Category Archives: Overcoming Adversity

Colonel Sanders Overcame a Lifetime of Adversity with his Recipe For Success

Colonel Sanders master of adversity
Colonel Harland Sanders Innovator and Master of Adversity

At 65, all Colonel Harland Sanders had was his old Caddie roadster luggage trailer, his small pension check, and a recipe for chicken. Little did he know that all of these were enough to change his life and become part of almost every family in the world. Colonel Sanders was indeed a Master of Adversity.

Before he became an icon printed in buckets and KFC fast-food chains from all corners of the globe, he was first a baby-sitter to his siblings. His father died when he was six, obliging his mother to take a full-time job in order to support the family. And because young Sanders was left to look after his siblings and cook for them, he learned to make many different dishes at a very young age. It was during this time that he discovered his passion for simple yet delicious recipes. However, challenging life circumstances did not allow Sanders to pursue his calling until much later.

A sixth-grade dropout, Sanders jumped from one job to another for 30 years; from a farmworker, to an army mascot, an engine fireman, a railroad operative, an insurance seller, a steamboat pilot, a tire salesman, an amateur obstetrician, a country lawyer, a defeated political candidate and finally, to a gas station operator. He often teased by his own brother: “no good fellow… who can’t hold a job.” But although he failed to consistently pursue all of these professions, his passion for cooking never wavered.

When Sanders opened up a service station, he began to cook for travelers who stopped by for gas refills. He didn’t own a restaurant, so customers only ate on the dining table he set up in the station. He then started selling meals to families. It was through this small business that he formulated and completed his famous recipe for fried chicken. Sanders slowly made a name for himself, and Governor Ruby Laffoon even made him a Kentucky Colonel to recognize all of his contributions to the state’s cuisine. He had a short taste of success, but his business was closed down when a highway was built on his restaurant’s location. He retired and received his pension amounting to $105. This marked the beginning of his new life.

Proving that it’s never too late to reach one’s dreams, Sanders travelled everywhere with his trailer in hopes of getting his chicken recipe sold. Many restaurant owners turned him down yet he remained undeterred. He received several positive responses after his long search, not only because of his delicious chicken, but because of his interminable spirit.

Earlier in his life Sanders was involved in several failed business ventures and got fired from numerous jobs. When he finally made up his mind and decided to invest in his trusted chicken recipe, he refused to give up, even in spite of repeated rejection. He knew that if he kept on seeking, and knocking on doors, someone would eventually say yes. He once said, “I made a resolve then that I was going to amount to something if I could. And no hours, no amount of labor, no amount of money would deter me from giving the best that there was in me. And I have done that ever since, and I win by it.

Sander’s business voyage is the same as with many other businessmen who have bounced from one business concept to another before reaching that one winning idea. The key ingredients have always been to never give up, to believe in one’s self, and to always trust the success waiting to be achieved as one reaches his full potential.


Business Mogul Sheldon Adelson’s Adversity-Ridden Journey To Success

Sheldon Adelson, American business magnate and self-made billionaire, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, was

Sheldon Adelson Wiki
Sheldon Adelson Wiki

born to a poor Jewish family in Boston in 1933. His father was a taxicab driver while his mother had a knitting shop. When he was 12, he borrowed $200 from his uncle to sell newspapers at busy street corners. What followed was a seemingly endless journey to success of a strong-willed and business-minded young man.

At sixteen, he owned and managed his first business – a small candy-vending machine company. Later on, he began selling ice cream bars from the nickels he collected. He attended college to major in corporate finance and real estate, but decided to drop out later on. Sheldon joined the Army and, afterwards, took a job as a secretary to the owner of a financial magazine in New York City. In the years that followed, he worked as a financial consultant for advertising, a mortgage broker, a real estate investor, and a tour business operator. You can tell that although he had the spirit of a real businessman, he still had to work hard as an employee until he had enough to invest in his chosen ventures. However, it wasn’t a smooth ride.

