5 Famous People Who Overcame Adversity and Achieved Success

By Krista


Last Updated: December 11, 2021

"Who are some famous people who overcame adversity and obstacles to achieve success in life despite failure, rejection, or simply a bad hand?"

The people you think have it all? It’s more than likely they’ve failed more times than many of us have tried. Failure and rejection are uncomfortable. In truth, we would all prefer to succeed right off the bat. Yet, rarely is this the case.

In fact, most successful people in the world have learned how to overcome obstacles and persevere, even in the face of extreme difficulties. The idea of an “overnight success” really isn’t realistic. And if you’re looking for the key to success, it’s all within your capacity to persevere and go after what you want.

So, let’s examine this concept a little more in-depth with real life examples of adversity.

Sometimes, we all need a reminder that we are good enough. Bookmark our Daily Affirmations to help you stay on track! 


These 5 Famous People Overcame Adversity to Achieve Massive Success

1. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah once said,

“The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path take on greater meaning.”

It’s undeniable. Oprah Winfrey is the epitome of success. While it’s easy to quickly assume Oprah always had it easy, this isn’t the case. 

Oprah grew up in poverty during the 1950s and 60s, rotating between her mother, father, and grandmother. She became pregnant at 14 and lost her child during infancy.

Overcoming the odds, Oprah persevered. Her first debut on TV failed. From there, Oprah was demoted to writing and reporting, before rising to fame on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In the end, she won. She achieved greater success than she ever thought possible. 

Her secret? It wasn’t that she never failed. It wasn’t that she had a perfect upbringing or was dealt the right cards. More so, overcoming difficulties and learning how to get over obstacles in life is how Oprah overcame adversity to find success..

Her ability to empathize with others and highlight very real issues led her to become a household name.

Related Article: 40 Inspirational Quotes to Help You Navigate Life's Struggles


2. J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling, also known as J.K. Rowling and the author of Harry Potter, is worth millions of dollars today.

However, before the first Harry Potter book was published, Rowling was living as a divorced and single mom living off of welfare. 

From rags to riches, Rowling’s Harry Potter got rejected by 12 different publishers before hitting big. It wasn’t long before Rowling was winning awards and millions of copies were sold. When the books were made into movies, Rowling even acted as producer and part of the creative teams to bring her story to life.


3. Walt Disney

While the legacy of Walt Disney lives on through Mickey Mouse, Disneyland, Donald Duck, and more, Disney also saw his fair share of failures.

Throughout his life, Walt Disney filed for bankruptcy, had a mental breakdown, and was even discouraged as a creative at the Kansas City Star since, according to his editor, he “lacked imagination.”

Disney’s first cartoon business even failed in the 1920s. Yet, as we all know, that didn’t stop him. Walt Disney went on to become one of the greatest visionaries of the 20th century, with his characters and stories echoing through various generations.  

All in all, Disney had various obstacles in achieving his goals. Yet, none of them stopped him from creating the incredible Disney empire, which isn’t likely going anywhere anytime soon.


4. Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan has adamantly stated,

“I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

His high school basketball coach even cut Michael Jordan from the team. Yet, as we all know, that didn’t stop Michael Jordan from becoming a six-time champion and well-known legendary basketball player. Without his perseverance, it’s hard to say where Jordan would’ve been today.

Related Article: How Persistence is Helpful When You Need to Achieve Goals


5. Albert Einstein

Many consider Albert Einstein one of the most intelligent humans to have walked this earth. But not everyone agreed with this, especially during his younger years. 

Einstein didn’t actually speak until he was four. He wasn’t able to read until he was seven. Adults in his life were concerned that he may have a learning disability. However, as Albert Einstein entered his adult years, he was clearly a step ahead of most when it came to physics and mathematics.

Eventually, Einstein received a Nobel Prize in Physics. He devised the theory of relativity, which has propelled learnings of space, time, gravity, and more even further in recent years.


What does it mean when someone overcomes adversity? 

"As with the butterfly, adversity is necessary to build character in people." - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Adversity meaning: being faced with some kind of obstacle, problem or series of situations that would be considered serious and difficult to get past.

Someone overcoming adversity simply means that they got past the circumstance in some way, shape or form.

There are generally 6 types of adversity:

Physical adversity

Some people have physical limitations that prevent them from achieving their goals. This could include people who have a physical disability, are suffering after an injury, chronic pain, even obesity. 

