America’s Got Talent judge Simon Cowell lays out his guide to success ‘if you’re not born with a talent’

May 22, 2023, 11:30 AM UTC
Simon Cowell posing for paparazzi
One pivotal moment in Cowell’s career taught him that success is an ongoing effort.
Anthony Harvey—Getty Images

Success is all too often described as an overnight phenomenon that, once unlocked, comes with envious levels of wealth and all the trimmings.

It’s why every year, people line up to audition for America’s Got Talent in the hopes of becoming a star and untapping a luxurious lifestyle usually reserved for the rich and famous. 

But its multimillionaire founder Simon Cowell has some harsh home truths for anyone looking for their big break: It doesn’t really exist.

Not in his experience, anyway.

Speaking at the Advertising Week Europe event in London last week, the British entrepreneur recalled his early experience with success and how losing it all taught him that fame and fortune is far from a one-time achievement.

From financial loss to long-lasting success

In the early 1980s, a young Cowell founded Fanfare Records, and it wasn’t long before the money started rolling in.

As his business become more successful, Cowell inflated his lifestyle with extravagant purchases. But by the end of the decade, the company went under, and Cowell nearly became bankrupt.

“Once I started to make some money, I bought a Porsche, bought a house,” he said. “By the time I was 28, I was broke and I had to go back and live with my parents.”

The pivotal moment in his career taught Cowell that you can’t rest on laurels because success is an ongoing effort.

“I wanted everything to happen overnight,” he said, while adding that he soon realized that his success would take him a lot longer than he initially thought.

“If you’re not born with a talent, you learn, you watch, you listen, and then you learn from your mistakes and your successes.”

It proved to be a valuable lesson that Cowell still holds true today. 

Despite being a 63-year-old multimillionaire, he is still continually chipping away at furthering his career—with the latest of his ventures being an upcoming book series, Wishfits.

Seth Godin recently echoed Cowell’s sentiments on the importance of taking your time. 

As reported in Fortune, he said that people would be a lot more fulfilled in their careers if they focused on small wins, personal growth, and their current happiness level instead of “making it.”

“Everyone has a sign on their head”

Looking back even further, Cowell recalled a moment from his childhood that had a lasting impact on him and shaped his wildly successful career. 

When he was just 12 years old, his dad offered him the advice that everyone has a sign on their head that says “make me feel important.”

At first, Cowell said, he was confused. But when he started working, his dad’s words of wisdom finally clicked. 

He explained: “If you’re involved in something, every single person has a role in part of that. And that stuck in my head.” 

In contrast to his tough, hypercritical on-screen persona, Cowell knows the importance of engaging your team and making every player feel like an MVP. 

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