Sheldon’s financial empire fell as some of these business ventures failed; and it didn’t help that the stock market during that time was experiencing a massive decline. He started recovering when he entered the real estate business by converting apartment buildings into condominiums. He did very well for a while but this venture failed as well. The drastic ups and downs of his businesses could have stopped him but Sheldon relentlessly and actively sought the next big thing. “I have had a couple of set-backs but I have never failed,” Sheldon said in one of his interviews.

 Sheldon is a self-made businessman who didn’t know when to quit. The beginning of his ultimate success was when he went into the media business by acquiring a small publishing company in 1972. One of the magazines he purchased from the company was the Communications User magazine. Once, while attending a condominium-conversion trade show, he had a life-changing vision. He visualized trade shows as “living magazines” and recognized the need for trade shows (for computers) in the communications industry. Sheldon quickly sold his condo business to concentrate on the trade show business. He formed Interface Group Inc. in 1972 and seven years later, Sheldon staged his first high-tech trade show. The company, COMDEX or Computer Dealers Expo, was conceived while the personal computer was emerging.

The timing was perfect. By the 1980s, COMDEX was the leading computer show in the world and one of the largest trade shows in the United States.

The success of his trade shows led to his next logical steps. He decided to build his own convention facility upon recognizing that Las Vegas did not have enough convention space.  He went from renter to owner when he bought the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and redeveloped the property. He then built a shopping mall, resort and convention facility to house COMDEX and other shows. After years of successful shows, he sold COMDEX to a Japanese company for $862 million in 1995. A year later, the Venetian Hotel and Resort Casino was constructed. Not resting on his laurels, he expanded his hotel and casino franchise in Asia by opening Sands Macao in China and Marina Bay in Singapore.

Devout giving

During the 2000s, Sheldon has given millions of dollars to various charitable organizations which support Israeli and Jewish causes. He has been philanthropic in funding for education, religious, cultural, and medical research projects.

Rags to Riches

 Sheldon’s story could be aptly described as a rags-to-riches story. Despite investing and losing a multimillion-dollar fortune twice, Sheldon did not give up. Many a time his ideas failed but he continuously kept his attention on the next big thing. To date, Forbes magazine declares Adelson as the 8th richest person in the world with a net worth of $38 billion. Not bad for a college dropout who started out with a borrowed $200, who jumped around numerous day jobs as a middle-aged man, and who was terribly bankrupt a number of times. Adversity was Sheldon’s constant adversary and Sheldon always won.

Sheldon’s forward and outside-of-the-box mentality is what led him to his enormous success. The self-made billionaire’s inspiring words: “I look at every business and ask, How long can this last? How can I identify the status quo and change it?”




Simon Cowell: Overcoming Adversity in the Music Industry

“If you had lived 2,000 years ago and sung like that, I think they would have stoned you,” says Simon Cowell as a judgesimon-cowell1 in one of the episodes on the television show, American Idol. Cowell is a record producer but has been known as a commentator—even more famous for his bruising words. What most people don’t know, however, is that behind this strong character is a roller coaster ride to success.Simon Cowell is a master of adversity.

What guided Cowell to fame and victory was his father’s advice. “My dad said to me, ‘Work hard and be patient.’ It was the best advice he ever gave me. You have to put the hours in.” He jumped over the barriers and courageously faced adversities that came his way.

Being a son of a music industry executive and a former ballet dancer, music has been a constant part of his childhood. However, entering the music industry has not been as easy for him as you may think.

Cowell attended school at Dover College but dropped out at 16. He went for several jobs and bounced from one unsuccessful career to another.

Being trapped in a vicious cycle of unemployment and a relatively low educational attainment as compared to his peers was never reason enough for Cowell to give up. With the help of his father, he got a job at EMI Music Publishing as a mailroom clerk. He worked hard, remained humble, and successfully built a strong network of influential people in the music franchise. This eventually earned him a position as an assistant to an A&R executive at EMI. Later on, he was promoted as a talent scout. Cowell then left EMI and formed E&S Music together with Ellis Rich (Zeleznock, 2008).

