Life is not a parabolic curve, nor does it go straight up. There are a lot of lumps, a lot of bumps. I have never yet met a successful person who hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity. Overnight success is much more of a myth than reality.

Remember the four-minute mile? Humans had been trying to do it for centuries, since the days of the ancient Greeks. Historians found old records detailing how the Greeks tried to accomplish this. They had wild animals chase the runners, hoping that would make them run faster, among other measures. Nothing worked.

So, the experts decided it was physiologically impossible for a human to run a mile in four minutes. Our bone structure is all wrong. Our wind resistance is too great. We have inadequate lung power. There were a million reasons — until one day a human proved the doctors, the trainers and the athletes all wrong.

In 1954, Roger Bannister showed the world that it could be done. Over the next few years, more and more people broke the four-minute mile once they realized that yes, it was possible.

When Bannister passed away this month, it brought back a lot of memories from that time in history.

The world was changing a great deal. People were overcoming the long-perceived physical boundaries of nature. American pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. And who can forget Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, conquering Mount Everest in 1953?

Many famous people have overcome tremendous adversity:

• Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people in the world, dropped out of school and saw his first business fail.

• Oprah Winfrey overcame terrible poverty growing up in rural Mississippi to become a billionaire media mogul who has inspired millions around the world.

• Some say Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4 years old and couldn’t get a job in physics for two years after graduation.

• Richard Branson overcame dyslexia to found Virgin Group and control more than 400 companies.

• Popular recording star Jay-Z came from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood and couldn’t get signed to any record labels as a rapper. In 2013, Time magazine ranked him as one of the most influential people in the world.

• Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime.

Botanists say trees need the powerful March winds to flex their trunks and branches so that sap is drawn up to nourish the budding leaves. Perhaps people need to meet the stresses of life in the same way. A stormy period can be a prelude to a new spring of life and health, success and happiness. That is, if we keep our self-confidence and faith in the future.

Everyone faces adversity, pain, loss and suffering in life. Develop a plan for what you will do when these times hit and find your way to the silver lining -- the place where you can feel hopeful again.

Mackay’s Moral: How you handle adversity says a lot about how you will handle success.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail