75% of High Achievers Come From Troubled Families — 6 Things They Teach Us About Resilience

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Kayla Heisler1.16k

While there are many studies that show the benefits of being raised in a positive environment, there are less-obvious things we can learn from those who did not enjoy this advantage. 

Clinical psychologist Dr. Meg Jay explores cases of individuals who encountered adversity during childhood and went on to make major achievements in her book "Supernormal: The Secret World of the Family Hero." Jay drew on her over 20 years of researching cases and treating clients who include doctors, activists, entrepreneurs and entertainers. She cites a study revealing that out of 400 high-achieving people, 75 percent of them faced major adversities before turning 20 years old. Here are eight lessons we can learn from those who come from troubled families and went on to succeed. 

1. Be proactive.

Being self-sufficient means going after what you want instead of waiting around for others to hand it to you. Many of those who are tasked with caring for themselves (or others in their family) at a young age develop the practice of taking care of tasks before being asked. Actively work toward your goals instead of hoping for the best outcome later.

2. Practice positive affirmations.

When life is rocky, it can be easy to let the trials derail you and internalize the negative. Experiencing hardships early on forces people to make a choice between dwelling on the bad or reinforcing the good about themselves. When you have to learn to treat yourself with kindness and tell yourself good things about yourself, you learn not to depend on others to lift you up or dwell on their opinions of you. Cultivate positivity by listing what you like about yourself even when you make a mistake so you can move on and keep working toward your achievements.

3. Take care of yourself.

Because depending on others for nurture isn’t always an option, learning how to best care for yourself is really important. Basic tasks like preparing your own meals and making your own appointments are skills that not everyone has, but to reach big goals you can’t let the small things stop you. Recognize when you need to give yourself more time or attention, and fulfill that need to the best of your ability.

4. Avoid bad habits.

While many are warned about the dangers involved with harmful behavior, not everyone sees the immediate impact up close. This can include engaging in dangerous activities, acting out aggressively, or neglecting responsibilities. Those who have witnessed family members or those close to them in childhood engage in such behavior have likely also seen consequences first hand. Even if you have been fortunate enough to avoid seeing the consequences of bad habits personally, you can be diligently refuse to engage in behavior that can impede your success. 

5. Find your community.

Many find comfort and support from family members who raise them or grow up with them. For those who don’t have that option, finding people outside of that network becomes imperative. Becoming comfortable with reaching out to people is an important skill that helps enable success. 

6. Give yourself quiet time when you need it.

When things get hectic, it’s important to take a step back and give yourself room to think. Whether you find peace in meditating, jogging, or going on long walks, find a go-to plan for when life gets stressful. Letting stress build up is toxic and can derail achieving goals.


Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.