Cowell was courageous and always willing to take risks. Partnering with Iain Burton in 1985, Cowell bravely put up their own company, Fanfare Records. Unfortunately, the venture folded in 1989 due to financial difficulties. Although this tragic event buried Cowell in debt, he remained undeterred and worked as a consultant for BMG Records that same year. From there, he slowly propelled to success by signing up a number of great talents for the company. It is said that he was able to sell more that 150 million records and 70 top-charting singles in the UK and United States alone.

 No matter how hard life hit him, Cowell managed to stand back up. Indeed, he has been a pop icon despite his fair share of serious obstacles. Personally, I would say that he inspires people to be a more resilient and determined. Cowell knew what it felt like to have nothing—so he is wise enough to know how to live life now that he almost has everything. He once said, “Money brings you security and choice. You can make decisions in a different way if you have a lot of money. But when you have nothing, you have a naiveté and a more fearless attitude because you have nothing to lose.”

More than this, being open to criticism is one of Cowell’s best qualities. He inspires people to be more comfortable with the possibility of rejection. As a judge of the most popular singing competitions of this generation, Cowell is not afraid to be hated as he throws out such honest criticism to the shaking contestants of American Idol. This commitment to being true and transparent is a trait that I find deeply admirable.

Cowell’s struggles as he climbed the ladder of success serve as a reminder that life is never a smooth-sailing ride. One has to be fearless for him to achieve his dreams. Cowell’s story also tells us that we must boldly conquer our dreams and think less of what other people may think. The trials he encountered made him a strong man and this quality makes him invincible—he does not get thrown off easily. We as individuals must take his story as an inspiration to never give up on becoming a better and more successful individual despite all odds.


Simon Phillip Cowell. (2014). The website. Retrieved 05:30, Sep 16, 2014, from.

Zeleznock, T. (2008). 7 Entrepreneurs Whose Perseverance Will Inspire You. Retrieved Sep 16,2-14.

Simon Cowell. (2014). Feeling website. Retrieved Sep 16, 2014. from

Edison: Adversity and Vision, Changed the World

Thomas Edison was perhaps the most prolific inventor of his time and was recognized for his ability to overcome adversity. Todd Kaplan has often said “We have come to know him by his successes however it is important to note that Thomas Edison was in fact a person who beat adversity over and over again”. Many of his designs and products failed to catch on. Products like concrete furniture and concrete houses. His successes however were fantastic electricity and phonograph to name a few. Todd Kaplan has a special place in his heart for the “Wizard of Menlo park” who once said:

Our Greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas A. Edison

More info on Thomas edison can be found on wikipedia

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931) was an American inventor and businessman. He developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and a long-lasting, practical electric light bulb. Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park”,[2] he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.[3]

Edison was a prolific inventor, holding 1,093 US patents in his name, as well as many patents in the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. More significant than the number of Edison’s patents, are the impacts of his inventions, because Edison not only invented things, his inventions established major new industries world-wide, notably, electric light and power utilitiessound recording and motion pictures. Edison’s inventions contributed to mass communication and, in particular, telecommunications. These included a stock ticker, a mechanical vote recorder, a battery for an electric car, electrical power, recorded music and motion pictures.

His advanced work in these fields was an outgrowth of his early career as a telegraph operator. Edison developed a system of electric-power generation and distribution[4]to homes, businesses, and factories – a crucial development in the modern industrialized world. His first power station was on Pearl Street in Manhattan, New York.[4]



Ray Kroc Master of Adversity

Most folks follow sports and music stars, Todd Kaplan has been an avid fan of business leaders. Particularly those who innovate and reshape the world. When asked about adversity and the “never give up spirit” Todd Kaplan quotes Ray Kroc.

” If you are not a risk taker you should get the hell out of business”

-Ray Kroc


Adversity never stopped Ray Kroc – he thrived on it. Kroc was a door-to-door salesman for 17 years before he founded McDonald’s. Kroc’s tremendous resolve to hang in there even when sales were down allowed him to view adverse situations as mere potholes on the road to success. He was able to stay focused on winning because he knew that, somehow, every pothole could be filled.

Setbacks happen in every business. Possessing the tenacity to “grind it out,” to see problems through and to overcome obstacles requires enormous strength of will. That will is powered by perseverance.

