Converting Adversity to Victory

Converting Adversity to Victory – Lessons from Amazing People
by Dr Charles Margerison

Why do some people succeed, despite facing difficulties? Why do others, with more advantages, not do so?

A Case In Point
Michael Marks arrived in England as a refugee from Slonim, Belarus, in 1882. He certainly faced adversity, as he had no job, no qualifications, no money, no friends, no family and could not speak English. He had walked 1425 miles across Europe. If he averaged 5 miles a day, it would have taken him nearly a year. Have you ever been to a Marks and Spencer shop? It was founded by Michael Marks. How did he do it, as he had few advantages? What chance did he have of victory in business and life? He needed some good luck and found it in Mr Isaac Dewhirst, who owned a warehouse. Dewhirst gave Michael Marks the chance to sell products from his warehouse. Over 10 years later, his sales business was such a success that Tom Spencer, an employee of Mr Dewhirst, joined him. That is how the great organization of Marks and Spencer began.

Other Examples
There were many other amazing people who overcame adversity to claim both personal and social victories.

Helen Keller lost her sight and ability to hear due to illness when she was very young. But, through determination and drive, she learned how to read and write using the Braille system, gained a university degree, and visited 39 countries to help other disabled people.


Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect, who designed the Sagrada Familiia Cathedral in Barcelona, also suffered from illness when he was young. Instead of playing in the street with other boys, he was confined to his home and his donkey became his best friend. But, he turned adversity to triumph by studying architecture and focusing on a style that inspires people’s admiration.


Harriet Tubman was born into a slave family and worked as a slave until she was 29 years of age. She then escaped and set up an escape route for other slaves. In addition, she joined the Union Army in the USA Civil War and contributed as a nurse, cook and scout before going on to be a leading advocate for women’s rights.


Thomas Edison achieved 1079 patents and developed many innovations such as telegraphy machines, voice recording technology, electric power and light facilities. He did this despite little formal education, being deaf in one ear, having a multitude of failed inventive attempts, frequent disappointments and financial hardships. He also developed many companies to commercialize his work, including the giant GE Company.

Perception of Opportunities

Some people give up before they even start by saying a task is too difficult. Amazing people have a different mindset. They see adversity as a challenge to be overcome. Where others see problems, they see opportunities.


Andrew Carnegie moved from poverty to being the richest man in the world. It only took him 20 years. He decided to retire at the age of 35 to focus on his philanthropic work, which included financing over 2500 libraries around the world.


Florence Nightingale improved health care and saved people’s lives. She organized 38 nurses and travelled to Turkey, in 1854, to assist British soldiers. Despite opposition from military leaders and doctors, her actions started a transformation in nursing care. On returning home, she joined the women’s rights movement and made major contributions to hygiene and health both in civil life as well as continuing her work with the military.

Action Implications

It is said, that those who think they can, usually do. They find ways of overcoming problems. They convert adversities into victories. So, what is your mindset? What problems can you solve if you start thinking positively and working on the issues. It will be the start of an amazing life.

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Dr Charles Margerison is a Chartered Psychologist and has consulted widely for major organizations in the fields of organizational and educational psychology. He was previously Professor of Management at Cranfield University, UK, and the University of Queensland, Australia. Dr Margerison founded Amazing People Worldwide in 2006 and is supported by a dedicated global team. He previously co-founded Emerald Insights, and Team Management Systems and has authored more than 30 books.


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