People who succeeded despite adversity

[This post is part of a series on people who succeed despite adversity. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Do you ever feel like things are stacked against you?
Consider how many people succeeded despite the odds. Ask yourself which helps more — having advantages or learning to overcome adversity?
I’ve noticed how many extremely successful people had problems that mediocre people claim hold them back. I started noticing it with actors on Inside the Actor’s Studio, but then started noticing it elsewhere. Sure, many successful people emerged from privileged backgrounds and sure, some social problems keep many people from any chance at success, but if you’re reading this blog you probably have reasonable access to success.
I decided to create a list of people who succeeded and some problems they overcame. I plan to update the list continually so I’m not trying to be comprehensive now.
When you find yourself claiming some obstacles keep you from achieving your hopes, goals, and dreams, check if anyone on the list below overcame problems worse than yours to achieve greatness beyond yours.
Please send suggestions for other names to add. I expect the list to grow to hundreds of names.

Person Achievement Adversity
Franklin Roosevelt Four-time President of the United States Paralyzed from the waist down by polio before running for office.
Oprah Winfrey Winfrey is best known for her multi-award-winning talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show” which was the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been ranked the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history, and was for a time the world’s only black billionaire. She is also, according to some assessments, the most influential woman in the world. Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother and later raised in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. She experienced considerable hardship during her childhood, saying she was raped at age nine and became pregnant at 14; her son died in infancy.
Sylvester Stallone Iconic actor, one of most successful actors; wrote and starred in three-Oscar-winning (ten nominations) Rocky, which became a franchise; starred as iconic John Rambo; got steps of Philadelphia Art Museum named after him Complications his mother suffered during labor forced her obstetricians to use two pairs of forceps during his birth; misuse of these accidentally severed a nerve and caused paralysis in parts of Stallone’s face. As a result, the lower left side of his face is paralyzed – including parts of his lip, tongue, and chin – an accident which has given Stallone his snarling look and slightly slurred speech.
Tom Cruise Nominated for three Academy Awards and has won three Golden Globe Awards; As of 2012, Cruise is Hollywood’s highest-paid actor. Fourteen of his films grossed over $100 million domestically; twenty have grossed in excess of $200 million worldwide. He grew up in near poverty. The family was dominated by his abusive father, whom Cruise has described as “a merchant of chaos.”; He was beaten by his father, who Cruise has said was a bully and coward: “He was the kind of person where, if something goes wrong, they kick you. It was a great lesson in my life—how he’d lull you in, make you feel safe and then, bang! For me, it was like, ‘There’s something wrong with this guy. Don’t trust him. Be careful around him.” Tom is 5 feet 7 inches tall (170 cm).
Frederick Douglass Leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave. Born into slavery, violence, and separation from his parents; taught himself to read
Johnny Depp Films featuring Depp have grossed over $3.1 billion at the United States box office and over $7.6 billion worldwide. He has been nominated for top awards many times, winning the Best Actor Awards from the Golden Globes. He also has garnered a sex symbol status in American cinema, being twice named as the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine in 2003 and 2009. He has been listed in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the highest paid actor, with $75 million. Depp’s family lived in over 20 locations, settling in Miramar, Fla., when Depp was 7, living in a hotel until his father found work. Prone to self-inflicted knife wounds, Depp started smoking at 12, lost his virginity at 13, started doing drugs at 14 and eventually dropped out of high school at 16; worked as a telemarketer.
Albert Einstein Nobel Prize winning physicist; created special and general relativity, major contributor to quantum mechanics, statesman. His great intellectual achievements and originality have made the word “Einstein” synonymous with genius. Couldn’t get a job in physics for two years after graduation. Worked as assistant patent examiner, passed over for promotion until he “fully mastered machine technology”.
E. O. Wilson Two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and a New York Times bestseller; Major contributor to sociobiology and evolutionary psychology. Blind in one eye.
Michael Jordan Greatest basketball player of all time. Cut from varsity basketball team in his sophomore year.
Victor Frankl Wrote Man’s Search For Meaning, one of “the ten most influential books in the United States.” At the time of his death in 1997, the book had sold over 10 million copies and had been translated into 24 languages. Imprisoned at several concentration camps by Nazis, including Auschwitz. His wife and family were killed by the Nazis.
Marc Zupan Gold medal-winning paralympic medalist in wheelchair rugby, main figure in Oscar-nominated movie Murderball; guest at White House, skydived, rock-climbed. Quadriplegic from accident from drunk driver.
Jean-Dominique Bauby Wrote number one best-selling Diving Bell and the Butterfly, adapted to multiple award-winning movie. At the age of 43, Bauby suffered a massive stroke. When he woke up twenty days later, he found he was entirely speechless; he could only blink his left eyelid. His mouth, arms, and legs were paralyzed, and he lost 60 pounds (27 kg) in the first 20 weeks after his stroke.
more to come

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