Many claim intense childhood trauma "damages" people in their adult years. But is this necessarily true? We all have obstacles and hardships -- some of us more than others. But although you had a tough childhood, this does NOT mean you'll have problems or failures over your entire lifetime.
Actually -- just the opposite seems to be true! Intense difficulties, hardships and major obstacles are actually often major contributors to success. It's true that difficult childhoods do leave some people wounded and disadvantaged. But for others, a tough childhood actually drives them to outrageous achievement and success! (The difference is resourcefulness and determination.)
Adversity and Greatness
In a classic book - Cradles of Eminence - researchers Victor and Mildred Goertzel reviewed the childhood family life of 700 of the world's most successful people. Their goal was to identify the early experiences that contributed to the remarkable achievements of these successful people. All of their "research subjects" are widely known for their personal accomplishments. Their names are easily recognizable: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, etc.
What they discovered is truly fascinating! Three-quarters of these successful people (525 of the 700) came from deeply troubled childhoods. They had endured extreme poverty, broken homes, and even parental abuse. Over one-fourth (199 of the 700) had to deal with very serious physical handicaps such as deafness, blindness or crippled limbs. And over 80% of those who became successful writers and playwrights had watched their own parents struggle with intense psychological dramas.
The Goertzel's concluded that the drive to "compensate" for their disadvantages actually drove these people straight into the arms of outrageous personal achievement.
The Triumph of a "Homely" Woman Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, a former U.S. "First Lady" provides an excellent example. Anna was orphaned at 10, and had a childhood of utter anguish. As a young girl she was painfully aware of being very homely. And her childhood writings reveal she never had a sense of "belonging" anywhere, or to anyone.
According to Victor Wilson of the Newhouse News Service, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was "a rather humorless introvert (and) an unbelievably shy young woman, unable to overcome her personal insecurity, and with a deep conviction of her own inadequacies." But as she matured, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt refused to remain "disadvantaged." She took hold of her own bootstraps and began to pull herself up into a higher, more powerful consciousness.
After marrying, she ended up courageously nursing her husband through crippling polio. Then when he (Franklin Roosevelt) was elected to the U.S. Presidency in the depth of the Great Depression, Mrs. Roosevelt quickly transformed the position of First Lady. As First Lady, she became an outspoken supporter for the downtrodden of all races, religions and countries -- at the same time managing the White House, and raising six children. (Do YOU consider yourself "too busy" to reach out and claim your full potential?)
After her husband's death, she spent the remainder of her life as a highly-respected American spokesperson to the United Nations. At her death this shy, disadvantaged, homely and withdrawn young woman had became one of the most loved and revered women of her entire generation.
WHY did this happen? Eleanor Roosevelt made a PERSONAL CHOICE to lift herself beyond her perceived "limitations." As Victor Wilson said, "From some inner wellspring, Mrs. Roosevelt summoned a tough, unyielding courage, tempered by remarkable self-control and self-discipline."
The "Adversity Principle"
Obstacles and hardships do NOT have to lead to failure!
Consider Lou Gehrig: Lou was such a clumsy kid that the boys in his neighborhood wouldn't let him play on their baseball team. But he tapped into his source of inner courage and determination. Lou Gehrig is today listed in the baseball "Hall of Fame" as one of the greatest ball players of all time.
Then there was Woodrow Wilson, who couldn't read until he was ten years old. Wilson went on in his life to become the twenty-eighth President of the United States. Plus ... Thomas Edison was stone-cold deaf, Booker T. Washington was born in slavery, and Lord Byron was crippled by a "club foot." The famous writer Robert Louis Stevenson had tuberculosis. Alexander Pope had an unsightly hunchback, and Julius Caesar was an epileptic. Yet each of these individuals became famous historic figures in spite of (or perhaps *because of*) their handicaps.
Helen Keller, who could not hear or see, transformed an entire nation when she graduated with honors from college. She is still a source of inspiration for millions. Then there's Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven began to lose his hearing in his 20s, and was completely deaf by 50. Yet he created some of the world's most beautiful music. Beethoven was once overheard shouting at the top of his voice, "I will take life by the throat!"
A Call to Action
This is YOUR personal call to action! Your ATTITUDE toward any perceived personal "handicap" determines its impact on your life. This IS your life! Why not make it all it can be?
Recall this the next time you're tempted to focus on any personal weaknesses or past pain to rationalize failure. To become all we can be, we MUST stop making excuses. Use any personal adversity or perceived limitations to do what Beethoven did: let loose with a life-affirming roar and "grab life by the throat."
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