Life is not a steady ascent.

It doesn’t go straight up… a lot of lumps and a lot of bumps… a lot of throttling up and a lot of throttling down. I have never yet met a single successful person who has not had to overcome a little or a lot of adversity in his or her life.

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 some high school dropouts were running companies while some MBAs were slamming into dead ends. Experience? Then those at the top should have been older, but 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 was the only quality that consistently 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 that are dealt to you in life–and make something of them.

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. Adversity can actually be a positive thing, even though it certainly doesn’t feel that way 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 stage.
  • Walt Disney experienced both bankruptcy and a tragic nervous breakdown, but still made it to the top of the mountain.
  • Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the Hostorie of the World during a 13-year imprisonment.
  • Martin Luther translated the Bible while enduring confinement in the Wartburg Castle.
  • Dante wrote the Divine Comedy while under  a sentence of death and during 20 years in exile.
  • Handicapped by a crippling disease as a baby, Helen Keller was not able to see or hear during her long life, yet she became a famous author and activist known for her charm and wisdom.

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

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About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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