If you persevere, troubles can always be resolved, and your will to succeed will strengthen you and your business. Even if your business never grows to reach the levels of worldwide domination such as McDonald’s, your chances of success are far greater than if you throw in the towel.


The Top Three Things To Remember When You’re Facing Adversity

I have been writing these posts for several weeks now, but the truth is, I’ve been doing the research for these posts since I was a child.   A long time ago, someone told me that readers are leaders, and I knew I wanted to be a leader from a very young age, so I read as much as I could.  Stories about successful people and how they achieved their success have always been of great interest to me.  It’s amazing how successful people have many traits in common with each other and how these traits help them persevere and overcome the adversity they face.

As I go forward I will try and connect what these traits are and how we (inducing myself) can put them to work when we find ourselves or someone we know facing an adverse situation.  The beginning of what will eventually be a much longer list starts here:

1-      It Can Be Done. (Ronald Reagan)  I believe that this simple statement is one of the most important things to

Ronald Regan
Ronald Regan

remember when you are facing adversity.  Successful people always keep fighting because they know they can do it, and believe that it’s just a matter of time before they overcome the adversity they’re facing.

2-      People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. Successful people have a plan, and they continue with their plan until they overcome the adversity they face. Plan your work and work your plan.

 3-      You have the right to dream.  I heard this when I was having a conversation with someone that I will be writing about soon who was facing two life sentences.  During an interview with a large TV network about his case, he was talking about what he was planning to do when he got out of prison. The reporter was surprised that he was thinking about getting out considering two life sentences. His answer, “I still have the right to dreams.”  No matter what was taken away from him, he still had dreams, and he told me all about this not long after his case was overturned and he was set free.

There are many other tools that can be used to help you stay focused and overcome adversity, but starting with these three is paramount.  I will add more to the list over time, but until then, just remember that it all starts with the 10 Magic Words: Never Give Up, Never Give Up, Never Ever Give Up!


Failure, is simply the opportunity to begin again

I began writing this just days before the passing of William Clay Ford, grandson of Henry Ford.  While I was William Clay Fordresearching details of Henry Ford’s life, news of the death of his last remaining grandson filled the internet.  It really makes me think of what an impact Henry Ford had on the world.

Only a month into this Overcoming Adversity blog project and I’ve already had my first failure.  I gave myself a deadline to have a new post each week, and I missed it.  Even a little setback like this can make the doubt creep up.  I think to myself that maybe this project is more than I can handle long term.  I’m always busy and these posts take me a long, long time to write, maybe I should just give up.  Luckily, I did not forget the 10 Magic Words, and in fact, this little failure is what inspired this week’s post.

Henry Ford is a name that is synonymous with the automotive industry, and many people mistakenly believe that Ford Motor Company was the first car manufacturer, but it wasn’t even close.  In fact, it wasn’t even Henry Ford’s first car company.  Ford Motor Company began in 1903, but in 1899 Henry Ford opened the Detroit Automotive Company, which failed about a year and a half after it opened, then the Henry Ford Company, which he walked away from after only three months.

Ford’s determination and his ability to not give up in the face of failure is what made him so successful.  One of his greatest quotes, ” Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” is important to remember in the face of your own failures.  Sometimes the experience and knowledge you gain in failing at something can become a great asset for the future, or give you newfound inspiration for your current project.  It’s only when you give up that your past efforts become worthless.

One of the other great lessons we can learn from Ford is that he always tried to surround himself with smart people.  This is something I’ve been preaching for a long time.  I know that there are certain things that I do well, but there are other important and necessary skills that I simply don’t have.  That’s okay, I focus on my strengths and find others who are strong in the places I am not.  I like to say that I’ll always be successful if I am the least intelligent person in the room, because I know I have surrounded myself with smart people.  Ford worked closely with Thomas Edison, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Charles Lindberg, James Couzens, and many other experts in engineering and business, and he gives many of them, especially Edison, credit for encouraging and inspiring him.

