13 Leading Ladies Who Thrived After Being Told “No”
These leading ladies prove that if you’re strong, focused, and dedicated, rejection is just the first hurdle on the path to monumental success. Each of these Hollywood and fashion favorites was told “no” at some point in her career. But the rejection proved to be a great learning experience. They honed their crafts, focused their projects, and followed their passions until they earned the success others said would never be theirs. Read on for fascinating stories of rejection and how these women triumphed over their adversaries.
It may surprise you to hear that Anna Wintour was originally told “no” by the very industry she runs. Yes, as a junior fashion editor, Wintour was fired from Harper’s Bazaar for being too “edgy.” At a fashion industry conference in New York, Wintour told the audience, “I worked for American Harper’s Bazaar. … They fired me. I recommend that you all get fired. It’s a great learning experience.” We agree with Anna Wintour on the power of rejection. It only makes you stronger, hungrier, and more poised to overcome a challenge.
This year Jessica Alba graced the cover of Forbes for the incredible success of her The Honest Company. The headline read “How Jessica Alba Built a $1 Billion Company, and $200 Million Fortune, Selling Parents’ Peace of Mind.” From that headline, you’d think that the business world had always welcomed Alba with open arms. That was definitely not the case.
In her recent keynote interview with Forbes, Alba was asked about the reactions she got while pitching The Honest Company during its first few years. “It took three and a half years of condescending nods or pats on the back good luck.”
But that didn’t stop Alba from trying to solve the problem of a lack of eco-friendly and all-natural products for the home and baby. “Instead of the resistance holding me back, it pushed me forward. I almost needed it. I needed people telling me ‘no’ for me to figure out exactly what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.”
Matt Jones for Redbook Magazine
Connie Britton won our hearts as the iconic Mrs. T in the series Friday Night Lights. Her warmth, charisma, and killer hair garnered lots of attention on the blogosphere and set Britton up for two more hit roles, in American Horror Story and Nashville. But Britton was not used to hearing the word “yes” before the surprise hit of Friday Night Lights in her late 30s. In fact, a heartbreaking “no” shrouded the first decade of Britton’s acting career. After a stellar series of auditions for the lead in Jerry Maguire—including being flown out to New York to read with Tom Cruise, meet the entire cast, and do a screen test—Britton was rejected. As we all know, Renée Zellweger walked away with the part.
“It was heartbreak,” Britton told The New York Times. A decade—“a crucial decade in the life of an actress,” according to The Times—went by with Britton getting small roles in shows like Spin City, The West Wing, and 24. Britton stayed focused on her goal of being a successful actress, and 10 years after Jerry Maguire premiered without her, she was offered a part on Friday Night Lights. We’re very happy that Britton’s “no” landed her in our Netflix streams the way it did.
It’s one thing to be rejected for an idea but quite another to be rejected solely based on looks. Unfortunately, that is often the case in Hollywood. But it’s rather shocking to hear that Winona Ryder was once told that she would never make it in Hollywood because of her looks. “I was in the middle of auditioning,” Ryder tells Interview magazine, “and I was mid-sentence when the casting director said, ‘Listen, kid. You should not be an actress. You are not pretty enough. You should go back to wherever you came from, and you should go to school. You don’t have it.” Being the strong woman that she is, Ryder put those negative words behind her and instead went on to have a wonderfully successful acting career.
Chloë Grace Moretz is quite candid about the prevalence of rejection in Hollywood. The 18-year-old star spoke to The Telegraph about how she handles constant rejection: "You go up for hundreds, thousands of roles, and you get told no, no, no so many times. You have to have a tough skin; otherwise you'd get beaten down. But I'm not. I love getting told no ’cause then I fight even more."
It’s hard to imagine a world without Born This Way artist Lady Gaga. Before she became a fixture in popular culture, Gaga was rejected from her first music label. According to IMDb, Gaga was signed to Def Jam Records in 2006 but then dropped three months later. It was devastating to be dismissed from her dream vocation, but being rejected gave Gaga the time to experiment and find the unique voice that made her a global phenomenon.
