It’s easy to think that truly successful people were just more fortunate from the beginning. They had the talent, the looks, the money—everything they needed to succeed. And to some extent, it is true that those from stable families who were not burdened by poverty or physical limitations did have it easier than those who had major obstacles to overcome. But there are countless examples of people who have reached unparalleled success despite significant challenges in their lives. In fact, it could be that those very limitations propelled them to strive for heights they may not have reached otherwise. Whatever the reasons for their success, these are people who can inspire our children to accomplish their goals despite their own specific obstacles.
The next time that you or your child are tempted to give up in the face of a formidable obstacle, consider that:
- Abraham Lincoln suffered from severe depression;
- Oprah Winfrey was abused as a child and ran away from home at age 13;
- Franklin D. Roosevelt lost the use of his legs to polio before becoming president;
- Vincent van Gogh is believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder;
- Helen Keller became deaf and blind when she was 18 months old;
- Ludwig van Beethoven suffered from tinnitus and a gradual loss of hearing;
- Benjamin Franklin couldn’t afford to attend school after he turned 10;
- Winston Churchill may have had dyslexia (some dispute this), and suffered emotional instability;
- Walt Disney had attention deficit disorder;
And the list goes on …
Many of these accomplished people would likely say they gained essential character traits as a result of a particular challenge, which ultimately aided them in their success. Their individual stories can be an inspiration for all those dealing with obstacles. For details on individuals, read the series of articles here on Learning Liftoff that highlight successful people who have worked to overcome sizable obstacles in their lives.
In the meantime, take a look at the five strategies below that successful people have used to overcome physical, mental, and financial obstacles.
Don’t Give Up
This is probably the one common characteristic of all successful people and it is an especially important trait for anyone struggling with a disability or other challenge. The inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph, Thomas Edison, is well known for his relentless perseverance. It is said that Edison tried thousands of ways to develop the electric light bulb until he finally succeeded. “Why, I have not failed,” he once quipped, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison also overcame his own childhood obstacles, he suffered from hearing loss and was labeled “addled” by his teacher so his mother homeschooled him. As a parent, don’t let your child use an obstacle as an excuse to give up. Help him find a way around it and adapt to it, and encourage him to always keep trying.
Don’t Make Comparisons
It is natural for kids and adults to compare themselves to others and feel inferior as a result. Such comparisons however, can be self-defeating. Other kids may seem faster, smarter or more attractive, and being compared to someone who seems more successful can be demotivating. Successful people believe in their own self-worth, despite what others may present as evidence to the contrary. If you have a child who tends to compare himself negatively to his peers, encourage him to celebrate what makes him different and focus on his many positive attributes. Avoid evaluating skills and attributes based on comparisons with others. As Steve Jobs once said, “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Physical conditions, disabilities and any other perceived weaknesses can cloud a child’s entire outlook on life. Those who effectively overcome difficulties are good at putting their conditions into perspective. Whatever the obstacle, it is just one area of life. It’s OK to be sad, disappointed or angry at the problem, but positive people are also grateful for what they have and they don’t lose hope for the future. It’s natural to focus on the negative, so encourage your child to make an effort to cultivate a positive attitude. This type of positivity can be empowering and it can prevent the negative feelings from taking over and causing depression.
Find New Solutions for Overcoming Obstacles
People who have overcome obstacles have found new ways to look at old problems. In order to overcome their own difficulties, they have had to think creatively, a skill which makes them successful in other areas of their lives. The old saying that challenges are simply opportunities applies here. Successful people are not afraid to fail as they try new solutions and look for ways to overcome the obstacle that is in their path. Remember that failure is a part of life and many people who are undeniably successful have often failed publicly. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career,” basketball great Michael Jordan is quoted as saying. “I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Try using the S.M.A.R.T. (smart, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) method to set achievable yet still challenging goals. Then track your progress so you can make adjustments along the way, if necessary. Successful people have an end in sight and they work hard to get there. Actor Jim Carrey, who had to overcome dyslexia and the trauma of being homeless for a time as a child, wrote himself a check for $10 million for “acting services rendered,” post-dating it to ten years in the future. Keeping this check in his wallet allowed him to visualize his goal of one day becoming a successful actor.
Many challenges in life may seem insurmountable and limiting, but people throughout history have proven that obstacles can be overcome and even be beneficial. Is your child an inspiration to others? Let us know in the comments section what challenges your child has already overcome.