Good adversity examples for a resume include overcoming disability, rejection, poverty, or struggle in order to succeed.
Some inspiring real-life examples of adversity include Helen Keller who became a successful writer despite being blind and deaf, and JK Rowling who was a struggling single mother before publishing Harry Potter.
See below for a full list of ideas for discussing adversity.
Examples of Adversity for a Resume
Here are some ideas you could include in a resume, cover letter, or college application essay to discuss how you overcame adversity.
1. Overcoming a Disability
Physical and cognitive disabilities can cause serious disadvantages for people in life. For example, if you suffer from dyslexia, you will find it a lot harder to read than your colleagues.
Nevertheless, famous people with dyslexia like Whoopi Goldberg, Richard Branson, and Steven Spielberg are all well-known successful people who overcame their dyslexia to achieve success.
2. Overcoming a Rejection
Most people in life have overcome rejection at some point or another. It might be rejection from a university, for a scholarship, a promotion, or a job.
The important thing to emphasise is that you have done something to get back up on your feet and try again. You might talk in an interview, for example, about how you didn’t get a sports scholarship for college so instead you worked a part-time job throughout your degree.
This can show examples of your persistence, perseverance, flexibility, and determination.
3. Proving Someone Wrong
Sometimes, we have a teacher, mentor, or peer who decides we are not good enough to continue.
Succeeding despite being told you’re not good enough is a great way of showing you can overcome adversity.
Examples of when this has happened include when Thomas Eddison’s teacher told him he could never learn due to lack of cognitive flexibility (he went on to invent the lightbulb) and Michael Phelps’s teacher told him “…that I would never amount to anything and I would never be successful.”
Phelps went on to win 28 medals in the Olympic games.
4. Growing up Poor
People who are born into poverty will statistically earn less money in their lifetimes and are less likely to graduate school than their wealthier peers.
Poverty is clearly an adversity that needs to be overcome by the disadvantaged. They have less access to good schools, tutors, books, and resources.
Nevertheless, some role models can show that you can overcome the adversity of poverty to succeed. Examples include Jim Carey (whose family lived in a car for part of his life), JK Rowling (who was a struggling single mother before finding success with Harry Potter) and Dolly Parton who grew up in a one-bedroom cabin with dirt floors.
5. Being a Refugee
Refugees are some of the most resilient people in the world. They left dangerous and unsafe conditions in their homes and fled for their lives. They then had to start a new life in a foreign culture, often with very little money.
Going through all the challenges and still succeeding shows that you’ve got the resiliency to overcome adversities faced in life.
Famous refugees who have managed to overcome their tough start in life include Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, and Madeleine Albright.
6. Being an Immigrant
Immigrants and refugees share similar stories. While refugees fled trauma, signifying greater adversity, upon arrival to their new country, both refugees and immigrants have to start afresh.
Many immigrants have to struggle with adjusting to a new culture. Sometimes, their professional qualifications from overseas are not recognized, and despite their previous successes and social status, they have to start from the bottom again.
Many also immigrate with very little money.
Nevertheless, we can look to famous immigrants like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Elon Musk, and Mila Kunis as examples of people who lived through the immigrant experience and found success.
7. Failing as a Student
Most of us can relate to a time when we struggled in our studies. It’s rare that someone is very good in every subject at school.
When coming up with an adversity example for school or study, reflect on a time when you had a lot of difficulty with a school subject. Reflect on how you reacted: did you study harder, spend more time doing homework, or even have to re-sit the exam?
8. Getting Fired or Laid off
Getting fired is no fun for anyone. But after the initial shock or worry, you can reflect on how you got back your confidence.
Many people lost their jobs during the economic crisis of 2008, for example, and again during the 2021 worldwide lockdowns. So, this isn’t an experience unique to any one person.
You might have had to get further education, reflect on whether you’re following the right career path, or seek a mentor to help you overcome your weaknesses.
9. Suffering an Injury
Injuries can cause people to struggle to do daily tasks that they used to find easy.
The injury might have made you reflect on how much you used to take daily tasks for granted.
For example, if you broke an arm, then suddenly simple tasks like getting dressed require a lot of thought and reflection.
By figuring out new ways to get dressed, you will have developed skills in resilience and flexibility that can help you overcome the adversity you faced.
10. Suffering Discrimination
Discrimination is a very sad example of adversity people face. They have to overcome discrimination based on race, gender, disability, social-class, or another factor, in order to succeed.
A great example of someone who suffered discrimination and achieved their goals was Jackie Robinson who was the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era.
Jackie Robinson famously had to endure taunts from players and fans but didn’t retaliate because he knew that retaliating would set back the cause of integration in the MLB for decades.
Today, he’s celebrated as a peaceful man who broke through discriminatory barriers for the good of everyone.
Examples of Overcoming Adversity in Real Life
11. JK Rowling
There are many stories of writers who were continually rejected by publishers for their famous books. JK Rowling is perhaps the most famous.
Rowling was a struggling single mother until she found success with Harry Potter. But she had her first Harry Potter book rejected 14 times before it was finally published.
Today, Rowling is an exmaple of a self-made millionare and one of the wealthiest women in the world.
12. Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein fled Europe to escape WWII and found refuge in the United States. After fleeing persecution, he went on to help the Americans during the war and then win the Nobel Prize in physics.
13. Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison invented the lightbuld, but not without adversity. It took him over 1,000 attempts before he finally got a stable lightbulb that would work. The problem was finding the right type of flint! Edison famously said of his struggle: “Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophy.”
14. Walt Disney
Walt Disney went through a lot of hard times in his life. His father was an abusive man, so Disney would hide and draw cartoons. In adulthood, his business went bankrupt once and his next one suffered from a lot of troubles during WWII.
Through all his troubles, he doubled-down and worked twice as hard to ensure success.
Reflecting on his life, Disney is quoted as saying: : “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
15. Helen Keller
Helen Keller went blind and deaf at 19 months old. This didn’t stop her from writing 14 books and being a global human rights activist.
Keller learned to read braille and listen by touching lips. She got a university degree despite being deaf and blind (and, in her era, a woman) and went on to advocate for disabled rights. Keller also wrote several books.
16. Dr Seuss
If you thought JK Rowling had it tough, spare a thought for Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as children’s author Dr Seuss.
Dr Seuss had his first book rejected by between 20 and 43 publishers. Despite these setbacks, Seuss went on to become the most famous children’s book author of all time.
17. Tommy Caldwell
World-famous rock climber Tommy Caldwell suffered a setback when he had his left index finger cut off during a machinery accident in his backyard.
Caldwell’s career was considered over. Your fingers are, of course, extremely important to be a rock climber!
However, Caldwell re-learned how to grip rocks without the important index finger. People didn’t believe that he’d ever be able to perform at a high-level ever again, but he went on to be the first climber to complete a free climb of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Adversity comes in many different forms. It can be physical, cognitive, or even in the form of discrimination. It’s not something any of us ask for, but our ability to overcome it through hard work and perseverance is the most important thing. Use the above examples as inspiration for writing about adversity in a college essay, cover letter, or resume.
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.