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5 incredibly successful people who got fired

Anna Wintour got fired

Getting fired can be a launching pad to new opportunities. Here are 5 successful people who got fired before they found incredible success.

Losing your job can be a difficult experience. We feel alone, rejected and like our career and life as we know it is over. Getting fired threatens our financial security because it takes away our source of income. However, if you can adapt, getting fired can also be a new beginning.


No one that knows that more than these household names – all of whom have at least one thing in common: being fired. It’s important to share their stories to show how getting kicked to the curb by your employed can be the stepping stone to success.

Here are 5 incredibly successful people who got fired and what they did next:

1. Oprah: “Unfit for TV news”

  • Situation: Oprah was offered a TV evening news co-anchor role straight out of University. The experience was not a positive one, with Oprah fired after 7 months because she was too emotionally involved in her stories. One producer even told her that she was “unfit for TV news”.
  • What happened next: Oprah was kicked out of the news studio but the network found her another position on their failing talk show. Rather than being a poisoned chalice, it was on this talk show that her emotionally invested personable style was the right fit. Eventually, she would go on to headline, The Oprah Winfrey Show which was on the air for 25 years as one of the most successful American daytime television shows. Her current net worth stands at nearly $3 billion. And that job she was fired from? The positive takeaway was she met her best friend Gayle King on the set and they’re still besties to this day.

2. Walt Disney: “Lacked imagination and had no good ideas”

  • Situation: Walt Disney was fired from his animator job at the Kansas City Star newspaper. The newspaper editor told him that he wasn’t creative enough and specifically that he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.
  • What happened next: Walt acquired an animation studio that went bankrupt but then teamed up with his brother, moved to Hollywood and created the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio. That studio became The Walt Disney Company and Walt went on to win the most oscars ever awarded to an individual in the history of Hollywood. And that newspaper who fired Walt Disney? Disney went on to purchase ABC in 1996, which at that time owned the Kansas City Star, the very newspaper that fired Walt Disney.

3. Steve Jobs: “Fired from the company he founded”

  • Situation: Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Computer with Steve Wozniak in a California garage at the age of 21. They eventually hired a CEO so that Steve Jobs could focus on creating the Macintosh computer. When the Macintosh didn’t sell as many computers as expected, a power struggle between Steve Jobs and the CEO resulted in Steve Jobs having his responsibilities taken away, pushing him out of Apple, the company he founded.
  • What happened next: Steve spent the summer he was fired considering what he could do next, including whether he could start again in his career as an astronaut or politician. He stuck with his tech career, co-founding another company called NeXT which Apple then acquired. Steve’s return to Apple helped bring about products including the iPod, iPad and the iPhone, which many of you will be reading this on right now. And the CEO who helped fire Steve Jobs? He was also forced out by Apple and later said that he wished he had reached out to Steve Jobs and hired him back sooner rather than later.

4. Anna Wintour: “Didn’t understand the American market”

  • Situation: Anna Wintour was a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar in the UK before transferring to the New York version of the magazine. She only lasted 9 months before she was fired because the magazine editor didn’t like her edgy photoshoots. She was told she would never understand the American market and fired from her position.
  • What happened next: Anna became the fashion editor of Viva magazine before it closed down. She then held a range of positions before becoming the creative director and editor in chief of British Vogue, before transferring again to the American edition of Vogue as their editor in chief. She has held that prime position at American Vogue since 1988. And Anna’s response today to being fired? Anna credits being fired as having helped her career, adding that “I think everyone should be fired, it’s character building”.

5. Kerry Washington: “Her role on a TV show was recast – twice”

  • Situation: Kerry was working on a TV show pilot, which is a sample episode that they film to see if the TV show will get commissioned by a TV network. Luckily for the actors, the pilot got commissioned for a series but Kerry was fired and her role was recast. This happened to her not once but twice. Both times, she was told they wanted someone who sounded ‘more urban’.
  • What happened next: Kerry reflected that being fired felt like her career was over at the time but she persisted. She went on to have her breakout role as Olivia Pope in the hit TV series Scandal, written by Shonda Rhimes, the powerhouse behind shows like Grey’s Anatomy. She received widespread praise for her performance, earning multiple award nods and nominations, including the 2015 nomination for the People’s Choice Award for Favourite Dramatic TV Actress. And those TV casting directors? We’re guessing that they’re probably not going to rely on stereotypes when casting roles in the future.

Getting fired is a very human experience.

As humans who find meaning in being part of a group, we take the rejection to heart. Getting fired can also induce financial stress including worrying about how to pay the rent. However, it’s important to recognise that being fired can also bring new, better opportunities. And looking to these famous faces who also got rejected before finding incredible success can give you the inspiration to turn rejection into opportunity.

Read more: Money Do’s and Don’ts: What to do if you lose your job

Written by Kate Crowhurst

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