Inspiration and drive can come from the unlikeliest of places.
Where does success in business come from?
It could be the logical outcome of a good education and favorable circumstance.
Success might be born from tenacity, drive or passion--or all three.
The people in these stories certainly demonstrated tenacity, drive and passion, but their motivation came from unlikely situations. In fact, many others would have failed--and have--when handed the obstacles these people experienced.
Rather than getting bogged down, these 5 people used negative and sometimes traumatic situations as motivation for success in business.
Illness - Marten deVlieger
Marten deVlieger was diagnosed at an early age with cystic fibrosis, a degenerative and incurable disease that affects the entire body, but especially the lungs. "Life with cystic fibrosis is a constant challenge. "Most of us have been told since birth that we won't live past the age of 2, 10, 21... and yet we hear of those rare ones living past the now average CF life expectancy of 42 and think 'That could be me,'" he shared.
For that to be him, though, Marten knew he would need technology and remedies greater than that available at the time to help him cope. He told me of his mother staying home to rub and thump his back for hours each day, to combat the fluid build-up inherent to CF.
Marten dreamed of independence, though. He wanted to fly a helicopter and so, as a teen, began combing through a local garbage dump in search of scrap metal and parts he would use to construct a crude, heavy chest device to mirror the traditional technique of loosening mucus in CF patients. His first iteration was too bulky and left him covered in bruises. However, the ChestMaster5000 had been born.
Over the next several years, Marten persevered and worked out his design flaws.
The keys to his moving forward, he said, were two-fold. First, he acknowledges that reaching out for advisory and PR support, a huge step that helped him earn funding and media coverage was critical. Also, he realized he needed to master scale; Marten took the device to a contract manufacturing firm that specialized in medical devices, which helped get the device where it needed to be, from a technical and regulatory standpoint.
Marten's invention has been featured front page in the Globe and Mail, at MedGadget and QMed, in the UK's Daily Mail and in assorted national broadcast news features. France2 produced a documentary about his device.
"You don't ever recover from CF, it's a way of life, but I have to admit that after ten years of developing the ChestMaster medical device, I was getting discouraged that a prototype would make it to market in my lifetime," he said.
"There is no choice but to persevere, against the odds, and accept that hardships and fear will be constant companions, yet every single day deeply appreciating that you have been given another day to fight the fight, and enjoying (almost) every minute of it. Isn't that what entrepreneurship is all about?"
Dan Nainan wasn't a popular child--in fact, he was bullied primarily because of his mixed Indian and Japanese heritage. "On the first day I moved to a new area and was in a new school," he said, "they started calling me 'chink' ... and I'm not even Chinese."
"I foresaw for myself terrible and lonely future with no girlfriend. Of course, I didn't go to the prom; at that time it was unthinkable."
As often happens to the unpopular kid, Dan went on to a successful career--he was a senior engineer with Intel Corporation, traveling the world with chairman Andy Grove doing technical demonstrations at events. However, the by-product of years of torment by classmates was this: Dan was incredibly nervous about speaking in front of people.
Now, if he'd only ever moved up the ladder in tech companies, you could call Dan Nainan's career a success. However, what happened next was amazing.
Dan took a comedy class to help him get over his stage fright. "The comedy kind of took off..." he tells me. That's an understatement.
He's performed at the Democratic National Convention, three presidential inaugural events, a TED conference and for celebrities including Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton and Steve Wozniak. Dan has been in an Apple commercial and performed with Carrot Top and Penn & Teller. Yes, his comedy career "kind of" took off.
So how does one go from bullied child to tech geek to successful stage presence? "I truly think that the desire to be on stage comes from a rather unhealthy place... the desire to show people that you are worthy," Dan said.
"My life now is like that of George Clooney in "Up in the Air", just without the sex," he joked.
Andrew Bauer shouldn't feel guilty about the financial burden his family experienced as he was growing up, but he does. That's the funny thing about guilt--it doesn't have to make sense.
However, it can drive people to accomplish great things.
Andrew shared with me, "Throughout my early childhood, I was mentally handicapped participating in the ARC Program to rehabilitate my brain. Unfortunately, due to the healthcare bills, I put my family is an insurmountable situation financially."
This guilt weighed heavily on Andrew's mind; he was determined not to be a burden, but also to help his family move past their untenable financial issues. Recently, he created Freedom Wallet, the world's first leather wallet with GPS tracking technology, for Royce Leather, the family's business.
Andrew told me, "I have been very blessed to have the support of my family no matter how bad things got from being handicapped. I work hard for the company every single day to make up for the times that I was a financial burden."
"Nothing will ever be more challenging than beating physical and mental handicap; with that in mind, I go into every workplace situation with a positive attitude and an appreciation for the hard work it takes to optimize any situation."
Fear--Lawrence Polsky, PeopleNRG
Few things are as terrifying as realizing you're about to be a first-time parent. Well, maybe discovering that you have a potentially terminal illness.
Lawrence Polsky learned both of these things in one night.
One January night in 2000, he learned that his wife was pregnant--right after his doctor told Lawrence he had a brain tumor. The doctor recommended surgery. Lawrence decided on a different approach.
"I began to research others who had overcome major life challenges. I saw that there were similarities in what people did to successfully implement positive changes in their life," he told me. "Fifty percent of the protocol I used to get well involved creating a positive mind--that was part of it. But also, spending time every week reflecting on my life choices, my beliefs, my dreams, my attitudes. And spending time every day having fun. This purposeful reflection and focus helped get my mind in shape to succeed."
Lawrence told his doctor the night before his scheduled surgery he was cancelling it. The doctor, he says, was outraged--yet Lawrence felt peaceful. "My extended family were scared. My wife and I were feeling positive. That choice, which no one other than my wife supported, marked the beginning of a new, more positive life for me. I finally felt brave enough to follow my intuition despite strong opposition," he said.
"Everything after that was built on confidence not fear."
Lawrence won his battle with cancer and decided that with his new perspective, education and practical experience, he had something valuable to share.
He and a colleague founded PeopleNRG, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations successfully implement change. They have since written best-selling books and now travel the world educating leaders from Minnesota to Mumbai, Chicago to China, on how to get their teams unstuck, move past their fears and implement change.
Defeat--Jake Weatherly, SheerID
Jack Weatherly, now the founder of a leading ID verification technology company, had his eye on the World Cup circuit when a crash during a training run terminated his hopes of a professional skiing career. After a summer spent recovering from the surgery to insert a rod in his shoulder and contemplating his options, Jake left college, headed West and ended up in Oregon's Silicon Forest, in an apartment he'd rented unseen.
An adrenaline junkie from an early age, he soon found another outlet for his energies. Jake returned to school and went to work part-time at Palo Alto Software, where he was mentored by CEO and veteran entrepreneur Tim Berry.
That was the moment at which he knew things were going to change for the better, Jake said. Just a month after arriving in Oregon, "I was off and running, building a career in the world of technology, software, and entrepreneurship at a very young age when the Internet just taking shape," he said.
This timely immersion in tech and entrepreneurship led Jake to pursue his own start-up dream with SheerID. In just three years, he'd built his brand into a leading provider of verification technology with clients like Costco, Karen Kane, Spotify and Foot Locker.
Jake credits his earlier hopes and defeat with his success today. "Characteristics like honesty, competitive drive, enthusiasm, and determination are universal--not contextual," he said. "The same drive that fuels you to turn in the best time on a giant slalom course to bring your team to victory can also be applied to building a company, building a career, and being a fierce competitor in life."