First off, I want to say there are people way smarter and more learned than me on the subject of whether adversity early in life leads to success. A cursory glance of this topic on Google spits out hundreds of research reports and articles arguing over what happens to people who lived hard and tough early on.

There's no doubt devastating experiences like abuse have a detrimental impact on a person's life. But even so, do people who become successful rise up despite or because of that adversity?

I've been thinking a lot about this topic as I've begun to increasingly tell my own personal story. Being a child of immigrants, I often wonder where I would be in life if we had stayed in the relative comfort of our native city, Hong Kong. My Dad had a pretty stable, middle class life in Hong Kong before he uprooted the whole family to move to the United States. We struggled to make ends meet for many years. Coupled with my mother's long-term illness, I can unequivocally say those years were challenging, but edifying. I grew up fast. My sister grew up fast. Those early experiences taught me a lot about life - and gave me a determination to succeed. 

I asked a few very successful people about their own childhoods and what their early struggles taught them. Many tell me if it weren't for their tough lots in life, they would not be where they are.

"Not much good stuff happened in my childhood," Chris Burch, co-founder of Tory Burch and founder of Burch Creative Capital said. Born with dyslexia and suffering from ADD, anxiety, panic attacks and chronic bed-wetting, Burch said he "was always the kid that spent his whole life riding the short bus to school, and all I wanted to do was to get that crossing guard. I don't know if any of you had that, but they would take the student that was the best student of the week and let them be a crossing guard for a day. Well, I waited until the sixth grade and never was a crossing guard. So my childhood, even though my parents loved me, no one could quite figure out what was wrong." Through all of this he learned to find a way to "work my way through it and build my own sense of self where I wasn't helped."

John Chen, the Executive Chairman & CEO of BlackBerry, grew up "relatively modest and poor" as the son of immigrants who fled Communist China. He was not alone, surrounded by others who were in the same situation and that helped him greatly. "I've seen...a lot of people in the same boat," Chen said. "Their parents were educated people that had nothing with them when they escaped and they built a life for themselves...some became real estate tycoons." He continued: "I was really fortunate to see what's possible when you put your mind to it. And always [when I was] growing up that having nothing doesn't mean a thing. You work hard, you focus on it, you do what it takes, and maybe it'll work, maybe it won't work, but nine times out of 10, I see a lot of success stories, and I feel very motivated by that."

Meanwhile, basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson recounts one moment in childhood that changed the course of his life. "It was a cold winter, I'm talking about zero, it was seven below or something! My job was to get all the loose paper around the barrel," Johnson says about the one Michigan winter he spent helping his Dad. His father had "to pick the barrels up and put them on the truck....I went to the barrel and that paper was stuck in the ice. And it was cold! You know, as a kid, you say, `Oh man, I'm going to grab what I can, then I'm going back to that warm cabin in the truck!' Just as I shut the door, my father swung the door back open, first he grabbed me, dragged me through the snow, brought me right back to those barrels, said, `Son, if you do this job halfway, you're going to practice basketball halfway, you're going to do your homework halfway. You do everything in life, you want to put 150% effort into it. So I want you to take that shovel, I want you to chop that ice, and get that paper out of that ice.' I turned into a perfectionist right at that moment on that day. And that changed my life."

Now I'm curious, how about you? Do you think having a tough childhood instills a strength and determination to succeed? Please comment below.

Published on: Oct 17, 2017