Overcoming Adversity: Does Going Through Struggle Lead to Success?

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Have you ever heard someone use the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?”

The essence of this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche is that each struggle ultimately leads to success or creates some sort of positive change. 

Looking back on your own life, consider all the make or break moments. It doesn’t always work out the way you want, but one thing is for sure: you always come out differently than how you went into the situation. You can probably cite examples of success and failure during your life. Although we all strive to succeed and to avoid failure at all costs, it turns out that experiencing struggle can actually be the catalyst for later success. 

Throughout life, we are inevitably exposed to adversity on many fronts. There are people who have physical impairments, those who grew up in abject poverty, and others who did poorly in school. In each of these instances, however, there are people who find ways to thrive despite their circumstances.

The difference between success and failure is how you deal with turmoil.

Without exception, all great people had to endure a hardship of some kind. By learning from the experiences of great people throughout time, we can discover meaningful lessons in our own lives.

J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter, ever heard of him? 

Author J.K. Rowling is the brilliant mind behind one of the world’s most renown book series. Now worth close to a billion dollars, it’s hard to believe that she was living in poverty. Her ascension to stardom has taught some very important lessons about the path to success.

1. Stop Making Excuses

In the Harry Potter series, there’s a mythical creature called a Phoenix. It burns to self destruct, then rises again out of the ashes. This same resiliency is seen in Rowling’s life experiences.

Part of J.K. Rowling’s life was met with intense struggle. She was impoverished living off of welfare and was also trying to support a child. At times, Rowling would scribble down ideas for Harry Potter on napkins because that was all she had to write with. Nonetheless, she was able to finish the book.

What’s your excuse?

2. Overcoming Rejection

Given the success that Harry Potter has had on a global stage, it’s hard to imagine that no publishers wanted to take a chance on Rowling’s concept. Rejection after rejection, she carried on. Meanwhile, she was also facing depression, which coupled with a lack of support is a dangerous pairing. Nonetheless, she persevered until she got what she desired all along.

If you believe in something badly enough, you can overcome any obstacle.

Ulysses S. Grant

If you’ve ever held a 50 dollar bill, you know who Ulysses S. Grant is. 

He was a two term president and the general who led the Union to victory during the American Civil War. Despite his impressive resume, there is so much more to his story that the average person doesn’t know. News flash: for most of his life, Grant seemed to be very average. In fact, looking at some junctures of his life, you might even call him a failure. 

Let’s see what we can learn from one of the most important men in America’s history.

1. Don’t Compromise Your Beliefs

If your family was starving, would you be willing to go against your beliefs?

At one point in his life, before the Civil War, Grant was faced with this exact situation. His family was living in poverty and only had a few assets: slaves which his wife had inherited from her family.

There was a tremendous amount of pressure financially to sell his slave so that he could get out of poverty. Instead of selling his slave, Grant went to town hall and freed him. This was essentially the equivalent of giving up an asset with the same value as a house. Knowing that slavery was immoral and unjust, Grant stayed true to his beliefs. 

How many people would have done this given the circumstances he was facing? In any situation, no matter how difficult, it is important to stick to what you believe in.

2. Study Your Opponents 

As a young man, Ulysses S. Grant attended West Point to become an officer in the United States Army. During his time there, he seemed to be a middle of the road soldier. Although a talented equestrian, he received demerits at regular intervals and never conferred accolades while at school. What Grant learned at school proved to be even more valuable than honors.

To understand Grant fully, you need to compare him with his contemporaries at West Point. One person that comes to mind is Robert E. Lee. By all standards, Lee was the best general America produced at this time. Had he not decided to fight for the Confederacy, he would’ve been an easy pick to lead the United States Army. Yet, it was Ulysses S. Grant, a supposedly “middle of the road” officer, who went on to defeat Lee and end the bloodiest war in American history to that point.

You’re probably wondering how this was possible.

The determining factor that allowed Grant to rise through the ranks was his knowledge of opponents. Understanding the tendencies of other officers gave him advantages when it came to planning and executing. Grant knew that Robert E. Lee relied on speed and movement to dominate opponents. As such, Grant decided to continuously engage Lee on the battlefield and slow him down. Eventually Lee was forced to surrender. Perhaps his academic career did not reflect what he learned at West Point, but the history books do.

3. Harness Your Will Power

After winning the war and serving as president for two terms, Grant continued to face obstacles. When some investing decisions proved to be a scam, he found himself in an all too familiar situation. Not only was Grant broke, he also found out that he had cancer.

With little money to his name, Grant decided to write memoirs that could be sold across the country. The greatest obstacle he faced was time because death was inevitable. To his credit, Grant persevered and completed the entire memoir before passing away. The proceeds of his work made hundreds of thousands of dollars and gave his family a comfortable if not luxurious inheritance. 

By willing himself to completion, Grant totally changed his family’s financial future.

Henry Ford

During the 2008 recession, several major car manufacturers in the United States received bailouts from the government. Ford Motor Company was not one of them. Although Henry Ford is long gone, the company he built still embodies its founder.

As he ascended to the top of the car industry, Ford faced many obstacles that would have deterred many people from persevering. Understanding his shortcomings and adjusting to meet his goals enabled him to create a highly successful business that is still synonymous with driving almost a century later.

1. Believe in Yourself

Imagine trying to do something that had never been done before.

Ford envisioned a world where cars could be mass-produced. His idea was grand, but his early experiences in business proved to be unsuccessful. With his reputation harmed by failure, it would have been easy for him to give up. Instead, Ford decided to create a publicity stunt by racing against one of the top drivers in the world at the time. He not only won the race but won over investors.

The result of new investments was a company called Ford Motor Company–we all know what happened after that. With the development of the model-T, the first mass produced vehicle, Ford changed the world forever. Had he stopped after his first defeat, the automobile industry as we know it may be quite different. Now, most people in developed countries have vehicles mass produced at factories based on principles Ford developed.

If you believe in yourself, you can achieve great things. Don’t give up on your goals.

2. Be Resourceful

In his early years, Ford had little schooling when he was not working on his father’s farm. This gave him the reputation as a man who lacked intelligence. Many people would think less of themselves for hearing these types of notions. Ford may not have had extensive schooling, but he was not a stupid man as some may have said.

At one point in his life, he is quoted as saying, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Clearly, he was known for thinking big. Everyone has had great ideas, but without materializing them they are essentially useless. Although Ford did not possess the technical expertise to execute his ideas, Ford was able to hire the smartest men in all capacities of his business. Some viewed his lack of schooling as a flaw, but Ford compensated for it with his ability to identify and hire great talent.

How can you leverage your supposed weaknesses?

Final Thoughts

Success is a process rather than a destination. Each struggle we experience on our journey is there to mold you and prepare you for the next challenge in life. In taking lessons from each difficult experience, you are moving one step closer to success.

About the Author 

Kyle Spearin

Kyle is an author, educator, and real estate enthusiast. Along with his website kylespearin.com, he contributes to other major sites including Personal Growth Channel and BiggerPockets. He started creating content to share ideas on personal development, productivity, and the early foundations of wealth accumulation--things that he wishes he knew more about earlier in life.

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