Emotional adversity

This could be a behavioral issue, such as dealing with rage or codependency, or even not being able to forgive something or someone who damaged us in the past. Not being able to express our emotions, to process complex events or even to develop our self-worth can severely hinder our success. 

Mental adversity 

This could be anything related to someone's state of mind, such as a mental health issue, mental anguish or illness. Some people will require therapy or medication to be able to overcome their struggles. 

Social adversity

People who struggle with making friends, or who don't have family or a social circle to depend on fall into this area.  They struggle with the basic social skills needed to find connection and this is a serious obstacle for many. 

Spiritual adversity

Some people struggle to identify with the beliefs they were raised with. Others may be seeking, but have not yet found that spiritual connection in general, and feel they are missing something because of it.

People who question their faith, seek meaning in their lives or simply struggle to find their own personal values and community can fall into this area. 

Financial or Economic adversity

This is a very common type of adversity for many people. Getting ahead when you don't have resources to properly eat, clothe and protect yourself is a serious problem, and many people still struggle in poverty. 


How do humans overcome adversity? 

"Strength doesn't come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn't." - Rikki Rogers 

While everyone who has overcome some kind of adversity will tell a different story, there do seem to be some key similarities we can look to for inspiration. 

1. Learn from your failures and focus on how to solve the problems.

Mistakes, Failures. Obstacles. Whatever you call them, we all face them at some point, It's how people pull themselves up afterwards that defines their success in overcoming adversity. We are sometimes cowed by the negativity these words bring, but successful people choose to learn lessons and find opportunity in failure, not define themselves by it. What can you do better next time? How can you improve your approach? Do you need to do some research, or ask for help before trying again? 

"There is no better teacher than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time." - Malcolm X

2. Don't give up.

So many successful people talk about how they simply had a dream. 

4. Separate your emotions and keep a positive mindset. 

5. Keep your long term goals in mind

use a journal or vision board if it helps 

6. Learn from others.

Whatever you're going through, you can guarantee someone else has experienced, or is currently going through something similar. Yes, you can certainly learn from their obstacles, mistakes and teachings. But more importantly, you can find inspiration from them, and sometimes, that's the hardest thing to overcome when we feel like our issues are insurmountable. 

7. Embrace the adversity.

"We don't develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity." - Barbara de Angelis

Many people who have come out on the other side will tell you that adversity is not necessarily a bad thing. Here's where you hear things like, "What are you made of?" Getting through struggle can force you into actions you may never normally be bold enough to take. Or it can bring you to what you think is your lowest level.

But overcoming adversity from that dark place can just show you how incredibly resilient you have always been - you were just never put in the position to discover your own power. 

8. Have a good support network 

Not all of us will have this as an option, especially if this is where our adversity stems from. But a support network can come from anywhere - and many famous people who beat their obstacles did so on their own. Nowadays, if you don't have family or friends to support you, look to your community. 

People who share like-minded goals or stories can be a rich source of support for you. Look for online clubs, networks, support groups or social media accounts with users who have similar interests to yours, or who have already overcome a similar obstacle. 


People Who Overcame Adversity are Defined by Their Perseverance

If you don’t give up, it’s likely you will eventually succeed.

One of the greatest things you can learn is how to overcome obstacles in life and continue forward, without them holding you back. Many historical figures who overcame adversity have done exactly this, which has, undeniably, held the key to their success.

Read Next: Do You Desire Success? Tips To Experience Whatever Kind of Success You Desire

Photo by Thirdman from Pexels


4 comments on “5 Famous People Who Overcame Adversity and Achieved Success”

  1. Thank you for your daily inspiration 🙏🏽. I truly enjoy reading it every morning and setting my day on positive thoughts💜. The suggestions are well received basic, logical and wise! I share them with my daughter as I find it helps reinforce my thinking and belief . I have learned a lot from most of the writings and find them peaceful.

  2. I needed this and thank you for putting it up here. Sometimes you just need to read it to understand not to give up on your dreams.

    1. We're so happy you read it Ashifa! Absolutely, sometimes you just need someone else to confirm what you already know!

  3. I'm a very early riser and Daily motivation site starts my day on a positive note! In a world full of negative news and so many broken lives on our streets it's just the right place to to read that there is hope in the world!

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