You may have heard of Bethany Hamilton.
When she was just 13 years old, Hamilton had her left arm bitten off by a shark during a surfing accident.
You would think losing an arm coupled with the post-traumatic stress would be enough to put Hamilton off the idea of surfing for life.
That’s not what happened.
Just one month after the accident, Hamilton got back on her surfboard. Two years after that, she won first place in the Explorer Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championships.
Not allowing ourselves to be overcome by obstacles is one the best things we can do for ourselves. It shows dedication, resilience, and an ability to turn adversity into strength.
If you have gotten to the other side of any of these ten life challenges, you’re a whole lot stronger than you think.
1) You have lost someone you love
Losing a loved one isn’t something we “get over” with time.
As someone who has lost her father almost six years ago, I feel the grief is constant. Sometimes it ebbs and sometimes it flows, but it is always there.
The thing is, with time we learn to adapt and live with the void of not having their physical presence in our 3-D.
“In the process, we develop a strength we didn’t even know we have,” says wellness writer Rebecca Jane Stokes.
“Part of learning how to deal with grief is realizing that in the wake of incredible loss we can be transformed into stronger, better people than we were before tragedy befell us.”
One thing I learned amidst my own grief was that life is short and that it was ridiculous to put off dreams because I felt I wasn’t “ready”. I also developed a thicker skin.
So any perceived “failure” wasn’t going to embarrass or break me. I had already gone through the worst thing so I may as well live on my own terms.
In a strange way, it was a liberating feeling.
Another thing grief taught me was that it didn’t have to control me.
When I lost my dear dad, I honestly didn’t know how I was going to function. I thought I would be breaking down in public and professional settings which scared me.
Instead, I found that I could cry my eyes out in the car on the way to an appointment for example, and then control myself for the appointment itself.
Of course, over time it got easier. But grief gave me a myriad of strengths I never thought possible.
2) You know what it’s like to have loved and lost
Breakups are often referred to as a kind of death unto themselves—and with good reason.
You have to say goodbye to a life and love that you thought would last forever. But many people usually see in hindsight that it was the best thing that could have happened to them.
One reason is that we become so much stronger after letting go of what brought us down, says Chris Riotta from Elite Daily.
“A number of studies indicate that we’re able to overcome such hardship and learn from those experiences in life, ultimately becoming stronger, healthier individuals,” he says.
The studies also show that “our heart is essentially designed to overcome heartbreak in as little as three months.” The research shows that people have the potential to become more open-minded—even happier—after letting go of a relationship they know is over.
Researchers also noted that a breakup can actually make the human heart tougher and more resilient over time.
3) You have been betrayed in some way
Betrayal is definitely one of the worst life experiences we can have.
“Whether the source is not receiving equal pay, an unfaithful partner, or the realization that one has spent their life serving a dream that was not their own…betrayal [can] rob us of our zest, voice, an ability to live our potential,” says life coach Laura Cheadle.
Betrayal can make us feel like our insides have been ripped out. We feel like we’ll never recover, much less find joy and happiness again.
But Cheadle believes that betrayal can make us stronger, if we choose to allow it.
“Not in spite of betrayal, but because of it.”
TED Global speaker Becky B. says that’s because betrayal forces us to examine the areas of ourselves, our lives, and our actions we are uncomfortable with.
“To face facts about ourselves and others that we’d rather not acknowledge,” she says. “Oddly, enough, in doing this we can often reduce or eliminate our pain.”
It also builds strength and character and helps us to create boundaries. We are much more aware of red flags in the beginning, for example, or when our values don’t align.
4) You have endured hardship
When we’re in the middle of a crisis just trying to keep our head above water, it’s impossible to imagine that we’re going to come out the other side—much less experience some kind of personal evolution and growth, says Paula Davis from Forbes.
But this is usually what happens. Adversity not only gives us the gift of resilience but past hardship can help us deal better in the face of future stresses.
Davis points to a study by psychologist Mark Seery, who, alongside his colleagues, studied a group of more than 2,300 people: he asked them to report their lifetime exposure to a list of negative events grouped into seven categories.
“What they discovered is that people who experienced a moderate level of adversity reported better mental health and well-being and higher life satisfaction over time compared to both those groups who reported a high history of adversity and those with no history of adversity,” she says.
