We’ve heard of “White Privilege” and “Male Privilege” and other phrases that imply that some of us have an unfair advantage over others. There is another kind of privilege that actually stems from adversity. It has been overlooked and is often misunderstood.
In our current culture, we tend to look at victims with pity. It's certainly not a bad thing to feel sympathy and empathy. We must feel those things if we're going to be good humans. But we seem to have turned victimization into a contest with points to be counted. The worse the adversity, the more victim points. The real problem with this thinking is that it automatically lowers the expectations of the person who has now been labeled as a victim. The result of all this is that many people overlook the not-so-obvious truth that survivors of adversity are stronger, more resourceful, and more resilient than the average person.
Now before you go thinking that I’m terribly insensitive to the plight of people who have been victims of violent crime and other traumatic situations, please know that I am intimately familiar with this topic. I was a victim of violent child abuse for the first 16 years of my life. The pain of being intentionally harmed when you’re too little and too vulnerable to prevent it is unspeakable—literally. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to adequately articulate the feelings that result from intentionally inflicted emotional and physical pain when your young brain isn’t developed enough yet to to process it and when you don’t have the vocabulary to describe it.
What I am confident of is that what it took to survive my abusive, chaotic, and very painful childhood was precisely what I needed to be successful in business. You might say that I was “Adversity Privileged.”
From being left with a neighbor by my mother, who never returned, I learned how to be alone. I learned how to take care of myself. I learned to never expect anyone to rescue me. Being self-reliant was extremely helpful when I started my first business. I intrinsically knew that no one was going to swoop in and save me during tough times. I felt completely responsible for myself and never expected anyone to help me or do me any favors.
From growing up with abusive guardians I learned to read faces and body language. Even as a little girl, I could tell within seconds of one of them walking in whether or not it was going to be a rough night. That talent came in exceptionally handy when I became a young insurance agent. I could tell within seconds if someone was interested or not or whether or not they were tracking with what I was saying.
I learned from hunger and poverty how to be resourceful about finding food and how to make a little money go a long way. This was extremely helpful when I was finally on my own. That skill enabled me to save the money I needed to buy my first house when I was 19, and my first rental when I was 21, and start my first company when I was 27.
From being burned, beaten, and demeaned as a child I developed a burning desire to help the disadvantaged. My painful childhood was precisely the training ground for the decades that I have spent protecting and defending (through insurance) the good people and organizations that help children who have been abused. I would not have been able to analyze the ways that foster kids and their caregivers get injured or killed, and create tragedy prevention trainings, if I hadn’t felt a personal connection with those children in foster care who had been severely abused.
From being homeless when I was 8 years old, I learned how to find clothes, shoes, and other useful things that other people had thrown away. I learned how to fix things so that I could use them or sell them. I learned how to knit and crochet so that I could make things that I could sell. The ability to fix things, find “work-arounds,” and see challenges as opportunities helped me to succeed in business where colleagues appeared to be stymied by what they interpreted as overwhelming problems.
In short, I became resilient and resourceful, and subsequently successful, not despite what I went through, but specifically because of it. And I'm not the only one. There are many successful survivors of childhood abuse, trafficking, and other traumatic situations.
Of course there were some very tough times in business. It wasn’t all perfect, but the resourcefulness, self-reliance, independence, financial management, learned abilities, and coping skills I acquired through a painful childhood equipped me to navigate challenges and turn them into opportunities for growth. I guess you could say that I had an unfair advantage. I’m “Adversity Privileged.”