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5 Legends Who Overcame Adversity To Fulfill Their Dreams

By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International

Legends have overcome massive adversity to achieve their dreams, which means anyone can too.

If you, or someone you know, is currently struggling to launch their career after leaving education, start a business or make a positive difference in the world, here are five inspiring stories of how legends overcame adversity from business, politics and entertainment. At the end we'll look at how you can learn from these stories to pursue your own dreams.

Ricky Gervais

"You should bring something into the world that wasn’t in the world before. It doesn’t matter what that is. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a film or gardening—everyone should create. You should do something and then sit back and say, ‘I did that.’"

Ricky Gervais failed in his bid to be a pop star and was made redundant by the radio station XFM along with Stephen Merchant. It was, however, the relationship he developed with Mr Merchant that led to him being cast in a short film that evolved to become The Office. It was this show that catapulted both Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to success as the show became the most successful British sitcom in history.


Jim Carrey

"It is better to risk starving to death than surrender. If you give up on your dreams, what's left?"

Jim Carry dropped out of high school to work as a janitor and security guard to help pay the family bills. He moved to Los Angeles; struggling to make ends meet either as a stand-up comedian or actor. He was turned down for roles in Saturday Night Live, Sixteen Candles, Bachelor Party, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Back to School and Edward Scissorhands. His break came when he secured a role on the TV sketch comedy show, In Living Color and he is now a globally-recognised Hollywood actor and worth millions.


Walt Disney

"All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

At 16-years-old Walt Disney was rejected by the army to serve in the first world war and at 18 he was fired by his editor for lacking imagination and good ideas. Later on, his cartoon business failed, followed by a second and he went on to be made bankrupt five times. At one point he was so poor that he survived on dog food! His first efforts in film also attracted ridicule including being told that Mickey Mouse would never be a successful character. He went on to win 22 Academy Awards and was nominated 59 times – more than anyone else in history.


JK Rowling

"I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless."

When writing Harry Potter, JK Rowling was on benefits and would skip dinner to enable her to feed her children. Her manuscript was turned down by 12 publishers and the 13th accepted it because of an endorsement from the 8-year-old daughter of the publisher's chief executive. The success of the Harry Potter books meant she became the world's first female billionaire author. However, her wealth is only now in the millions because she has given so much away to charities such as Gingerbread who help single parents.

"You have a moral responsibility when you’ve been given far more than you need, to do wise things with it and give intelligently."

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln had an incredible journey to becoming the 16th President of the United States in 1861. His story that was included in this Guardian article speaks for itself....

"Abraham Lincoln had a rough time too, almost drowning, losing his mother when aged nine, his fiancée and sister when he was 26 – not to mention getting malaria, syphilis, smallpox, and kicked in the head by a horse.

Lincoln failed in business aged 21. Two years later he ran for state legislature, lost his job and was rejected from law school. He bounced back and started a business on borrowed money, but was bankrupt within a year.

At 28, he was defeated as a speaker of the state legislature. He ran for the US House of Representatives and lost at age 33. He tried again at age 39, and lost. Not to worry – at age 45 he ran for the US Senate and lost again. He also lost when he ran for his party's vice presidential nomination at age 47. And again at the US Senate at age 49. But at the age of 51, he became the president of the US."

These stories reveal that facing and overcoming adversity is part of the journey to becoming successful. It was certainly not in their plans to make the sacrifices they made, but what's clear is that they were prepared to do whatever it took to pursue their dreams.

If you'd like more inspiration in what it means to live your childhood dreams, then you have to check out this inspiring article.


Reflect on these questions....

  1. Is there a childhood dream that you have?
  2. What do you feel is the single biggest obstacle in your way from achieving it?
  3. If you could wave a magic wand what would be the one solution you would wish for?

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