it… 7 years after I set out to clear 13′ I ended up jumping over 14′ and going to the olympics. Not the direct path I set out to do…. and definitely not easy in anyway – but an amazing journey never the less!

  12. I always wanted to go to medical school, but then I met my scary pre-med freshman roommate the first day of college and immediately dropped the premed curriculum. When I finished undergrad I decided I still wanted to pursue medicine, but needed to take all the required prerequisites. While working odd jobs and fulfilling the requirements, I continued to pole vault to try to clear 13 feet (I had been a division 1 athlete in college but never even made it to nationals) – a goal i had set out to do in high school. While I fell terribly behind my peers in the medicine route, the time off between undergrad and medical school allowed me to keep jumping – something I would have never pursued. Wouldn’t you know it… 7 years after I set out to clear 13′ I ended up jumping over 14′ and going to the olympics. Not the direct path I set out to do…. and definitely not easy in anyway – but an amazing journey never the less!

  13. I’m still waiting for my choices to materialise into something awesome! I keep telling myself it will be ok but am just not sure. I trained in dance up to professional level but couldn’t pursue it as a career due to lots of dodgy injuries and chronic pain. So now I work behind the scenes in dance education but am thinking it’s not for me. Taking steps to get on track and hope these lead to exciting success! And then I can turn around and go ‘hah, you made it!’.

  14. This chart is so true and it also needs to show that sometimes the ‘success bull’s eye’ or the direction the arrow was pointing was wrong, or simply you’ve decided you think success (for you) is over there and not over yonder. I think Toby could probably draw what success arrow… ‘Toby, I want you to get from one corner of the page to the other in any way you want, but just don’t lift that crayon’

  15. this was such a good post! i love these reminders and want to print them out to have in my desk whenever i’m feeling not exactly “there” yet. :)

  16. I truly needed to read this at this specific moment and there it was. Thank you.

  17. This drawing is just what I needed to see! I just started a small business selling sandals made out of rope its good to be reminded that success isnt going to be a straight, easy, and perfect line! Thanks for being a great inspiration!

    Kylee at RopeSouls

  18. I love this. My life is different. I went to school to be an interior designer. I have down nothing with it and now I am 2 courses always from completing my masters in a different field. It is amazing how life changes.

  19. I feel like I haven’t had as many of these moments as I should have, because I don’t take enough risks. In my wedding vows, I made a joke-turned-serious comment about how my husband, love him or hate him, puts himself out there and allows himself to be vulnerable. He’s had his share of failures, but the successes have been amazing. My ongoing goal is to be more like him and all these other folks who aren’t paralyzed by the fear of failing!

  20. This post reinforces my dedication to stick with my blog despite it’s nonlinear path!

  21. I always wanted to be in fashion, and now I am! But it did require hard work. My boyfriend’s story is more interesting. Actually, we’ve known each other since elementary school- I was a popular girl, and he was a weirdo with not many friends (I certainly was not one of them)- junior high and high school were the same way. He dropped out of high school, I went the traditional route and went to college, got a job as a designer right after college, etc, etc. That is when we randomly ran into each other at a concert and started dating (8 years ago). That night he told me how he was going to put his punk rock days behind him and go to college, then medical school to become a doctor. I believed him- and the rest is history.
    He will be graduating medical school in a year and we’ll be getting married! Its been a tumultuous journey for us both, but I am endlessly fascinated by his eclecticism and his unique ability to not give a shit about what others think of him (even teachers who told him he would be a failure)-he is my inspiration!

  22. Thank you for this, Joanna, and everyone who has shared their comments. Sometimes it feels like I’m alone on this planet, and that while you can remind yourself that no one’s life is perfect, yours just seems extra crazy. I feel so far off the path, and helps to read other people’s inspiring words and know that I’m actually not the only one thinking, “WTF am I doing?”

    Things aren’t going well at work, but it’s because it’s really not what I want to be doing. But I’m scared of going after what I want because all of the “what ifs” but something has to change. I just have so many questions and doubts and I want someone to come and tell me what to do and tell me that in the end, I’ll get everything I need and want. But that can’t happen, so I think I just have to bite the bullet.

    I think one of the best things about life is that at any point, on any day, at any hour, you get to call a do-over. And if you so choose, you can start from zero and head in a completely different direction.

    • You can do it, Katie!

