Adversity to Success

by Elo1 min read15th Jun 201610 comments


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It's a classic story, your average millionaire tells their story of how they had a life of struggling and subsequently overcame such struggles and went on to become a (multi-)millionaire.  "What a great story" everyone says.  But why does it happen, and why does it happen so often?

The easy answer: Survivorship bias.  What happened to the rest of the regiment in the army*?  What happened to the other homeless people on the streets?  They all suffered, struggled and died out, or went on to live mediocre enough lives that they didn't write about their experiences.  Surely there are more millionaires that write about their "story" than people who went through adversity writing about their story...

But is that enough?  Does that explain it?  It certainly would explain a few millionaires.  Also what about your average not-suffering human.  Middle class, ordinary income, is there something about suffering and risk-taking that they should want to do?  Telling someone to give up their job and live on the streets for a month just to know what suffering "feels like", in the hope of going on to become a millionaire...  Sounds like a terrible idea!  And good luck selling a book with that kind of advice.

So what is it about suffering that we should care about?  What can we learn from all these stories if not "survivorship bias is a strong, show-stopping applause light"?

Coping Mechanisms


One thing that hardship gives you, other than a great story is the mental ability to say, "something really bad happened and I survived", and consequently, "I can survive the next really bad event".  The future is likely to have all sorts of ups and downs.  There will always be bad days with car accidents, days where you nearly get fired, or lose the big deal.  There will also be great days!  Days where you make the deal, every plan executes successfully, you get the rewards you were striving for, it seems like you were just lucky...

When you have a coping mechanism you can walk through bad days like water off a duck's back, then you can take the good days and use them to climb and grow as if the bad days weren't even there.

The next question is; How can one develop coping mechanisms without voluntarily undergoing hardship? (with exercises like CoZE, or voluntarily experiencing discomfort just to see what it feels like, but I don't think that's key)

What do you think?

*I disagree with some of the message in that link and hope to publish a rewrite soon.

Meta: this took 30 minutes to write, and I composed it as a private email to someone; I am going to try new writing methods in the hope of giving myself and easier path to writing.  I have been thinking about this the idea for months, and the problem with adversity-to-success stories.  Thanks to Sam and Seph for being two local lw'ers who influenced my thoughts on the idea.

My Table of contents contains my other writing.

Note: Eugine is at the downvotes again.

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