My plan is to always close with the 10 magic words to overcoming adversity, but this week, I’d like to also add Ford’s version. “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” This is something we should all believe and remember to never give up, never give up, never ever give up!


Faith, Hope, Reason and Adversity

My writing about adversity really has two purposes. I am hoping that putting my ideas to paper (or keyboard) will help me continue to grow and overcome the fears and struggles I continue to deal with thanks to government prosecution. But my other hope is that my efforts will help readers be able to look at their own situations and realize they can get through it as well. I hope to instill in them (you reading this) the notion of “that which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

As I was researching Louis Zamperini’s story for last week’s post, it reminded me of a story I heard more than 30 years ago. Depending on where and when you went to school, you’ve probably heard the story of Viktor Frankl as well.  Here is a man whose life was going along pretty well. He was an internationally respected philosopher and psychotherapist, a published author and public lecturer.  Then, one day in 1942, he was arrested by the nazi forces and deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto, and two years later he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

In the nazi camps, Frankl was separated from his family, and forced to endure constant beatings, physical labor,

Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl source wikipedia

malnutrition, disease and having to watch while other prisoners were sent to the gas chambers.  His incredible perseverance is summed up by a statement on the Frankl Institute website:

In the last camp he comes down with typhoid fever. To avoid fatal collapse during the nights he keeps himself awake by reconstructing his book manuscript on slips of paper stolen from the camp office.

After he was freed from the camp by the U.S. Troops, Frankl went on to inspire millions of people with his story and his work “Man’s Search for Meaning” which sold more than nine million copies before his death in 1997 and at least another million since then.  Combined with his many other books and lectures, Frankl has accumulated an exhausting list of observations regarding how and why people are able to overcome great adversity, and I recommend we all remember the one I believe to be most inspiring while we try to overcome the adversity in our own lives.

”Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

Viktor Frankl found that when a person had faith, hope and a reason to live, they could bear any adversity.  I think that is important to keep in mind.  Decide what your goal is and what your reward will be once you meet that goal.  For many of you, the goal and reward will be very straight forward, but for others, it may be more abstract.  For me, the goal was the end of the trial, and my biggest reward was the weight of uncertainty being lifted from my shoulders.   It’s not always easy to stay focused on your goal or the reward but it is vitally important, because if you lose focus on what it is that you have to live for, the desire to give up can quickly become overwhelming.  Frankl believed that when one was suffering, one needed hope to get through their darkest moments. Without hope there is no point in enduring the suffering.

I was most afraid of the uncertainty of my situation.  I did not know what would happen to me or my family if I was convicted and sentenced to jail, or if I had to pay some outrageous fine that would bankrupt me.  But even if the result was something I did not want, the fact that I would finally know what was in store and come up with a plan to deal with it was a great comfort to me.  At many points in my trial, there was nothing I could do to control the outcome; all I could control was my outlook.  Frankl also wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So no matter what adversity you face, keep your goals in mind, stay focused on them with a positive mental attitude, and Never Give Up!