  23. This is such a perfectly timed post, thank you Joanna! I’ve had a bit of a rough week with my blog, which has made me realise that if I want to be a writer I’m going to have to develop a tougher skin and be a little (ok, a lot!) better at taking criticism.

    You’re so right, it feels like the end of the world when it’s happening, but things always turn out for the best in the end. I’m printing out that chart to keep at my desk!

  24. whoa this really rings a bell. I guess ive been to a lot of things and i was afraid to moved on from my comfort zone.

    i went to a medical school and I ended up working in Finance.

  25. love everything about this post. so great! :)

  26. Thank you! I recently told my principal I am not coming back next year. I just know I have to follow my heart and try a career that involves my art. So far, I am not having a lot of luck finding another job- but this reminded me to keep the faith and keep on the sunny side. Love all these comments too- we can support and encourage each other, we are not alone :)

  27. That success chart definitely rings true for most people. Love it!

  28. I needed this today! Just three years ago the most stressful thing my plate was finishing my Bachelor of Fine Arts with Distinction… three years later I’m married and a mother of two! On Friday it will have been 2 weeks since I gave birth to my baby boy and there are definitely days where I wonder if I’ll ever create meaningful art again! Will I ever become a successful visual artist or is life passing me by, since it seems like all the people I graduated with are either going on to get their Masters or have regular exhibitions or are starting collectives. Sigh… this too shall pass, right?


  29. wow this suddenly feels like a big relief somehow!

    great post, really gets you thinking :)

  30. Thank you, for such a particularly timely reminder.

  31. TH says...

    this was JUST what i needed to read today. thank you.

  32. this is great! i gave up a full ride to a conservatory of performing arts because i was scared. thank goodness i did because i never would have met my husband and had my beautiful baby boy!

  33. This is so inspiring! I had my WTF moment when I dropped out of grad school in Paris last Christmas. Have never been so afraid about my future. It all worked out for good, though, and I now have my dream job and dream fiancé :)

  34. I enrolled in law school at Fordham… never showed up to class.. FML haha. I’m 28 now and have done everything from logistics for charity events to studying winemaking and working as an assistant winemaker in France. My life certainly isn’t on the ‘straight and narrow’, but I’ve got some semblance of a savings account and $0 debt. Life is a journey. It’s far too fleeting to take it too seriously.

  35. im printing this out and putting it on my mirror as a daily reminder. i love this.

  36. Joanna, thanks so much for this post, and I am so happy to read the stories of people who are in all the possible moments in the knot of getting successful! Because of so many reasons I went back to the university to do a masters degree and now I am stressing every day about being 26 and having no career yet, or about failing the course I put so much effort in (its one of the fanciest universities in Europe, and they like to emphasise it ;)). But a few days ago I learned F. Scott Fitzgerald was turned away in a lot of publishing houses before someone accepted The Great Gatsby. Well, if they didn’t like him from start, I get it about my disappointments!

    But I do hope it will be easier with some time, the knot has to end somewhere!!


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  38. This makes me feel much better! I’ve been waiting to hear from grad school for what feels like forever and a day…plus I’ve already been rejected from my #1 school. It’s been discouraging, and I know in the end everything will be fine, but I am going crazy from all this waiting. Even if I don’t get accepted, there’s always next year, huh? Thanks Joanna!

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  40. What a refreshing post! I’m in the process of building and growing an online store (, and I’ve had so many experiences of the squiggley lines on the second diagram. It’s nice to be reminded that so many successful people dealt with failure and kept on going!

  41. Speaking of Sienfeld he has a saying that I’ve been living by over the past few years – I don’t know it verbatim but its essentially this: You have three important aspects to your life – your work, love life, home life. If two out of three are going good then that’s the best you can ask for.

  42. I think I’m in the midst of my WTF moment, but it’s slightly different than others. Three years ago I married my “high school sweetheart.” He was never really supportive of my endeavors. In fact, I think he was a little intimidated by my ambition.

    After a year of marriage I found out he was having an affair. He he was only in the marriage because he felt bad for me given that I had been through a lot in my life. Real charmer right? I divorced him, sold our condo and am starting my life over. I am in love with my job but have realized my dream is to become a full-time author. I’m writing my first manuscript. Not sure if it will get published but I will keep trying!

    I also believe I will find love again; real beautiful, amazing, God-given love. Thanks for the awesome post! I love your blog.