Gaga’s song “Marry the Night” was inspired by her rejection. In an interview with E! News, Gaga said, “It was one of the worst days of my life and it happened quite quickly, but in my mind, when I think back to that period of my life, it all happened very slow. It is my personal way of seeing things. If you give up after something like that, you were never destined to be an entertainer.” What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Mindy Kaling is one of our favorite leading women in Hollywood. Not only is she a phenomenal comedienne and actress, but she also writes and runs her own network television show, The Mindy Project. But her success has not come without a series of rejections along the way…
Kaling tells The Guardian about a “humiliating experience” in which she was forced to audition for a sketch show that she was asked to write. Yes, Kaling was asked to audition for the part of herself and was then rejected because she was “not considered attractive or funny enough” to play herself. The Guardian notes that that network is no longer on the air.
courtesy of Stanford Graduate School of Business
Oprah, the queen of the talk show, was not always lauded for her positive speech and ability to make viewers cry with happiness. She started her on-air career as the first black female evening news anchor for Nashville CBS. After a few years, Oprah moved to Baltimore to be the evening co-anchor for WJZ-TV. After only seven and a half months as a co-anchor, she was demoted to poorly rated daytime show for being “too emotionally involved in the stories.” Within a year, that tiny show was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show, and as her success scaled, she reached millions of people every day.
Kerry Washington plays one of our favorite characters on TV—the political fixer and style maven Olivia Pope on the sleek White House drama Scandal. But, according to IMDb, the actress was hot on the heels of a double rejection when she landed the role of Pope. Washington had filmed two pilots, both of which got picked up—without Washington. We’re very happy the star moved beyond a double “no” and said “yes” to being our onscreen lady boss crush.
Courtesy of Vanity Fair Italy
In the book Being Positive in a Negative World, Sy Tshabalala talks about Marilyn Monroe’s perseverance: “Monroe was once rejected by a modeling agency that advised her to forget about modeling and to try something like being a typist or else get married because they believe that she didn’t properly possess the qualities to make it in the modeling industry.” Monroe is now ingrained in history as an icon for femininity, an award-winning actress, and a successful model.
Mariska Hargitay is currently one the highest-paid actresses on television. But Hargitay wasn’t used to success before she started playing Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU. Despite the fact that Hargitay’s mother, the famous actress Jayne Mansfield, and father, Mr. Universe, were both well-known celebrities, Hargitay had trouble finding her footing as an actress at first.
In an interview with the star, Good Housekeeping states, “as an aspiring actress, Hargitay faced more scrutiny than most Hollywood kids. Casting agents suggested nose jobs and name changes, and Hargitay had to learn to persevere with faith and determination.” We’re grateful that Hargitay kept focused on her passion and never gave up on her dream, despite the criticism and relentless rejection of Hollywood agents. “I realize that you have to show up for your life,” Hargitay tells Good Housekeeping.
Can you imagine life without Harry Potter? Neither can we. If J.K. Rowling hadn’t been fired from her job as a secretary, we might have had to suffer that sad reality. Thankfully, when the HR department told Rowling she was not cut out for secretarial work because she spent all of her working hours writing stories, she went on to write one of the most epic stories of our generation. According to CNN, Rowling survived on her severance package while writing the first Harry Potter book. Today she is a self-made billionaire who has published several books post-Potter under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.
In 2011 it seemed as though Jessica Chastain waltzed onto the Hollywood stage out of nowhere and stumbled into a series of critically acclaimed box-office hits, not to mention two Oscar nominations. But this is far from reality. In truth, the actress spent a decade trying to build her career in Hollywood with theater roles and small parts on shows like ER.
Chastain spoke about the years of rejection to Life: “You spend so much time just trying to get into the room. It’s tough and weighs heavily on you, but you just can’t give up. You just try to get into the next room.” We are inspired by Chastain’s perseverance and are thrilled that all of those years are paying off for the wonderfully talented actress.