Does Adversity Stop Success?

After reading my last blog about Michael Jackson, Katie Jacobs wrote, “While I completely agree that not following the 8 principles greatly contributed to Michael’s professional downfall, I think that there were a few more issues that factored in. Having a crazy father certainly doesn’t help. A dysfunctional childhood, confused sexuality, impaired body image, possibly being addicted to drugs and plastic surgery, and being completely detached from reality might have contributed to his abandonment of the 8 principles.”

Yes, Katie, those issues, or “adversities,” could have contributed to Michael’s downfall. But it’s interesting that many other big stars have suffered through similar adversities and still achieved continued success – because, unlike Michael, they didn’t abandon the success principles. Oprah had terrible adversity. She was born poor and abused as a child. She continually struggles with her body image and weight. Yet she continues to succeed because she hasn’t stopped doing what she loves, working hard, serving her fans, persisting and following the other principles.

When I interviewed Quincy Jones he said, “Oprah and I were talking about our backgrounds, and she had a terrible childhood. I mean, triple-A dysfunctional! And man, I don’t know how I made it. I really don’t. I’ve forgotten a lot about my life. I’ve blanked it out because it was too painful. Every day, a major accomplishment was just getting to school and back home alive. I watched my mother being carried away in a straitjacket when I was five-years old. Back when I was growing up, there were no such words as nurturing, or cholesterol, or non-fat. I mean, what’s non-fat? We used to call it skinny. And that’s because we were starving to death.”

Then Quincy paused, looked into the distance, and put the adversity in a different perspective: “It’s sad, but it does give you a certain ability. Sometimes your biggest disadvantage can be your biggest advantage.” I began to see a similar pattern in my research, where the adversity, as bad as it is, propels people forward in some way. It could be, “I’ll escape this” or, “I’ll prove myself.” So they find something they love to do, they work hard at it, focus on it, have fun, and suddenly there’s joy in their lives instead of pain. The success principles become their refuge from the adversity.

Quincy discovered his refuge when he found a piano and started playing. In his autobiography, he writes, “For the first time in my life, I felt no loneliness, no pain, no fear, but rather joy, relief, and even understanding…When I played music, my nightmares ended. My family problems disappeared.” Music became Quincy’s passion and that, along with the other success principles, carried him through the adversity and on to incredible success. Even after winning 26 Grammy Awards, he still stays true to those principles. He didn’t abandon them or become distracted by the fame, like Michael Jackson.

So, Katie, that’s a long way of saying I don’t know if the adversity suffered by Michael Jackson had anything to do with his downfall. I do know that when he stopped following the success principles, his success also stopped. On the other hand, people like Quincy and Oprah also experienced terrible adversity, but they continued to follow the success principles and they continue to succeed. So the good news is, adversity doesn’t have to stop success. As long as we keep following the eight principles, we can keep moving forward.

Reference: Quincy Jones, Q: The Autobiography of Quincy Jones, Doubleday, 2001