It’s often amazing, when you think about it, how trivial some of our concerns are. There’s even a term for it: “first-world problems.” The wifi is running too slowly. The car takes too long to get cool in the summer. The vacation had to be cancelled. None of these situations is a big deal, but it’s easy to consider them as such when things are otherwise not too bad.
Then, there are those people who face real adversity: the poor, the hungry, the illiterate, the sick, and others who struggle every day. It’s equally amazing when you realize how many people who come from meager backgrounds and bad situations turn their lives around, triumph over the things that stand in their way and emerge victorious.
Some of today’s most successful business leaders spent considerable time struggling, fighting off personal demons, and overcoming often extreme adversity before they emerged victorious and successful. Sometimes they write books, give talks, appear on podcasts, or talk to news outlets about how they did it. Their true, unfiltered and often dramatic stories provide others who have little hope with lots of inspiration. If he or she can do it, I can, too.
These stories are everywhere.
If you watch TED talks, as many businesspeople do, you’ve likely seen the one entitled “How do We Do Impossible?” presented by Cameron Chell, CEO and chairman at Draganfly, a Vancouver company whose quadcopters (aka “drones”) are changing how a number of industries work, including, most recently, playing a major role in the fight against the coronavirus.
During his TED presentation, he talks about how we have all faced and experienced “impossible” in our lives. In his case, he tells his own story of recovery from addiction and living on the streets of Vancouver’s East End. In the face of an impossible situation, thinking of the big picture can be daunting and even paralyzing. To achieve the “impossible,” he notes, we must focus on just “doing the next thing.”
Cameron Chell isn’t alone.
Many business leaders have been public about their own struggles and fighting hard to overcome them. Once a person becomes successful, their troubled past and the adversity they fought along the way often takes a back seat to their public successes. But lots of leaders have experienced significant battles.
Mike Cooley is another success story whose early years were anything but easy. The Rhode Island resident and author grew up on the streets of St. Louis. Cooley’s father left his alcoholic wife and took Cooley’s brother and half-brother with him to Texas. A few years later, Cooley’s mother realized she couldn’t afford Cooley, and sent him to Texas to live with his father and new wife, Peggy. He recalled one afternoon while he was playing with his brother, Peggy took a branch from a rose bush and hit both boys on the legs until they bled and screamed. “That moment was the beginning of 15 years of physical, emotional and mental abuse,” Cooley said.
During his youth, Cooley experienced homelessness, physical and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, gang fights, and more. But none of it prevented him from becoming a loving husband and father, as well as a successful business development executive. As an adult, he joined the corporate world and today is senior vice president, South Zone, at Ciox Health in Providence. “If I didn’t have God, I would not be here,” Cooley said. “He is my barometer. I use the messages I got from God to guide me through my career and through my life. I don’t take that lightly or for granted.”
Rising above adversity can often be anything but easy, especially in these trying times. But it is possible, as evidenced by the many who have done it and eventually benefited from their resilience and tenacious attitudes. Many books have been written about the journey from difficulty to success, and for every Cameron Chell who has accomplished great things despite facing great challenges and setbacks, there are many others who wake up every morning, consider their goals and work hard to reach them.
According to writer April Thompson on the Natural Awakenings website, “At one time or another, an estimated 70 percent of people experience a life-altering traumatic event, and most grow stronger from surviving it, according to decades of research by leading institutions like Harvard and Yale universities and the University of Pennsylvania. We can prepare now for life’s inevitable hurdles and setbacks by developing the skills and tools of resilience.”
And how do you develop that resiliency? According to many experts, it’s a mindset that you can develop. You need to condition yourself and possibly change your way of thinking. Once you’ve done that, many say, anything is possible.