  43. Thanks Joanna! This message comes at the perfect time for me. My husband and I have been in NYC for 10 years now, but after learning they are phasing out his position at the end of May, we have decided to pack up and move to Philly! I just gave notice at my work this week, and even though we do not have new jobs yet, we are following our hearts to the city of brotherly love to start a brand new adventure together! I’m excited and terrified at the same time. I know in the end this will lead to bigger and better things for both of us, but boy is it hard to leave behind all this stability. I’m going to have to print that image out and put it on my fridge as a daily reminder! XO, Brooke @

  44. hearing other people’s fails that lead to great success is always inspiring to keep going.

    Memoirs & Mochas

  45. I work at a boys school and have had the privilege and opportunity this year to hear 3 talks: David Ignatius (journalist), Julian Bond (civil rights icon) and Nick Lowery (NFL, retired)…all of whom said “follow your passion” and you will be successful. I only wish I’d heard the message when I was in high school!

  46. I had an English professor in college write on one of my papers “You’re a terrible writer. You should give up and do something else.” Yeah…he was quite the gem.

    10 years later, I’m now a college writing instructor…basically doing the same thing he did for a living…and while I’m by no means “successful” yet, I’m doing a lot better than that jerkwad thought I would. :-)

  47. Oh this resonates with so many, Joanna. I’m 25 and constantly experiencing the WTF moments… Studying politics, graduating early, getting a sales job, going back to school for nutrition, leaving and becoming an inner-city English teacher, only to somehow settle as an exec. assistant for the time being…quite the ride, but I’m trying so hard to just practice self love and understand that I’m creating my own path and finding my way.

  48. I am one of those artsy kids who belong to traditional Asian parents who try to push them through this medical school/engineering mold to be “successful”. Even though my worst subjects were math and science in school, I went through college trying to turn myself into a biomedical engineer. I graduated (after lots of tutoring and crying) and instead went to design and make handbags (a business I started out of procrastination in my dorm). It’s my full-time job, now, and my parents couldn’t be more proud.

    Looking back in hindsight, I wonder if I would have been so passionate and driven to do what I do now had I not been pushed in another direction.

    I really do think Jonathan Adler got it right when asked about his college pottery teacher: “The best advice I ever got in my life was from my pottery teacher, Jackie Rice. She told me that I had no talent and I should move to New York and become a lawyer. I think every creative person, and every craftsperson, should have a naysayer to rebel against.”

  49. I love this topic! Mine was leaving publishing and pursuing law – the opposite of you. I was let go, wasn’t crazy about learning HTML for web development only, and held a temp job for a year while applying for law jobs and paralegal school. This gave me more time with my new infant son – so it was a blessing in disguise. In law, every day is different and new.

  50. This is not going to reflect well on my parents, but when I first expressed a desire to start cooking they rolled their eyes and said, “Yeah… just like you wanted to move to Ireland, or be a ballerina.” The first year I wrote my food blog they wouldn’t let me make them a meal or contribute to Thanksgiving dinner. I felt incredibly discouraged. I finally made a killer meal (chicken cacciatore that took hours and a carrot cake) and they were won over.

  51. LK says...

    I went to grad school for journalism. Worked my but off the get in, broke a lease to move to the new state and kept my 3.8 average while in grad school. Then my thesis was failed. I still am not entirely sure why as the committee didn’t stick around to tell me. They had my advisor tell me but she couldn’t exactly figure it out either. It wasn’t my finest work, but it definitely wasn’t a failure. This was after I had worked at two very respected publications in the area. So I packed up and left. Didn’t look back and didn’t finish it. Most people don’t understand why I would not finish with one credit left, but it makes sense for me. I was miserable in grad school and didn’t enjoy it at all so why being myself down? I moved to San Diego for six months. No job. Decided to move back to Phoenix got a job immediately and I couldn’t be happier. I never expected to be doing what I do but it works for me and its opening the doors for a lot of opportunities. I’m happy, bought my first house and finally feel like I’m in a place where I belong. Grad school was always my goal but now happiness and a full life is my goal. Plus, you don’t need a masters for journalism. I should have listened to my undergrad professors.

  52. Yes i am in a scribble now. After all the hard work of getting a Bachelors degree and becoming an RN, I am still searching for a job, months after graduating. What helps is knowing that God has always taken care of me in the best of ways, and that I should just enjoy the free time I have now. :)

  53. To be honest I’m feeling exactly this, but about my personal life. My career seems to be progressing fine. It takes up quite a lot of time but it is not like I am at the office all hours of the day, so I have no excuses really. Definitely feeling a little lost:(

  54. And I forgot the best part! After moving to Toronto I met the love of my life. We dated, moved in together and bought a house. If I hadn’t had my horrible WTF moment I would never have found my way back to him (way more important than my job).

  55. I had my WTF moment after finishing photography school in 2008.

    Up until then I had worked for six years in PR, making good money, with strong career prospects and had won a bunch of awards for my work. I wasn’t happy so I decided to go back to pursue my dream of becoming a photojournalist.

    School went well and I had a strong start – lots of internships and encouragement – but then the recession hit. That was timed perfectly with the breakdown of my relationship.

    Suddenly I was living in my parents’ house, without a single career prospect, all of my things in storage across the country and thinking that I had made the biggest mistake of my life by going back to photography school.

    I’d like to say I didn’t wallow but I did. I spent a few weeks wearing the uniform of the recently dumped (sweatsuit) and crying in my parents’ guest room. One day a colleague (one more experienced than I was who had always been a mentor) called me up. When I told him what had happened with the breakup he kicked my ass and told me to get back out shooting even if no one was hiring me.

    I made the decision to pack up and head across country without any real work prospects or a place to live. I traveled to Africa to shoot a project that I wanted to work on and got an apartment in Toronto.

    Even then things didn’t turn around immediately. I was angry things didn’t work out. I had pulled myself together and bravely made some decisions! I was broke and starting to think that perhaps I should just lick my wounds and go back to PR. Then one day, I got a call for work. That turned into another call from a different client and slowly things turned around.

    That first year was rough. I made just enough to survive (pay my rent and eat but often had to watch my friends enjoy a round of drinks while I had water) and thought of quitting several times. After that it got easier and slowly I picked up new clients and expanded my client base. Now I run a successful business.

    It took time and certainly wasn’t easy but I’m glad I didn’t give up.

  56. I’m in that scribble right now, too. I finished university a year ago and since then I have been trying to get a job in PR or journalism or ANYTHING by this point. Instead I am having a lot (!) of free time on my hands and try to enjoy it as best as I can. The arrival of Spring helps. And sunlight. And friends to have coffee with you and tell you that everything is going to be fine…

  57. I’ve always thought of myself as pretty lucky, things have a way of working out for me. After a brief stint of under-employment after law school, I landed my “dream job” (and it was against all odds as I was 5 mos. pregnant when I interviewed). I’m almost a year into living the dream…and it’s not quite what I thought it would be.
    To say I’m miserable is a slight over statement. But big law firm life and being the mom I want to be do not mix. I know I should be grateful for having a good job when so many do not, but I’m not happy.
    Hopefully there are a few more squiggles ahead for me and I can find my success!

    Thank you for the inspirational post!

  58. Soo true. I’m in the middle of that scribble right now!

  59. I’m currently in the midst of my WTF moment. My fiance and I broke up last year after seven years together and I had to move back in with my parents. In a matter of five days I went from living in LA back to my small hometown in Washington State (where I swore I would NEVER return!). It’s been really rough at times, but it’s also led me to some unexpected surprises, too, including starting my blog and traveling out of state (and country once) five times in seven months. One thing I can say for sure though is, I’m learning so much about myself and know for a fact that after all of this, I’ll never be the same (in a good way)!

  60. I also think it’s important to remember that success is unique to you. It doesn’t have to look the same as your neighbour, friend, idol etc. Stay true to you and remember that you are enough.

  61. This is a little weird, but bear with me. I was kicked out of my after-school circus program because I kept wanting to juggle. They said that I’ve already accessed me and placed me in acrobatics because I wouldn’t be good at juggling. Two years later, my brother and I broke the world record in passing 9 clubs the longest. I was 12 and he was 15, and the record was previously held by adult men.

    Even though I quit juggling when I was 16, it ended up opening a lot of doors for me (mainly being able to come to the U.S.). I’m a software engineer now, but the experience of being told that I couldn’t and then I did definitely stays with me to this day.

  62. This post could NOT have been a better timing! Me and my husband just quite both of our super miserable jobs and drove across country and living at his mom’s house. We took this gamble to get out of something nasty, so there must be something good on the other side..right?…right?!!?!?!

