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"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."

Posted by Chris Holman on Nov 19, 2010 8:20:00 AM


"That which does not kill us makes us stronger."...Fredrich Nietzsche

In 1993, J.K. Rowling and her six-month old daughter were living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Penniless, depressive and contemplating suicide, Rowling had separated from her husband and was living in a cramped apartment with her daughter, Jessica. While surviving on state welfare, Rowling would escape her flat in an effort to walk her daughter to sleep. She would often end up in cafes where she would complete her first novel. Today, her Harry Potter books have sold more than 400 million copies, and Rowling’s estimated net worth exceeds $1 billion.

Steve Jobs was adopted by a working-class family, and grew up in the apricot orchards that would later become Silicon Valley. In 1972, Jobs attended Reed College in Portland, OR… dropping out after one semester because the tuition was too much for him. He continued to audit classes at Reed, including a course in calligraphy. Says Jobs, “If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts.” In 1976, Jobs founded Apple computer with his buddy, Steve Wozniak. 8 years later, following an internal power struggle, Jobs was forced out of Apple by John Sculley. In 1986, Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilms for $10 million. 20 years later, he sold Pixar to Disney for $7.4 billion. Around the time that Jobs was booted from Apple, he founded NeXT Computer. In 1996, Apple purchased NeXT for $429 million, bringing Jobs back to the company he co-founded. In 1996, Apple was trading at around $12 per share. Since then, there have been two 2:1 splits, and AAPL now trades above $300 per share. Jobs’ stake in Apple and Disney exceed $6 billion.

Back to Fredrich Nietzsche’s quote, which has now become an adage used by annoying people who want to mollify us during stressful times. Turns out Nietzsche was right!

In a new study, “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability and Resilience” the effect of adverse situations on people’s mental health and well-being is examined. In a longitudinal study occurring over many years, authors Mark Seery, Alison Holman, and Roxane Cohen Silver reveal that persons exposed in moderation to adversity over the course of their lives are higher-functioning and had generally a higher life satisfaction over time. Furthermore, people who had encountered adversity in their life were less negatively affected when they encountered adverse circumstances later.

In this study, authors Seery, Holman, and Silver report,

  • Resilience involves having psychological and social resources that help people tolerate adversity, but coping with adversity may itself promote development of subsequent resilience.
  • Experiencing moderate amounts of adversity creates effective coping skills, helps engage social support networks, creates a sense of mastery over past adversity, fosters belief in the ability to cope successfully in the future, and generates psycho-physiological toughness.
  • All of these qualities contribute to resilience in the face of subsequent major adversity. Such qualities should also make subsequent minor hassles seem more manageable rather than overwhelming, leading to benefits for overall mental health and well-being.”


This study is interesting and important on several levels. The knowledge and confidence gained by being able to survive life’s challenges helps us to better navigate our way through future adversity through the development of subtle and supportive self-interventions.

Says Steve Jobs, “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

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Topics: Perseverance