The life of French writer Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) offers a fascinating example of the role that resilience plays in success. It took him 14 years of continuous failure before he actually wrote a book that sold well. During that time, he cumulated business disasters and incurred such enormous debts that he was obliged to hide from creditors.
Personal growth against all odds
His desire to become writer grew slowly during his
time at school and his experience as an employee. In his youth, he
laboured for two years as a clerk at a notary office, where he learned
to draft marriage contracts and property mortgages. Balzac was 20 years
old when he decided to quit his job at the law firm and devote the rest
of his life to writing.
After a long discussion, he managed to
convince his father to grant him a small allowance for a year. That was
the time that Balzac had allowed himself to write a brilliant novel that
would immediately propel him to the highest echelons of literary fame.
those initial 12 months, Balzac produced two appalling books which were
quickly forgotten. A long string of poorly crafted novels followed
during the next years; none of those earned him sufficient money to
break out of poverty.
In his late twenties, Balzac contemplated
his massive failure and resolved to abandon his ambitions. He told
himself that he had done his best, but that becoming a writer was too
difficult. Would he not rather make a fortune in business and later,
when he was free of material concerns, return to literature?
Dealing with catastrophic failure
entrepreneurial attempts soon ended catastrophically. He borrowed large
sums of money and established himself first as a publisher and later as a
printer, two businesses about which he knew little. Competition was
hard and Balzac lacked the experience to run such operations with any
chance of success.
He brought out books that did not sell and saw
financial losses accumulate. In less than a year, he had wasted his
complete capital and was obliged to shut down his business. His dreams
of prosperity were shattered; his personal debts, astronomical; his
prospects of turning around the situation, negligible.
misery followed financial ruin. For an extended period, Balzac spent
his days feeling sorry for himself and hiding from creditors. He was so
poor that he only escaped hunger thanks to family and friends. They
provided him a roof over his head and helped him regain his
Balzac's healing took place slowly. Eventually,
his pride returned to his previous size; his ambitions were rekindled;
his persistence was reborn, stronger than ever before. He announced to
his family that he was going to retake his literary career and that,
this time, he was not intending to stop until he had attained popularity
How to overcome lack of support
When he told them that he was willing to do whatever
was necessary, his declaration was met with scepticism. Had he not tried
to become a writer for longer than a decade? Had he not failed
completely at every attempt?
Balzac nodded, smiled, and replied
that he had conceived a plan that would put him on the map as a writer.
His past novels had been dead-end projects composed without grand
ambitions; his future works would form a collection integrated by a
single idea, a final goal, a fundamental purpose.
came to him in 1833 and continued for a good part of his life. Balzac
baptised his collection of novels La Comédie Humaine, which grew to
encompass 95 books. At several times in his career, he played again with
the idea of acquiring a business and living a different life.
Fortunately for his readers, he stuck to his final goal.
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