Updated: Sep 17, 2019
I started this journey last August, as I headed into my senior year at Syracuse University where I recently earned my degree in Entrepreneurship and Marketing from the Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Early on in the process, I spoke with Ellen deLara, associate professor emerita at the Falk College’s School of Social Work at Syracuse University. In addition to being a professor, she works with clients through her own independent clinic and is the author of two books: Bullying Scars: The Impact on Adult Life and Relationships and Words Can Hurt Forever: How to Protect Adolescents from Bullying, Harassment and Emotional Violence. Unlike most researchers who focus on the topic of bullying, she has taken a unique approach to her inquiry.
Through her own research she found that despite conventional wisdom, the experience of bullying isn’t all negative. In some cases, being bullied as a kid could actually bring positive value to people’s lives. After surveying her own independent sample of around 900 adults ages 18 to 65 who had been subject to adolescent bullying, approximately 47 percent reported what they considered to be a positive effect on their adult lives.
Of this 47 percent, respondents further broke down their positive impacts into the subcategories below:
Resiliency/IndependenceEmpathyMoral DevelopmentGoal Attainment
After hearing this statistic, I was floored and motivated to dig deeper into the subject. Maybe the way I was feeling wasn’t so abnormal after all.
Over the next 10 months, with the unwavering support of my publisher, New Degree Press, and the Blackstone LaunchPad at Syracuse University, I conducted numerous interviews with high-level entrepreneurs spanning across a variety of industries, each of whom was bullied during their formative years. I also spent countless hours researching the psychological effects and phenomena of bullying on both children and adults. My findings held true with deLara’s. Each entrepreneur I examined has grown exponentially as a result of his or her trauma in ways including, but not limited to, those listed in deLara’s study.
Perhaps the largest source of growth from all of these entrepreneurs experiences with bullying came in their ability to develop resilience. According to psychologists Barbara and Philip Newman, resilience is described as “the capacity to keep moving forward in a positive way despite difficult conditions.” In Bullying Scars, deLara shares an amazing analogy regarding childhood trauma and resilience:
“We often hear the phrase ‘Children are resilient.’ When I hear that I think of the resilient quality of a rubber band. If you stretch it out of shape, it will snap back to its original shape. Children may indeed be resilient, but we need not fool ourselves that they can return to their original form and characteristics after they have been overly stressed. They do not. They make an adaptation to stressful events and interpersonal interactions in their lives. It is important to remember that some children are more resilient than others. Consequently, whatever adaptations they do or do not make, follow them into adulthood.”
Resiliency is an integral part of success. If Einstein, Edison, or even Steve Jobs decided to quit because of their failures, where would we be today? Instead of dwelling on their shortcomings, these individuals, along with countless other prominent inventors, self-starters and entrepreneurs, decided to use their failures as lessons to further propel them to prosperity.
In 1979, psychologist Suzanne Kobasa from the University of Chicago, conducted research about stress hardiness in business executives — a very important aspect of resiliency. Stress hardiness is the positive response to stressful situations and the ability to minimize their negative effects. From her research, Kobasa produced a framework of three attitudes that increase hardiness, famously known as the three C’s:
Challenge — Resilient people view adversity as a challenge rather than as a paralyzing, life-defining event. They look at their failures and mistakes as pivotal learning lessons and catalysts for creativity and growth. They embrace these tough times and acknowledge them as challenges to tackle, rather than as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
Commitment — Commitment is about seeking and fulfilling a purpose. Resilient people find a balance between their dedication to work, relationships, friends, values, and religious ideologies.
Personal Control — Resilient people spend their time and energy focusing on situations and events within their control.Concentrating your efforts on what you are able to change leads to empowerment and confidence as opposed to the helplessness and doubt that stressing over external events can cause. I go into more detail about this in Chapter 5.
The quicker you develop resiliency; the easier recovery will be. This simple shift in thinking is the key to the door of post-traumatic growth and entrepreneurial success.