Science-Backed Proof: Ultra-Achievers come from Troubled Families


Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks based in Brooklyn, New York had what you would call a perturbed childhood. His father Fred Schultz – a former US army officer – managed to eke out an existence as a truck driver. The impoverished family worked hard to get bread on the table at the end of the day and give their three children a chance for a bright future, but alas, luck seemed to evade them at every step. When money ran out, Howard Schultz couldn’t complete his studies, and found himself getting lured into sports instead. Luckily after some time, he landed a job as a maker of drip coffee machines. From there onwards, Howard didn’t look back.

Oprah Winfrey faced horrifying abuse as a girl, on multiple occasions, even from the closest of family members. Eleanor Roosevelt’s father drank himself to death.

These are not just individual or random occurrences. Time and again, we have seen high achievers rising from the depths of a hard-hitting childhood. The much-hyped article by Meg Jay in The Wall Street Journal concluded that high achievement and child trauma go side by side.

While studying 400 super achievers, Jay concluded that around 75% of the people who achieved big, came from disturbed families that faced severe difficulties, their skills and éclat shadowed by the debilitating loss of a parent, the threat of dire poverty, or the trauma of an abusive childhood.

What science reveals about childhood adversity?

This however doesn’t mean that every child who faces childhood adversity miraculously turns out to be a future CEO. Jay in his study showed that these early day traumas instill extreme resilience in people that leads to incredible achievement.

In the protracted article, Jay backed this theory with a ton of proof including a long going study of 700 babies and how their traumas prepared them to deal with any difficulty in their lives.

It is important to mention here that harsh beginnings often create physiological changes in the brain which help us deal with negative feedback. If you don’t have the time to skim through the entire study, here are five key takeaways from Jay’s study which can help you understand the importance of childhood trauma and the power of resilience.

  • Always challenge yourself

Whether you are opening a new business, stepping into a judo fight, or even fixing your washroom pipe, everything takes you out of the comfort zone. When you dig into a new venture, after some time you start getting insights about whatever it is that you have ventured a foot in. So, it doesn’t matter if you want to learn a new language, pursue a new degree, or even wish to publish the next selling book, the challenges in life help you grow.

  • Take responsibility for everything

Kay concludes with, “Resist defeat in your own mind. Fighting back on the inside is where battling back on the outside begins.”

If it is your company, your job, and your life. How can you hand-it-over to someone else? Your success is in your hands. And in the same way, your defeats will take you out of your comfort zone and make you come out stronger on the other end.

  • Build a social support system

Friends are important, but according to Jay, “reaching out to your family when facing the herd is the right thing to do”. It is a myth that successful people don’t need help or support. In fact, the social support system is what energizes most of the high-achievers. Napoleon Hill in his best-seller, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, talks about The Millionaire Club. He tells us how important it is to establish a support system, especially for when you feel down in the dumps.

  • Have an active coping mechanism

One stranger changed the way Tony Robbins used to treat adversity. Solving problems rather than crying over them is a mark of empowerment, according to Jay. When faced with a problem, try to plan things out. Be proactive and formulate a viable plan on how to solve the problem with the limited number of resources. Progress shores us up and calms us down.” Better advice is rare in this world.

  • Cheer yourself up even when nobody Else Seems to care

According to Meg Jay, it is great to remind yourself of the challenges and troubles that you have gone through in tough times. Take a trip down the memory lane. Give yourself some much overdue credit for how you handled a particular situation and made it through. It is not just about cheering yourself up; it is about embracing the past to deal with the future.

Let us finish it off

There is no such thing as gleaning overnight success. If you analyze the life of any successful person and look closely, you will see one common denominator:  hard work. For now, they might seem successful, but that success has little to do with a fluke of luck. What helped them in the long-run was the industrious work they put in throughout their lives.

If you are on your way to becoming a successful person, we suggest: start small and go big. These small take ways will aid you in your journey towards a successful life ahead.


    • You don’t necessarily need to create trouble in order to create high-achievers. It means you have to train children to face whatever life throws at them. Earl Woods – father of Tiger Woods used to criticise Tiger Woods and try to break his attention while he was about to make the swing. Why? Because he hated Tiger Woods? No. Because Earl Woods wanted to create a ‘lethal mindset’ for Tiger Woods. So that when later in life whenever Tiger Woods face any problem on the field, he won’t be bothered with it.

      What you can do is to build the mindset of your children. From fixed mindset to growth mindset.