“Past struggles can help you become more resilient.”
Hardship can be anything from enduring an illness, a change of employment status, a loss of income, and divorce, for example.
5) You have hit rock bottom
One anonymous writer from Daily Greatness says that hitting rock bottom was the best thing that ever happened to them.
They talk about how, some years ago, they had “flat-out hit rock bottom—emotionally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. The crash was painful in every way, and I finally had no choice but to face myself brutally, painfully, and honestly.”
Hitting rock bottom is a sign that something has to change.
Many addicts, for example, liken it to an awakening that got them on their sobriety journey. Perhaps they came close to dying from an overdose, or they were arrested for impaired driving.
“Hitting rock bottom wakes you up to how you were relying on externals to make you happy. Instead of needing outside validation, you begin to trust yourself and start the journey within to find your own sense of purpose and your own validation.”
6) You have achieved a goal in the face of great opposition
Maybe no one believed that your band would ever be successful. Maybe the people in your life told you to “get real” and stop wasting your time, but you’ve managed to book some solid local gigs.
Maybe no one believed in your art, but you were able to get your work into a gallery.
Maybe no one thought you would go from being a hairdresser to someone who owns her own salon.
The beauty about opposition is that it makes you tenacious. In other words, it gives you that “I’ll show them!” attitude which can be a great motivator.
Tenacity is a strength that helps us to stick to our guns and believe in ourselves, and it is usually born (or at least developed) by opposing forces. It can help you make a firm decision about the direction you want to go.
7) You are able to stay calm (for the most part) despite feeling anger
We’ve all been there: sometimes our anger gets the better of us.
Someone cuts us off on the highway; we get into a dispute with a co-worker who accuses us of not doing our share (something that is untrue).
Perhaps we come home to a mess and see that our partner hasn’t done their share of the housework.
These things can make our blood boil and an angry outburst can ensue.
If you’ve been able to work on any anger issues—either on your own or with therapy—this is an amazing strength to develop.
Maybe you’re better able to identify your triggers and you take care to prevent them ahead of time. You could be better at regulating your emotions and are less prone to taking things personally.
Maybe you’ve developed coping strategies, such as going for a walk any time you feel the bubble of anger rise within you.
8) You have felt the sting of failure
We may think of failure as an “F” word but really experiencing failure can be a blessing in disguise.
I truly believe that failure just means redirection. It means either “not yet” meaning the timing of what I want to do is off, or it means “not quite”, which means that I have to change or tweak what I’m doing in some way.
“Failure frequently helps us to clarify what we need to do in order to get where we want to be,”says the mental health team at FlourishAustralia.
Failure is a gift because it makes us stronger. “By embracing this learning process, we grow more likely to take risks and strive for our goals without worrying about the sting of obstacles.
In this way, persistence leads to success and setbacks can be viewed as an opportunity to toughen up.”
Psychiatrist and best-selling author M. Scott Peck believes that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled.
“For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our rite and start searching for different ways or truer answers,” he says.
9) You have gone after a dream later in life
Years ago, I remember interviewing fashion illustrator Helen Downie.
The self-taught British illustrator—who goes by the pen name “Unskilled Worker”—started painting at age 47. Today, Downie is the go-to artist for big brands like Gucci and she has been featured in many mainstream fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar.
Downie also boasts over 266K followers on Instagram and is followed by a number of high-profile people.
Going after a dream later in life means that you have overcome negative assumptions that you are too old, that no one will take you seriously, or that no one will be interested in what you have to offer the world.
Maybe you still have some of these negative assumptions but you’ve decided that you’re going to go after your dream anyway.
There is profound strength in feeling the fear and still deciding to just go for it.
10) You have had to start over
There is no easy way to start over, whether it’s a relationship, leaving a job, a move you hadn’t planned, or anything else where we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, says Nicole Ziza Bauer from The Everyday Girl.
Starting over can be empowering because it is a chance to begin again. You might be better for it, Bauer says. You can discard what didn’t work and make us some new rules for yourself.
Starting over creates room to create a better version of ourselves—one that is more passionate, engaged, learned, and inspiring.
“When life takes a turn, remember that you alone have the power to say: ‘This can make me better, not bitter.’”