  63. I’m finishing up two years at a nonprofit that I don’t love, which I just resigned from to go to grad school — but now that financial aid info has come back they’re not giving me enough money to go! Instead I’m taking a three week trip to Europe and then doing an internship abroad in the fall. On to new, unplanned adventures, and will hopefully find a new nonprofit position that I love when I return. xo

  64. Judging by the standards of lot of people I have not been very successful in my life. I’m about to turn 35 and I am not married, I have no children, I don’t have a house, I don’t currently have a full time job, I don’t own a car and I have a boat load of student loan debt. That being said, I’ve never been happier in my whole life. It took me nearly 14 years to finish my BFA and I’m now in the final weeks of finishing my MBA, which is something I never imagined for myself. I’m doing things that I love and as it turns out I’m pretty dang good at too. Most importantly I’m really really happy. I’d call that a success.

    • you are AWESOME! so happy for you Marcelina :)

  65. It’s so true. Often times there are road blocks and detours in life that we just can’t explain. I’ve been told it’s the journey not the destination….but sometimes I think it’s partly the destination in the end.

    Thanks for the nice post, stop by when you get a chance.

  66. Oh gosh. What a good question!

    I worked at my ‘dream job’ at a nonprofit for two years and was completely miserable from 12 months on. I ended up quitting without another job lined up, applied for my current job the day after I quit, worked retail for a month, and then got the offer.

    It was such an emotional few months leading up to the decision to leave, but once I listened to my gut and did I was 1000x happier and continue to be. My new job is in a different field, but I love what I do and (just as importantly) the office environment!

  67. - says...

    I’m reading Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir now (good book, btw). She was basically a rock star all throughout school, college, law school. But then she totally failed at her first legal job. She was a summer associate at some prestigious law firm, and they didn’t give her an offer to join the firm (which is a pretty serious rejection). I imagine that must have been so hard after never failing at anything. But, she didn’t let it stop her from reaching the height of her profession. Inspiring.

    • Ohhh maybe I should read this. I currently work in a law firm and kind of feel like I may be in the middle of my WTF moment. Hard to let the image I always had of myself go, but if I’m honest, I’m not so sure this is working out.

    • Me too! I’m a first year Associate at a firm and I want to cry every single day. I’m in the process of looking for other jobs in social work, where I had experience before law school, but I’m so scared that I am going to be too inexperienced in this market to get in anywhere else and I’ll be stuck here forever! Plus, it’s so scary to think of leaving a place where you know they expect you to put in your time. This post, and your comments, give me hope! Thank you!

    • This comment has been removed by the author.

  68. I loveeee this type of inspiration!!

    I felt a little down a couple weeks ago because it seems that you need a lot of money to have good advertising, good pr agency, promote and introduce your product.

    So, to give myself some encouragement, I decided to google exactly what you just wrote. I found several, but nothing that really really caught my eye.

    This post comes at the perfect moment!

    Check out my jewelry here:

    or my blog:

    Brunette Letters Blog

  69. this is so inspiring! makes me want to drop everything and follow my dreams… knowing some of THOSE people failed (multiple times!) gives me the courage to at least try, right?

    (ok ok i’m probably not going to leave my engineer job, but still… maybe something smaller, baby steps, jenn… baby steps)

  70. I SO needed to hear this right now! I graduated from college in December and have yet to find a “real” job. It’s good to know that it will come . . . eventually with some kick butt attitude!

  71. I’m glad you’re so much happier now!

    I’m in medical school and was told by a teacher here that I am unfit to be a doctor because I studied the humanities as an undergrad. I’ll show him!

  72. Love this. Yeah, I wouldn’t go back to my early 20’s for anything in the world. That whole, “Well, you don’t have enough experience…” Well, duh, asshat. That’s why i’m applying for this crappy $20K job right out of university.

    • Omg. Couldn’t agree more! Hahaha…

  73. haha i love this! My path has definitely taken that route, after graduating I got a job as an assistant editor at a magazine and was doing great. Then I met a boy, fell in love and moved to California where we got married. But unfortunately my job situation was at a standstill for almost two years. Eventually I realized it was the perfect moment to realize a lifelong dream of getting a master’s degree so I applied and will be starting school this fall. All good things come to those who wait :) and if you didn’t have to struggle you wouldn’t appreciate what you get in the end.