The world is a place full of stories, and one doesn’t need to look far to find tales of happiness, hope, sadness, tragedy and every other component that makes up life as we know it. Life is also complicated, and many times hearing these sad or tragic stories only seems to reaffirm the perpetual struggle that many people face on a day-to-day basis. However, while there is tragedy, bad luck and impossible and desperate circumstances in every corner of the world, there are also stories of hope and determination. These stories serve to illuminate the notion that, every so often, those born into a desperate life with few, if any, advantages, can overcome their station and, through raw determination and self-belief, achieve what others said was impossible. Here are some examples of figures who, from past to present, have overcome almost insurmountable odds to become successful in their chosen professions.
John D. Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York, as one of six children. Like many kids throughout history, Rockefeller grew up in a household with a mostly absentee, marginally employed father and a mother who did all she could to hold everything together despite poor finances. The family was forced to move quite a bit when John was a child.
After finishing school, John got a modest job as a bookkeeper, and like many American lives, this could have easily been where his story ended. However, possessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, John started his first business in 1859, a commission business dealing in hay, grain, meats and other goods. He also kept abreast of commercial prospects in various. He saw the potential for oil and, in the early 1860s, built his first oil refinery. He would then grow this single refinery into Standard Oil, one of the great businesses in United States’ history.
Standard oil made Rockefeller the wealthiest man in the world. however, as a devout religious man, it was in the early 90s that Rockefeller devoted almost all of his time to philanthropic purposes. He gave to various charities and even managed to fund the University of Chicago in 1892. His personal philosophy is summed up in this quote: “I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the hours of the waking day to the making of money for money’s sake.”
Jack Johnson was a prizefighter and the first black heavyweight champion of the world. Jack captured the championship long before Joe Louis’ reign, and well before the civil rights movement fought for equal rights for African Americans. Jack Johnson was born poor in Galveston, Texas in 1878, the son of a school custodian and a homemaker. Not only did Jack Johnson grow up without means, but he also grew up in an era when African Americans were only one generation removed from slavery.
It was a complicated period in American history that wasn’t particularly kind to African Americans. Lynchings were commonplace in the American south, the same south Jack Johnson grew up in. Without money or opportunity, Jack Johnson set off at an early age and discovered an aptitude for fighting. He competed in underground clubs for many years before gaining a reputation as a legitimate black contender on the national circuit.
In a time when no white champion would fight a black challenger, Johnson chased then heavyweight champion, a Canadian named Tommy Burns, halfway around the world to Australia, where Burns finally gave in and negotiated a championship bought in 1907. Jack Johnson won the fight handily after it was waved off by officials. The outcome of the fight was never in question; Jack Johnson had trained virtually his whole life for that one moment. The real hurdle was creating an opportunity for himself in a world that told him there was none to be had. His rise to the pinnacle of the sports world is proof that if one finds their talent, and pursues success relentlessly, there is nothing that can’t be achieved.
J.K. Rowling; It’s hard to imagine the author of the wildly popular and financially successful “Harry Potter” novels living anything other than a charmed life. However, J.K. Rowling wasn’t always worth 1.1 billion dollars. Born in 1965 to a middle class household near Bristol, in the United Kingdom, Rowling’s childhood wasn’t particularly wrought with hardship.
An imaginative child, she would often write stories and read them to her sister. As she grew older she maintained her interest in writing but nothing ever came of it. She credits a childhood friend, named Sean, with being “the only person who thought I was bound to be a success at it, which meant much more to me than I ever told him at the time.”
In 1990 she moved to Portugal in order to teach English as a second language. It was around this time that she conceived of the character of Harry Potter. She was married in Portugal and had a child, but the marriage failed and in 1994 she was forced to return to England. For a time Rowling was living on welfare and was diagnosed with clinical depression, which resulted in suicidal thoughts. During this period Rowling was able to finish the first “Harry Potter” book. She found an agent and, after a year, the book sold to a small publisher who gave her a modest advance of 1500 pounds. The initial run was small, only 1000 copies, with 500 going to libraries. But the books took off, and went on to become the most popular children’s novels of all time. Nowadays, those first editions are said to be worth as much as 25,000 pounds. J.K. Rowling is a testament to what can be achieved if you believe in what you have to offer. She has said many times that she never expected the books to be a success… she just loved the story.
Oprah Winfrey is known today as one of the most popular talk show hosts in the world. On top of that, she controls a media empire that includes magazines as well as a TV network. But Oprah Winfrey came from very humble beginnings and experienced a great deal of hardship in her life. Oprah Gail Winfrey was born to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey on a farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954. He parents split up when she was a baby and she spend her first few years on the farm, being raised by her maternal grandmother. A precocious child, Oprah skipped the first few grades of school after displaying advanced reading and writing skills. She would also playact on the farm in her spare time to entertain herself.
When Winfrey was six, she was sent to live with her mother in an extremely poor and dangerous Milwaukee ghetto. The environment wasn’t healthy, and at 12 she went to live with her father in Nashville. After giving periodical public speeches, she found what it was she wanted to do with her life. Winfrey was called back to Milwaukee again. Her mother often worked and left Winfrey unsupervised. During these periods, from age nine onwards, Winfrey was raped repeatedly by various men the family trusted. Winfrey again went back to her father as a teenager, and under his strict guidance she devoted herself to academics. She became a model student and participated in many clubs, from drama to the student council.
Winfrey’s hard work paid off. She won a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee. Upon graduating she began her career in broadcasting by reading the local news updates. And due to her relentless drive and determination, she ended up achieving great success and building an empire.
Franklin D. Roosevelt; There are many things Franklin Delano Roosevelt is known for, but two things certainly stand out. One: He was the 32nd President of the United States. And two: He suffered from Polio. Franklin Roosevelt was born in Hyde Park, New York on the 30th of January, 1882. Not only did Roosevelt not experience hardship while growing up, but he was boring into a life of wealth and extreme privilege. Educated by tutors and attending private schools, he went on to Harvard and Colombia law school before entering a life of politics as a state senator in 1910.
However, in 1921, Roosevelt became seriously ill and was nearly completely paralyzed. He would never again regain the full use of his legs. He went through a period of severe depression but reentered politics in 1928, despite the fact he was confined to a wheelchair. In this condition he went on to become governor of New York as well as the President of the United Sates for four terms, sheparding the country through the great depression as well as World War II. Franics Perkins had this to say about Roosevelt’s illness:
“Roosevelt underwent a spiritual transformation during the years of his illness. I noticed when he came back that the years of pain and suffering had purged the slightly arrogant attitude he had displayed on occasion before he was stricken. The man emerged completely warmhearted, with humility of spirit and with a deeper philosophy. Having been to the depths of trouble, he understood the problems of people in trouble.”
Roosevelt’s is a case of not only not letting one’s handicap hinder them in life, but becoming a better person overall because of it.