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Why Spielberg, a Film School Reject, Was Successful Anyway

Many successful people begin with failure, but succeed because of mindset.

Shutterstock w/permission
Source: Shutterstock w/permission

Success is an iceberg illusion. When you see someone who is successful, what you are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You see what they have accomplished, but rarely do you see all the hard work, dedication, and often failures that came before it.

Everyone has dreams, and everyone wants to be successful; it is part of what makes us human beings. But what distinguishes those who achieve their dreams from those who don't often has to do with the mindset from which they approach the many obstacles that come up along the way.

As a psychologist who has spent my career studying how people create future experiences, I have seen many people who are unwilling to reach for what they want in life because they don’t believe it is possible to achieve their dreams. Of those who are willing to reach for what they want, they often take a few steps forward and then pull back and turn around when they encounter an obstacle.

To succeed at any goal worth having, it is almost guaranteed that there will be obstacles and roadblocks. Some who have achieved the greatest success stories have experienced roadblocks that would have turned most people around and caused them to give up.

For example:

  • Steven Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California’s film school three times!
  • Michael Jordan didn’t make his high-school basketball team. He was later named the greatest athlete of the century by ESPN.
  • Walt Disney’s first cartoon production company went bankrupt.
  • The Beatles were rejected by three major record labels before they were signed.
  • Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by publishers a total of 123 times. The series now has 65 different titles and has sold more than 80 million copies all over the world.
  • John Grisham’s first novel was rejected by 16 agents and a dozen publishers. He later wrote several books that became bestsellers and were made into movies.

These incredibly successful people did not start out successful; rather, they were people who encountered failures and obstacles along the way to achieving what they wanted. What they had in common was they did not allow the obstacles to deter them. The kept going, no matter what.

As you set out to achieve any goal, one of the best ways to prepare for your potential obstacles is to adopt a successful mindset. Failure is something you don’t want; if you redirect all of your thinking away from what you don’t want and toward what you do want, you are left with success as the only option.

If success is the only option, it means you don’t entertain the thought of failure. If failure isn’t an option, then what you need to do when an obstacle arises is easy—you create a solution and go around it.

Instead of viewing obstacles as a deterrent, see them as an opportunity to learn what you need to do next to be even more successful. When you see obstacles as a chance to grow instead of a setback, then there is something good that can come out of any experience.

Below are three tips for maintaining a successful mindset.

1. Don’t take it personally. Accept rejection and failure as part of the process. If something doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough or deserving enough. It means it may not be the right time or the right path, or it is meant to teach you something of value.

2. Ask for feedback. Learning is the best method to grow and develop. Ask people whose opinions you trust and value for feedback.

It helps to ask for feedback from people who are objective and not too invested in your goal. You have to keep in mind that others will always view your situation from their own perspective and limiting beliefs; however, other people can often show you things that are in your own blind spot and provide valuable data for generating solutions.

3. Keep your eye on the big picture and stay open to alternative possibilities. Oftentimes, success can look different than we originally imagined it to be.

If Steven Spielberg had defined success as getting into film school, then he may not have been as determined to find an alternative way to learn the craft of filmmaking, which was his ultimate goal. He wanted to make movies, and that was all he cared about, so he faked his way into a film studio and managed to get a job working there. It turned out to be a better path for him.

When you stay focused on why you want something, then you will stay open to the many roads that can take you there.

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