Adversity is when you experience a severe misfortune or ongoing difficulty.
I’ve had plenty of adverse events in my life, but these stories couldn’t even begin to explain the concept. Even though I struggled, I think there are far better stories to share from others to help explain the concept. 
Adversity will likely touch all our lives at some point. There is a lot we can learn from those that have overcome it and thrived.
The famous author, Malcolm Gladwell, shares some research on the effects of adversity. For a child, one of the worst things that could ever happen is to lose a parent. It’s devastating.
The question is how do kids respond to this terrible situation. As it happens, many kids take a wrong turn and end up in jail. In fact, those in prison today are two to three times more likely to have lost a parent as a child.
But others choose a different path. They take hold of their situation and use it to drive them forward. To see proof of this, all you need to do is look at our Country’s leaders. One-third of the US Presidents lost their fathers when they were young.
These children faced their situation head-on. In the process, they developed skills, like grit or resilience, to help deal with their new reality. Traits that no doubt helped them reach the highest office in our land.
When adversity finds us, the question will always be, how do we respond. Here are a few other ordinary people that embraced their adversity and became great in spite of it.

Abraham Lincoln

He was our 16th President and one of the best of all time. His list of accomplishments is as long as his list of hurdles in life.
Lincoln lost his mother as a child, lived on the frontier doing hard labor and had less than a year of education. After getting married, he and his wife had four boys. In an unimaginable turn, only one became an adult, losing the other three as children.
It would have been natural and understandable for Lincoln to throw in the towel on life. But he didn’t, and the world is a better place because of his work.

J.K. Rowling

The famous author of the Harry Potter series had a marriage that ended in divorce. As a single mother, living on welfare, she struggled to support her daughter.
During this time she had the idea for her first book. To find time to write, she would walk her daughter in a stroller until she fell asleep. Then she would head to a coffee shop to write as much as she could.
Today, she is a billionaire thanks to the success of these books. The desire to overcome her situation and her results are awe-inspiring.

Nelson Mandela

He spent 27 Years in prison for trying to bring a new government to South Africa. While he was behind bars, he helped his fellow inmates and continued his political fights.
The 10,000 days in prison strengthened his resolve to bring change to his country. After his release, he became the President of South Africa and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
I suspect there were days in jail that he wanted to give up and succumb to his circumstance. The fact that he didn’t changed his country for the better and made him a global icon

Helen Keller

She was born in June of 1880 and by all accounts was a happy and healthy baby girl. 19 months later she developed an illness that left her both deaf and blind. After this, communication and education was difficult, if not impossible.
Her parents eventually sought out help. They hired Anne Sullivan to teach Helen to “see” and to “talk.” Learning sign language unlocked something special inside Helen.
In spite of her situation, she was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She didn’t stop there. She wrote twelve books, raised funds for the blind and campaigned on political issues.
Achieving all this in light of her disability is a fantastic accomplishment.


Adversity changes us, either for better or worse. We can use this force to become a diamond, or we can go through life as an ordinary piece of coal.
I hope you never struggle with real adversity, but I know there will be struggles. That’s OK. In fact, it’s a good thing. Life seems to teach us the most when our backs are against the wall. When this happens, it’s not necessary to try to change the situation. It does require a response and how we respond will shape our future.
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.