[This post is part of a series on people who succeed despite adversity. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Ask yourself which helps more — having advantages or learning to overcome adversity?
I base this series on noticing how many extremely successful people had problems that mediocre people claim hold them back. Sure, many successful people emerged from privileged backgrounds and sure, some social problems keep many people from any chance at success, but if you’re reading this blog you probably have reasonable access to success.
I decided to create a list of people who succeeded and some problems they overcame. I plan to update the list continually so I’m not trying to be comprehensive now.
When you find yourself claiming some obstacles keep you from achieving your hopes, goals, and dreams, check if anyone on the list below overcame problems worse than yours to achieve greatness beyond yours.
Please send suggestions for other names to add. I expect the list to grow to hundreds of names.
|Elvis Presley||Presley is one of the most celebrated musicians of 20th-century. Commercially successful in many genres, including pop, blues and gospel, he is the best-selling solo artist in the history of recorded music. He was nominated for 14 Grammys and won three, receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award at age 36. He has been inducted into multiple music halls of fame… One of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century, he is often referred to as “the King of Rock and Roll”, or simply, “the King”.||His family often relied on help from neighbors and government food assistance. In 1938, they lost their home after his father was found guilty of altering a check written by the landowner. He was jailed for eight months, and he and his mother moved in with relatives… He received a C in music in eighth grade. His music teacher told him he had no aptitude for singing… He never received formal music training or learned to read music.|
|Marlon Brando||Ranked by the American Film Institute as the fourth greatest screen legend among male movie stars whose screen debuts occurred in or before 1950. Considered to be one of the most important actors in American cinema… One of only three professional actors, along with Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, named by Time magazine as one of its 100 Persons of the Century in 1999… Widely regarded for bringing a gripping realism to film acting and is generally considered to have been one of the greatest and most influential actors of the 20th century.||His mother was an alcoholic and often had to be brought home from Chicago bars by her husband; “The anguish that her drinking produced was that she preferred getting drunk to caring for us.”; He harbored more enmity for his father, stating “I was his namesake, but nothing I did ever pleased or even interested him. He enjoyed telling me I couldn’t do anything right. He had a habit of telling me I would never amount to anything.”; his high school faculty voted to expel him but he dropped out… he worked as a ditch-digger|
|Martin Luther King, Jr||Clergyman, activist, and leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience. King has become a national icon in the history of American progressivism… received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence… awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets in the U.S. have been renamed in his honor. A memorial statue on the National Mall was opened to the public in 2011.||Got C’s and D’s in college and graduate school, including in classes on public speaking and writing… jailed multiple times… spied on and harassed by his government|
|Malcolm X||An African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of blacks, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its crimes against black Americans; detractors accused him of preaching racism and violence. He has been called one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history… In the late 1960s, as black activists became more radical, Malcolm X and his teachings were part of the foundation on which they built their movements. The Black Power movement, the Black Arts Movement, and the widespread adoption of the slogan “Black is beautiful” can all trace their roots to Malcolm X.||Malcolm X’s father died—killed by white supremacists, it was rumored—when he was young, and at least one of his uncles was lynched. After his mother was placed in a mental hospital when he was 13, he lived in a series of foster homes. In 1946, at age 20, he went to prison for breaking and entering… Because of Ku Klux Klan threats his family relocated in 1926 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and shortly thereafter to Michigan. There the family was frequently harassed by the Black Legion, a white supremacist group; when the family home burned in 1929, Earl Little accused the Black Legion… his mother had a nervous breakdown and was committed to Kalamazoo State Hospital, where she remained until Malcolm and his siblings secured her release 24 years later. The children were separated and sent to various foster homes… dropped out after a white teacher told him that practicing law, his aspiration at the time, was “no realistic goal for a nigger”… engaged in drug dealing, gambling, racketeering, robbery, and pimping|
|Charlie Chaplain||Comic actor and filmmaker who rose to fame in the silent film era. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “the Tramp” and is considered one of the most important figures of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years… received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”. He continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked among the greatest films of all time.||Chaplin’s childhood was fraught with poverty and hardship, making his eventual trajectory “the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told” according to his authorised biographer David Robinson. His mother had no means of income, other than occasional nursing and dressmaking, and Chaplin Sr. provided no support for his sons. As the situation deteriorated, Chaplin was sent to a workhouse when seven years old. The council housed him at the Central London District School for paupers, which Chaplin remembered as “a forlorn existence”. He was briefly reunited with his mother at nine years of age, before she had to readmit her family to the workhouse in July 1898. The boys were promptly sent to Norwood Schools, another institution for destitute children… she was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum… His father was a severe alcoholic, and life with the man was bad enough to provoke a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children… By age 13 Chaplin had fully abandoned education.|
|George Foreman||Professional boxer, former two-time World Heavyweight Champion, Olympic gold medalist, ordained Baptist minister, author, and entrepreneur. After a troubled childhood, Foreman took up boxing and was a gold medalist at the 1968 Olympics. He won the World Heavyweight title with a second round knockout of then-undefeated Joe Frazier … at age 45, regained the Heavyweight Championship, the oldest Heavyweight Champion in history… a successful entrepreneur and is known for his promotion of the George Foreman Grill, which has sold over 100 million units worldwide. In 1999 he sold the naming rights to the grill for $138 million.||Grew up in Houston’s rough Fifth Ward district. A self-proclaimed thug, he dropped out of school in the ninth grade, and ran with street gangs until he joined the Job Corps in 1965.|
|Tennessee Williams||An American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs. His professional career lasted from the mid-1930s until his death in 1983, and saw the creation of many plays that are regarded as classics of the American stage. Williams adapted much of his best known work for the cinema… he earned two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards, three Donaldson Awards, and a Tony Award…is work reached world-wide audiences in the early 1950s when The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire were made into motion pictures. Later plays also adapted for the screen included Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana, Sweet Bird of Youth, and Summer and Smoke.||As a small child he suffered from diphtheria that nearly ended his life and left him weak and virtually confined to his house during a period of recuperation that lasted a year… less robust as a child than his father would have wished… his father, hard-drinking traveling shoe salesman who spent most of his time away from home, had a violent temper and was prone to use his fists. He disdained his son’s effeminacy and his neurotic and hysterical mother, locked in an unhappy marriage, focused her overbearing attention almost entirely on her frail young son… by his twenty-fourth birthday he had a nervous breakdown|
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