Olympians White, Miller and Zamperini Overcome Adversity

It’s the final week of the winter Olympics, and when you think about it for just a minute, you have about 88 nations and over 2,800 athletes participating in these Olympics. I can’t begin to imagine some of the overcoming adversity stories that must exist for many of these athletes. Even the commercials (I usually like to fast forward through the commercials) are adversity themed. The tag line in Liberty Mutual’s commercial: “We believe with every setback there’s a chance to come back.”
As I was listening the other night to Tom Brokaw’s interview with Bodie Miller, I was struck by one of the comments he Bodi Miller Olympian overcomes adversity - Todd Kaplanmade regarding the events that Bodie Miller didn’t do so well in (some of his failures). Tom Brokaw stated, “Failure, most important lesson if you are prepared to learn from it.” That is so true, and how many people have I met that talk about failure but never begin to realize the great lessons that we can learn from our failures, if we are prepared to learn these lessons.
Not being an Olympic skier myself, I can still remember being told if you fall seven times, stand up eight times. I wonder how many times these Olympians must have fallen before being able to get the opportunity to represent their countries. I’m truly inspired by these Olympic athletes, so in the coming weeks I hope to look into some of the hardships that other Olympians had to endure during their training.
With that being said, I already know great overcoming adversity stories for two Olympians. Shawn White is a householdShawn White Olympian overcomes adversity Todd Kaplan name (especially if you have kids) with all of the success he’s had, not just in the sports world (being the first person to compete in and win both the Summer and Winter X Games) but also his many successes in business. Shawn White was overcoming adversity long before he strapped on a snowboard or tried skateboarding for the first time. As an infant, he had a congenital heart defect and had to have two open heart surgeries before his first birthday.
The second amazing story of an Olympian goes back to the 1936 Olympic Games. Louis Zamperini never won a medal when he competed in Berlin, but what happened to him after the games really shows what we can do as humans to overcome adversity if we set our minds to it. After competing in the games Zamperini decided to enlist in the United Louis Zamperini Olympian overcomes adversity Todd KaplanStates Air Force. During a search and rescue mission in 1942 his plane crashed in the ocean killing eight of the 11 crewmembers aboard. After spending 47 days adrift at sea and losing one of the three survivors, Zamperini and the only other survivor finally reached l and in the Marshall Islands. If being lost at sea for 47 days wasn’t hard enough, they were captured by the Japanese. Both men had to endure captivity and torture for several years until the end of the war in 1945. Yet, after all of the adversity and hard times both mentally and physically Louis Zamperini returned home to have a productive life.
Now, this is a story of overcoming real adversity. When you begin to feel overwhelmed and think that you can’t continue to Fight On (Zamperini was a USC Trojan by the way) you just need think about what Louis Zamperini had to go though and that should help you remember to never give up!

“It’s a slip and not a fall.” Abraham Lincoln Adversity Story

Todd Kaplan AdversitySince officially launching the blog last week, I’ve already received some great feedback, especially from friends who never really knew my whole SDI/US Government story.   However the response from some of my closest friends was what I found most amusing.  There were certainly congratulations and other words of encouragement, but they always seemed to be followed with something along the lines of, “so what else are you going to write?”

I guess the best thing about writing a blog is that I get to write about whatever I want, (and most that know me well, know that I pretty much do whatever I want anyways) but my goal here is to create something that can help others overcome their own adversity by sharing the lessons I learned and the stories I heard which helped me overcome mine.

During the many moments of my trial when I was totally overwhelmed and ready to give up, I often found comfort and encouragement in learning about the adversity that some of the most successful people we know have overcome.  It was one of the most effective and most productive distractions I had.  The person who stands out in my mind more than any other is a man who overcame an adversity much greater than any of us will ever encounter in our wildest nightmares, but his successes were even greater still.  Our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln truly is our national icon, and I would be foolish to attempt to discuss all that he was able to accomplish in a blog post, considering there are over 15,000 books written about him.

Obviously, we are also all well aware of the major adversity that Lincoln overcame, but I was surprised to find out about some of the more relatable and more personal adversity he faced.  Before becoming president, Lincoln lost eight elections, he failed in business twice, and he even had a nervous breakdown.  However, he clearly knew the Ten Magic Words, and he did not give up. One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln Adversity Story of his is quite popular (and often written incorrectly) in business and motivational blogs.  The book “Recollected Words of Abraham Lincoln” by Ed and Virginia Fehrenbacher quote it as below:

“For such an awkward fellow, I am pretty surefooted. It used to take a pretty dexterous man to throw me. I remember the evening of the day in 1858 that decided the contest for the Senate between Mr. Douglas and myself was something like this: dark, rainy, and gloomy. I had been reading the returns and had ascertained that we had lost the legislature and started to go home. The path had been worn hog-back and was slippery. My foot slipped from under me, knocking the other one out of the way, but I recovered myself and lit square, and I said to myself, “It’s a slip and not a fall.””

So whenever you start feeling bad about the adversity you face, look for a penny, and let it remind you that while your issue may feel like it’s larger than life, and impossible to overcome, there have been others who have overcome greater adversity and thrived.  On your path, there will be many times when you may slip, but it’s just a slip, not a fall. Never Give Up!