Adversity by Harvey Mackay

There Is No Education like Adversity

 by Harvey Mackay

One school of business studied 400 executives who had made it to the top and compared them to 400 who fell by the wayside during their careers. The idea was to discover how those who became successful differed from those who didn’t.

Education was not the key factor because high school dropouts were running companies, while some MBAs were slamming into dead ends. Experience? Then those at the top should have been older, and that wasn’t the case. Technical skills, social skills and dozens of other career-related variables were examined as well. Those factors didn’t provide the explanation either.

What is the only single quality that distinguished those who made it from those who did not? They persevered.

Adversity will come to every person at some time. How you meet it, what you make of it, what you allow it to take from you and give to you, is determined by your mental habits. In short, you have to take the cards in life that are dealt to you.

You can train your mind to face life’s toughest challenges-and it is especially important to develop this habit before you actually need it.

Little children get their first lesson with “The Little Engine that Could.”

Faced with pulling many train cars up an enormous hill, larger engines refused to attempt it. Finally, a small engine agrees to try, repeating the mantra,

“I-think-I-can, I-think-I-can.” After reaching the crest, the little engine triumphantly chugs:

“I-thought-I-could, I-thought-I-could.”

I’d like to alter the story a bit for the grown-up crowd. Change the chant


“I-know-I-can, I-know-I-can!”

Adversity can actually be a positive thing, even though it certainly doesn’t feel like it when we are facing it. Adversity is what defines us. It is easy to have a great attitude, a strong work ethic and a positive outlook when things are going great. But how do we stand up during tough times?

Consider the following phenomenal achievements of famous people who experienced severe adversity:

– When Bob Dylan performed at his high school talent show, classmates booed him off the stage.

– Walt Disney experienced both bankruptcy and a tragic nervous breakdown and still made it to the top of the mountain.

– President Harry S. Truman went broke in the men’s clothing store he started.

– Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the “History of the World” during a 13-year imprisonment.

– Martin Luther translated the Bible while enduring confinement in the Castle of Wartburg.

– Dante wrote the “Divine Comedy” while under a sentence of death and during 20 years in exile.

– Handicapped at birth, Helen Keller was not able to speak, hear or see during her long life, yet she became a famous author and worldwide celebrity for her charm and wisdom.

We must push through the adversity we face. If we don’t, we will be poorly prepared for winning. People are successful because they face adversity head on to gain strength and skill. They don’t take the path of least resistance.

Adversity is a powerful teacher.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “My great concern is not whether you have failed but whether you are content with your failure.” And few people failed in early life as much as Lincoln, yet he is regarded as one of our greatest presidents.

When you get discouraged, when you cannot seem to make it, there is one thing that you cannot do without. It is that priceless ingredient of success called relentless effort. You must never give up. Success cannot be achieved without experiencing some adversity.

An Asian saying advises, “When fate throws a dagger at you, there are only two ways to catch it, either by the blade or by the handle.”

There was an old farmer who had suffered through a lifetime of troubles and afflictions that would have leveled an ordinary mortal. But through it all he never lost his sense of humor.

“How have you managed to keep so happy and serene?” asked a friend.

“It ain’t hard,” said the old fellow with a twinkle in his eye. “I’ve just learned to cooperate with the inevitable.”

“Cooperating with the inevitable” enables us to catch adversity by the handle, thereby using it as the tool that it was intended to be.

Mackay’s Moral: Adversity causes some people to break and others to break records.


Author: Jeff

I teach English at Westside High School and Composition at Metropolitan Community College. I have been an online editor for Fine Lines since we revamped to Wordpress some time in 2009.

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