Ever feel like the weight of the world is crushing your soul? You’re not alone. Life throws unexpected hurdles at the worst times, but don’t let things beyond your control hold you down. Follow the lead of these fifteen shocking stories of hope. Discover just how possible it is to overcome any hardship and forge your own destiny.
1. Chart your own course
Millions of children have parents infected with HIV. I should know; I was one of them. My father lost his battle. Many people may assume this tragedy would ruin a child, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Take the story of Liz Murray, whose parents were addicts and whose HIV-infected mother sold their church-donated thanksgiving turkey to score a hit of coke.
Liz was bullied for being homeless, smelly, and lice-ridden. Humiliated, she dropped out of school. At age seventeen she returned more determined than ever. She set out to become a straight-A student, but she did more than that. She went from being homeless to being a Harvard graduate and bestselling author. Just imagine what you could do without those hardships.
2. Break free
Some stories are too horrific to detail. That summarizes Dave Pelzer, who suffered one of the worst documented cases of abuse in California history at the hands of his own mother. In spite of being locked up in his basement and forced to endure unspeakable crimes, Dave did more than just survive. He rose above the circumstances.
Dave told his story and became an advocate for the voiceless. He also shared the numerous accounts he received in letters each week from people who had similar experiences. That courage earned him the honor of the National Jefferson Award and designation of Outstanding Young Persons of the World. Learn from Dave. No matter what your struggle, no matter how bad your experience, there is still hope. You are not alone.
3. Remember the forgotten
One untold story is the millions of newly-widowed men and women every year around the world. Their shared struggle goes ignored by the masses because it is so common. But that commonality is no less painful. That struggle is no less real. While some succumb to the terrible loss of a life partner who defined much of who they were, the vast majority overcome their grief. They honor the memory of those lost with a commitment to make the most of their lives. It’s a courage that should inspire you to remember the brave men and women who live next door. Who should you remember?
4. Define your day
You could be like most people–stuck in the middle–like Hal Elrod used to be. He wasn’t significant in his own mind, just an ordinary person with a normal life and decent job. One day, he chose to set a lofty goal. He achieved that goal and was on cloud nine until a drunk driver hit him head on, broke eleven bones, and left him in a coma for six days. He awoke with permanent brain damage. The doctors told him he would never walk again.
Hal made the decision to be grateful for what he had and to be purposeful in his actions. He didn’t let the doctors define his life. Instead, he defined his own day, every day. Not only did he walk again, he ran. Hal completed a 52 mile ultra-marathon and went on to pen the blockbuster book The Miracle Morning, which awoke the lives of millions. How will you define your day?
5. Set the world on fire
What would you do if burns covered 100% of your body and forced you to stay in the hospital for five months while you watched doctors amputate your fingers one by one?
John O’leary had the horrible misfortune of torching himself at the age of nine, leaving him near death and permanently scarred. Somehow, he survived. It’s not just his miraculous survival that inspires, but how his family and community came together to convince him why life was still worth living. The people he touched and what he did with his life after he left the hospital should convince anyone of the true value of a single life.
6. Climb your mountain
Jill Kinmont Boothe thought she had everything. She taught herself to ski and became a national champion Olympic prospect. Those hopes were dashed with a near fatal accident that left her permanently paralyzed.
In spite of her rejection by UCLA’s school of education due to her paralysis, her determination led her to become a successful teacher, painter, and role-model to millions, a story that later aired in the movie The Other Side of the Mountain. She never gave up hope. Neither should you.
7. Harness the wind
Imagine living in the small town of Kasungu with no money and limited resources. That’s the story of William Kamkwamba, who at age fourteen read a library book that inspired him to build a windmill with spare parts and power his tiny African village. Stories of his initiative spread across globe, which enabled him to do even more for his community. What problems can you solve with even more resources?
8. Make good art
The advice from British native and writing phenom Neil Gaiman is good enough, but now try it as a quadriplegic. Henry Fraser did just that after losing the use of his limbs from a diving accident that dislocated his neck. Six years later, he returned to art after his injuries forced him to live with his mother and rethink his life. His mouth became his instrument, and he took those paintings and drawings to social media where they garnered the interest of J.K. Rowling and others. His story continues to inspire. Yours can too.
9. Take flight
If an artistic quadriplegic doesn’t motivate you, how about an armless pilot? Jessica Cox was born without arms, but she didn’t let that slow her down. She drives, scuba dives, types on the keyboard, puts on her contacts, and does a lot more—all with her feet. That determination led her to become both the first armless pilot and American Taekwondo black belt without arms. She’s just getting started. How about you?
10. Live without limits
The world is challenging enough, but what if you were forced to navigate that world without your limbs? Nick Vujicic, who suffers from the rare disorder of phocomelia, did just that and turned his obstacle into a limitless opportunity for outreach and exploration. He lives by the motto, “attitude determines your ability to succeed.” What’s your motto?
11. Realize your dream
Ever had a childhood dream you wish never died? After injuries sidelined his minor-league baseball career a decade earlier, high school science teacher and coach, Jim Morris, received encouragement from his students to pursue his dream and try out for the majors. That effort paid off, and he became the oldest rookie to ever pitch in the major leagues. Think twice before you kill your dream. Most are still within your reach.
12. Never give up
Children can be powerful motivators. San Francisco native Chris Gardner went beyond motivation and took action. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t let his his mother’s imprisonment when he was a child or his failed sales career hold him back.
Persistence propelled him from being homeless to a millionaire stockbroker and amazing provider for his son. Persistence can do the same for you.
13. Shout your message
Imagine being born with a life-threatening illness, one that stigmatizes you in the eyes of everyone. Now add on fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, and learning impairments. Would you have the courage to overcome those challenges and become a heroic communicator and advocate? Ashley Rose did all that and more. She climbed her personal mountain to become a Tedx speaker, shared her message around the globe, and taught youth about HIV in the hopes of one day achieving a world where no child is born with AIDS. What’s your message?
14. Revolutionize your world
Stephen Hawking isn’t the only sufferer of a motor neuron disease to shape his field. Jon Morrow of Copyblogger and Smartblogger took the blogging world by storm a few short years ago. Most people never dream of soaring to such heights, but what makes Jon so special is that he was supposed to die of pneumonia before the age of two because of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA).
Jon owes much of his miracle to his mother, who fought for him every step of the way and didn’t accept an early death as Jon’s only fate. It wasn’t easy. It was shockingly hard, but after languishing near destitution from medical bills, Jon’s commitment to his ideas led him to become the highest draw in his field, with millions of views. What ideas have you let fall by the wayside?
15. Create your legacy
Most people live life oblivious to their potential unless something disturbing jolts them from their uninspiring routine. That characterized Anthony Burgess right up until the doctors told him he would die of cancer in less than a year.
Anthony accepted his fate, but he didn’t do it gracefully. He wanted to leave a legacy, and so he chose to write a book. In that year he wrote five, including A Clock-work Orange. His cancer went into remission, and his year transformed into decades with over two dozen stories to his name. What would you do with your year?
It’s hard not to be motivated by people like these, but humongous things and heroic stories aren’t necessary to have a big impact. You don’t even need motivation or willpower. Big challenges are overcome and big dreams are realized by taking small but consistent actions, like the ones mentioned by Stephen Guise in his book Mini Habits. Over time, those small actions add up and come to define who you are. The only questions you need ask yourself are, “what do you want to accomplish, and what’s your first step?”
Featured photo credit: Pixabay via pixabay.com