5 Successful People Who Were Fired Before Becoming Rich and Famous

God is the Gardener

5 Successful People Who Were Fired Before Becoming Rich and Famous

This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss an inspiring commencement speech Hugh B. Brown gave about coming to understand God’s method for helping us learn, grow and improve. All of us have challenges and trials. We each have times we feel cut down, and we need to remember that God is our gardener. He may cut us down, but he does so with the purpose of making us greater than we are now. 

We will also look at five successful people who were fired before becoming rich and famous and how they continued on despite their challenges. 

The Currant Bush

In 1968, Hugh B. Brown, an attorney, educator, and church leader, gave a commencement speech at BYU. He encouraged the graduating students to develop a personal relationship with God and to keep close to Him as they moved onto the next stages of their lives. As part of his message, he shared a story of a currant bush. 

While Brown was on a farm in Canada, he found a currant bush. The bush had grown over six feet tall and showed no signs of blossoms or fruit, so Brown grabbed his pruning shears and cut the bush down until there was nothing left but a clump of stumps. 

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As he looked at what was left on the bush, he saw what looked like a tear. He asked, “What’s the matter, currant bush? What are you crying about?” And he thought he heard the bush speak. It seemed to say, “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. I was almost as large as the fruit tree and the shade tree, and now you have cut me down. And all in the garden will look upon me with contempt and pity. How could you do it? I thought you were the gardener here.”

With that, he responded, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. If I let you go the way you want to go, you will never amount to anything. But someday, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to think back and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’”

Ten years later, Brown found himself in Europe as a field officer in the Canadian Army during World War I. One day there had been a casualty. The man standing between Brown and the rank of a general had been lost in war. The day after, Brown received a telegram from London from General Turner, requesting he be brought to his office the following morning. 

Brown polished his boots and buttons and prepared himself for the meeting, expecting to be appointed an army general. However, when he went to London, the general roughly told him to sit down. He said, “Brown, you are entitled to this promotion, but I cannot make it. You have qualified and passed the regulations, you have had the experience, and you are entitled to it in every way, but I cannot make this appointment.”

With that, he left the room. Brown leaned over the table and looked at his personal history sheet and saw a sentence written at the bottom that had his religious affiliation written with each letter capitalized. They had denied him the position because of his faith. 

On his way back to his tent, bitterness rose. He shook his fist at heaven and asked, “How could you do this to me, God? I’ve done everything that I knew how to do to uphold the standards of the Church. I was making such wonderful growth, and now you’ve cut me down. How could you do it?”

Then he heard a voice that sounded like his own. It said, “I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to be. If I let you go the way you want to go, you will never amount to anything. And someday, when you are ripened in life, you are going to shout back across the time and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’”

Years later, Brown realized that if he had taken the position of a senior commanding officer, he wouldn’t have experienced many of the blessings he had later on in life. Now, looking back, he is able to say, “Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down.”

God is our gardener. He knows what’s best for us and sometimes we need to be cut down in order to grow. We may not understand it at first, but God knows where He needs us to be. We just need to trust Him. 

This same principle applies in business. As entrepreneurs with faith, we need to remember that God knows what is best for us. Sometimes our ventures may fail, or we may run into a dead-end where we have to pivot. We need to trust that God is in control and maybe using the failures to help us grow and lead us down a better path. 

5 Successful People Who Were Fired

Many successful entrepreneurs were fired before they made their big breakthroughs. God had to “cut them down” so they could find a path that would lead to something better. 

1. Elon Musk



Before Elon Musk became the founder and CEO of SpaceX, became the CEO and product designer of Tesla, and gained a net worth of $166 billion, he was “cut down.”

In 1999, Elon Musk started X.com, an online financial services company. He invested a large amount of money into the company as he took on his venture. However, in 2000, when X.com merged with a competing company to become PayPal, Musk was fired from his role as CEO due to disagreements (Source: Business Insider). 

Only a couple of years later, in 2002, Musk founded SpaceX, a space exploration technology company that is now valued at about $74 billion (Source: Forbes). Then, in 2004, Musk joined Tesla and in 2008, he took over as CEO (Source: Interesting Engineering). 

If Musk hadn’t been fired from PayPal, there is a chance he would not be leading SpaceX and Tesla. Sometimes it takes failure to be pushed into something greater. 

