17 Adversity Examples (And How to Overcome Them)

Examples of adversity on a resume could include:

  • Overcoming a significant personal challenge
  • Navigating a career change, and
  • Demonstrating resilience in the face of major project setbacks.

See below for a detailed list of ideas for discussing adversity.

Adversity Examples

1. Overcoming a Disability

Success in the face of disability exemplifies overcoming adversity. For example, we look to disabled athletes as inspiration for people who have risen to the top despite their setbacks. In real life, we can look to famous people with disabilities like Whoopi Goldberg (dyslexia) and Stephen Hawking (motor neuron disease) who learned to live with and overcome their disabilities to achieve success.

2. Overcoming a Rejection

Many individuals have experienced rejection in various forms, such as being turned down by a university, not receiving a scholarship, missing a promotion, or failing to secure a job. What’s crucial is highlighting the resilience shown in bouncing back from these setbacks. For instance, in an interview, you could discuss how, after not obtaining a sports scholarship for college, you proactively worked a part-time job to support your education.

3. Proving Someone Wrong (Being Underestimated)

There are instances where a teacher, mentor, or colleague doubts our capabilities or potential. Overcoming such negative perceptions and achieving success is a powerful demonstration of resilience in the face of adversity. Notable examples include Thomas Edison, who, despite being deemed cognitively inflexible by his teacher, invented the lightbulb, and Michael Phelps, who was told by a teacher that he would never achieve success, yet triumphed to win 28 Olympic medals.

4. Failing as a Student (Then Bouncing Back)

Almost everyone has experienced a period of struggle in their academic journey, as it’s uncommon for a student to excel in every subject.

When considering an example of adversity in an educational context, think back to a subject that posed significant challenges for you.

Consider how you responded to this difficulty: perhaps you dedicated more hours to studying, increased the amount of time spent on homework, sought extra help, or even faced the prospect of retaking an exam.

Reflect on the strategies you employed to overcome this hurdle, such as utilizing additional resources, collaborating with peers, or seeking guidance from teachers. This reflection not only highlights your ability to confront and overcome academic challenges but also demonstrates your resilience, adaptability, and commitment to personal growth.

5. Overcoming an Injury

Injuries often lead to difficulties in performing everyday activities that were once effortless. Such experiences can prompt a realization of how much we typically take these routine tasks for granted.

Take, for instance, breaking an arm; this can transform straightforward actions like dressing into complex, thoughtful processes.

Adapting to these new challenges by finding alternative methods to accomplish daily tasks not only showcases resilience but also fosters a sense of flexibility. This adaptability is a testament to one’s ability to overcome adversity and develop crucial life skills in the process.

6. Suffering Discrimination

Facing discrimination is a deeply unfortunate form of adversity, where individuals must surmount biases related to race, gender, disability, social class, or other factors to achieve success.

Jackie Robinson is a prominent example of someone who overcame such challenges; he was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.

Despite enduring racial taunts from both players and fans, Robinson chose not to react aggressively, understanding that any retaliation could significantly hinder the progress of racial integration in MLB.

His legacy endures today, celebrated not just for his remarkable sporting achievements but also for his role as a peaceful pioneer who broke down barriers of discrimination for the betterment of society.

7. Growing up Poor

Individuals born into poverty often face lower lifetime earnings and a reduced likelihood of graduating from school compared to those from wealthier backgrounds. This adversity stems from limited access to quality education, tutoring, books, and other resources. However, there are inspiring figures who have surmounted the challenges of poverty to achieve remarkable success, such as Jim Carrey, who experienced homelessness during his youth, J.K. Rowling, who rose from the struggles of being a single mother to fame with her Harry Potter series, and Dolly Parton, who overcame her upbringing in a one-room cabin with dirt floors to become a music legend.

8. Being a Refugee

Refugees exemplify remarkable resilience, having fled perilous conditions in their homelands to seek safety, often starting anew in unfamiliar cultures with limited resources. Their ability to navigate and thrive despite such formidable challenges is a testament to their capacity to overcome life’s adversities. Notable individuals who began their journeys as refugees and rose to prominence include Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Madeleine Albright, each overcoming substantial early-life obstacles to achieve significant success.

9. Being an Immigrant

Immigrants and refugees often share parallel narratives of starting over. Refugees typically escape traumatic situations, indicating an added layer of adversity, but both groups face the challenge of acclimatizing to an unfamiliar environment upon arrival in a new country.

Immigrants frequently grapple with cultural adjustments and may find their foreign professional qualifications unrecognized, necessitating a restart from the bottom, often with limited financial resources.

However, the success stories of notable immigrants like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elon Musk, and Mila Kunis highlight the potential for triumph through the immigrant journey, overcoming significant obstacles to achieve remarkable success.

10. Losing your Job or Getting Fired

Losing a job is never a pleasant experience, bringing with it initial feelings of shock and anxiety. However, it also presents an opportunity for introspection and regaining self-assurance.

This experience is far from unique, as evidenced by the significant job losses during the 2008 economic downturn and the 2021 global lockdowns. In the aftermath, many people found themselves pursuing additional education, reassessing their career trajectories to ensure they align with their passions and strengths, or turning to mentors for guidance and support in addressing their areas of improvement.

Real-Life Role Models Who Overcame Adversity

1. Stephen Hawking

Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at 21, Hawking was given just a few years to live. Despite losing his ability to walk and speak, he became one of the most renowned theoretical physicists, contributing significantly to our understanding of black holes and the nature of the universe.

2. Malala Yousafzai

As a young girl in Pakistan, Malala advocated for girls’ education, defying the Taliban’s ban. After surviving a gunshot to the head by a Taliban gunman, she became an international symbol of resistance against the suppression of women’s education and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

3. Nelson Mandela

Imprisoned for 27 years for his fight against apartheid in South Africa, Mandela never lost sight of his goal for racial equality. He emerged from prison to become the first black president of South Africa, leading the country towards a more inclusive future.

4. Oprah Winfrey

Born into poverty and faced with numerous challenges, including childhood abuse and racial discrimination, Oprah rose to become a media mogul and influential philanthropist. Her story is one of resilience and determination in overcoming personal and professional obstacles.

5. Nick Vujicic

Born without limbs due to a rare disorder, Nick faced immense challenges and bullying in his youth. He overcame these to become a motivational speaker and author, inspiring millions with his message of hope and perseverance.

6. Helen Keller

Despite becoming blind and deaf at a very young age, Keller broke through the isolation imposed by her condition with the help of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. She became a prolific author, political activist, and lecturer, advocating for the rights of those with disabilities.

7. Ludwig van Beethoven

One of the greatest composers in history, Beethoven began losing his hearing in his 20s, eventually becoming completely deaf. Nonetheless, he continued to compose, perform, and conduct, producing many of his most admired works during the last 15 years of his life, when he was unable to hear.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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