Hard Times: 5 Examples of overcoming adversity

Kevin Mullins

“Affliction is a good man’s shining time.” ― Edward Young

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Ever felt like the odds were stacked against you? Like, no matter how hard you tried, you just couldn’t win? Normally, these thoughts are harmless background noise along the entrepreneurial journey. They creep around in the shadows, whispering doubts, waiting for an indecisive moment to strike. Usually, I don’t pay them any mind.

But lately they have become more unruly and demanding.

Life ain’t easy right now. For many, life just sucks. Business is down. Families, customers, and teams are hurting. It’s like life has us in a collective headlock. We are like addicts in a 12-step program, forced to admit we have less control over our life than we thought.

Perhaps the odds are stacked against us?

Collectively, we don’t do very well under adverse conditions. We’ve spent the last 50 years doing everything possible to remove it from our comfortable existence. We should re-define the last half-century as adversity avoidance. I don’t blame us. Who doesn’t prefer the movie with the successful ending? The impressive results and the world’s applause?

It’s in my nature to pretend the tip of success, peeking above the waterline, is all that matters. Don’t bother me with the gigantic, lurking iceberg of adversity below ― the difficult thing that makes victory so sweet. Just give me the success.

No matter how hard we try to pretend, hard times are here. In moments like this, you and I have two options. Let life knock us down and keep us down, or scrape ourselves off the pavement and get back on our feet. Hard times present us with a daily decision: be overwhelmed or fight back.


Heroes of Hard Times

History is full of heroes who started at the bottom. People who overcame monumental adversity to achieve amazing success. Some of them got hit harder than anything you or I have ever experienced. Life dropped them to their knees. But then they stood up. They fixed their eyes on the prize and fought back. Hard times didn’t derail them, it defined them.

We need stories like that.

When I was growing up, books were my life. Some kids had sports heroes, I had Steven King. I devoured every book I could get my hands on. Today, he’s one of the world’s best-selling and most celebrated writers. Ironically, publishers rejected King’s first manuscript over 30 times.

Steven King? Rejected? Yeah, they rejected the author who wrote “The Shining,“ “The Green Mile,“ and “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Sure, he’s considered a writing prodigy and a huge success today, but his career almost ended in the garbage. He received so many rejections, he gave up on “Carrie,” one of his earliest novels and threw it in the trash. His wife fished it out and encouraged him to keep going despite responses like “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” 

“Carrie” sold over 4 million copies. Imagine being the guy who wrote that rejection letter.

King isn’t alone. History is full of rejected writers, many of whose books we celebrate as literary classics today. Thankfully, Steven had a strong wife behind him who recognized his talent and encouraged him to carry on.

Five Examples of Overcoming Adversity

Adversity is mysterious. It humiliates and mocks some of the best and strongest of us. The ones we thought had it all together and would never fall or fold. It has the opposite effect on others. Unassuming ones who surprise us all, rising in the face of adversity and conquering the world.

Most of us have heard about people like Albert Einstein who didn’t speak until he was four years old.
Or Vincent Van Gogh who only sold one painting his entire life.
Or Frederick Douglass, the famed abolitionist, writer, and statesman taught himself to read and write.

These deserve our admiration and respect. Not merely because of what they did, but how they did it.

But there are so many more. Many who withstood wars, depressions, bankruptcy, and unjust discrimination to realize their dreams. Here are five:

The Spalding Basketball

In 1894, during the severe economic recession of 1893-1896, Dr. James Naismith, a regional sports coach and Basketball’s inventor encouraged A.G. Spalding to design something better than the soccer balls players had been using. The Spalding basketball was born, and the game has never been the same.


The Schick Electric Razor

After one-too-many shaves in the freezing Alaska winter, Colonel Jacob Schick dreamed up a brilliant idea — an electric razor. Even being deployed during World War I, his idea never left him. Jacob returned to the U.S. after the war, and in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression, turned his patented electric razor idea into a manufacturing empire.

The Apple iPod

On September 11, 2001 the world watched in horror as terrorists brought down New York City’s iconic Twin Towers. Less than two month’s later, during the subsequent economic downturn, Apple’s Steve Jobs amazed us all by putting “1,000 songs in our pockets,” changing our relationship with music forever.

Heinz Ketchup

During the 1870s, few Westerner’s had ever heard of, or even tried, traditional Chinese fish sauce. After losing nearly everything in a deep economic crisis, Henry Heinz, the self-made sauce maker, unveiled Ketchup to the world. His tasty new sauce helped save his company from ruin and gave fried potatoes a new best friend.

Red Cross Blood Banks

In early 1940, as countries and armies were spiralling into the hellish depths of World War II, Dr. Charles R. Drew, invented a way to transport large amounts of life-saving blood from the U.S. to Great Britain. Because of Dr. Drew’s brilliant work, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved and the American Red Cross Blood Bank became a global standard for vital medical care.

How We’re Working To Overcome

During this crisis, I’ve found myself returning to Blair Enns’ writing. He inspires me. He’s one of the few authors who can condense difficult business topics into bite-sized morsels of wisdom. A few weeks ago he published a post called “Three Steps to Surviving and Thriving In a Crisis” that resonated with me.

He said:

There is always opportunity in volatility. Make it a goal to come out of this crisis and recession and into the new long term reality positioned to win. That goal in itself will shift your mindset from defense to offense, from negative to positive. Make yourself a promise: you will be better off after this. Look further ahead than the rest of the market and make a bet on your prediction of that future. In the words of Goethe, “Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Overnight, the market and the world changed. How could we remain the same? At Atomivox, it forced us to shift our mindset from business-as-usual to battle-mode. We want to exit this crisis stronger, more resilient and positioned to win. If you wish to survive you must do the same.

How should you adjust:
Your marketing model?
Your sales model?
Your corporate narrative?
Your online presence.

You and I have a choice. We can either lay down and let adversity defeat us or we can use it to define us. Our historical heroes chose the latter. That’s what makes them memorable.

Dark times were no match for their bright ideas. This time is no different.

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