2. Walt Disney



Before Walt Disney created one of the largest media companies in the world, a company that is now worth more than $120 billion, his editor fired him from the newspaper because he “lacked creativity” (Source: Business Insider). 

This forced Disney to experiment with hand-drawn animation and eventually led him to start his first animation business, Laugh-O-Gram. When Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt, it forced him to move to Hollywood and open his own studio. Then, when his distributor took the rights for his cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, it forced Disney to use his imagination and he created Mickey Mouse (Source: Walt Disney Archives). 

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Disney experienced multiple setbacks within his career, however, he didn’t let it stop him from moving forward. Each setback led him to a greater opportunity. We need to remember that sometimes we are stopped on the path we are on because God has something greater in mind for us. 

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me,” Disney said. “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

3. Steve Jobs



Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, the company he co-founded. 

When Jobs was 21, he co-founded the Apple Computer, and by the time he was 23, he became a millionaire, but when he was 30, he was fired from his own company. Jobs and John Sculley had a power struggle, and in 1985, Apple’s board sided with Sculley (Source: ABC News).

However, this setback ended up being one of the best things that could have happened to him. While Jobs was away from Apple, he learned valuable lessons that helped him achieve his future success.  In 1996, Apple Computer asked Jobs to come back to the company. Jobs returned as Apple’s CEO and led the company in the creation of great innovations, such as the iPod and iPhone.

“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life,” Jobs said.

4. J.K. Rowling



J.K. Rowling was fired from her secretary position because she spent too much time daydreaming at work. 

Business Insider reported that Rowling secretly wrote stories on her work computer while dreaming up the story of a teenage wizard named Harry Potter. However, this setback actually paved the way for Rowling to start her novel. Her severance check helped support her while she focused on her writing (Source: Bustle). Now, J.K Rowling is worth just over $1 billion and is the author of one of the most successful series ever written. 

More than 500 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, with 180 million sold in the United States alone (Source: MediaRoom). The first Harry Potter movie made $974.71 million (Source: Forbes) and all together, the films made over $7 billion (Source: ShowBiz CheatSheet). 

However, it is safe to say that Rowling wouldn’t have been pushed to write the Harry Potter books if she wasn’t fired. 

5. Oprah Winfrey 



Oprah Winfrey was fired from reporting the evening news for Baltimore’s WJZ-TV. Her producer told her she was “unfit for television news” since she showed too much emotion (Source: Inc.). 

Wherever you are in your journey_Blog

However, this setback led Winfrey to work for a daytime television show, People Are Talking. The show became very popular and eventually led her to create her own show, the Oprah Winfrey Show. Her show has aired nationally for 25 seasons (Source: TVdb), and she’s currently worth about $3 billion (Source: Forbes). Being fired was one of the best things that could have happened to Winfrey. 

“Wherever you are in your journey, I hope you, too, will keep encountering challenges. It is a blessing to be able to survive them, to be able to keep putting one foot in front of the other—to be in a position to make the climb up life’s mountain, knowing that the summit still lies ahead,” Winfrey said. 

Trusting in God 

As we trust in God and his plan for us, recovering from our setbacks will become much easier. God is our gardener. He may cut us down at points in our lives, but it is because He loves us. While we may be prevented from going down one path, the next path could lead to much greater things. 

While Brown gave his speech to a group of graduates, we can apply this same lesson as we move forward onto new stages of our lives. As we come closer to God and understand His love for us, we will have the courage to continue on. 

Brown said:

“Now some of you as you go forward is going to meet with disappointment—perhaps many disappointments, some of them crucial. Sometimes you will wonder if God has forgotten you. Sometimes you may even wonder if He lives and where He has gone. But in these times when so many are saying God is dead and when so many are denying His existence, I think I could not leave with you a better message than this: God is aware of you individually. He knows who you are and what you are, and, furthermore, He knows what you are capable of becoming. Be not discouraged, then, if you do not get all the things you want just when you want them. Have the courage to go on and face your life . . .”

Key Takeaways

Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:

  1. God is our gardener. He knows what’s best for us and sometimes that means we need to be cut down in order to grow.
  2. Sometimes our ventures may fail, or we may run into a dead-end. Instead of giving up, let’s learn and pivot.
  3. Many successful entrepreneurs were fired before they made their big breakthrough. God may stop us from going down one path because He knows there is another path that will lead to greater success.
  4. As we come closer to God and understand His love for us, we will have the courage to continue on His path for us.

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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