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Six Stressful Moments That Became Incredible Opportunities

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Your grandmother’s favorite cliché isn’t just the inspiration for Beyoncé’s best album. It’s also scientifically proven to be the best advice you ever got.

The American Psychological Association has poured gallons of time and money into studying the way hardiness helps us thrive, not just survive, even in the most stressful situations. After more than a decade of research, Dr. Salvatore R. Maddi, PhD, discovered that people who are able to turn trials into triumphs have three things in common: They’re committed, they maintain control and they see every challenge as an opportunity for growth.

Unlike natural optimism or Becky’s good hair, hardiness is something you can acquire. Dr. Maddi and his team at the University of Chicago have built a training program — a whole institute, actually — around teaching everyone from tots and teenagers to grown-ups like us how to be more resilient and adaptable to adversity, trauma and tragedy.

If you’re working on your resilience and need some real-life inspiration, here are six examples of hardy folks who turned stressful moments into their greatest successes.

Kerri Strug

The U.S. Women’s gymnastics team, dubbed the Magnificent Seven, was having a less-than-magnificent performance at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. It was the very last event, the vault, and the team’s gold medal hung in the balance. Kerri Strug had already bungled her first vault and injured herself in the process.

But believing her team needed her to vault one more time, she limped to the runway once more, landed the vault almost perfectly and collapsed. With her team, Kerri accepted her gold medal in the arms of Coach Károlyi who carried her onto the podium and right into our hearts.

Stephanie Nielson (Nie Nie Dialogues)

Stephanie Nielson was already a blogger of note before a private plane crash left her with burns over 80% of her body. In 2008, Stephanie spent more than three months in a medically induced coma as she healed from the tragic accident that killed a friend and left her and her husband, Christian, critically injured.

But in the last eight years, Stephanie has built an inspirational personal brand, penned a bestselling memoir and launched Beauty Rises, a charity focused on spreading the message that beauty comes from within.

Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger

Before he pulled off the Miracle on the Hudson, Captain Sullenberger had an Air Force Academy Education, a military career and 30 years as a commercial pilot for U.S. Airways. He became a legend when he safely landed a 50-ton jetliner on the Hudson River after colliding with an unexpected flock of Canadian geese.

He saved 150 lives that day, but for him it was just business as usual. “That’s what we’re trained to do,” he said.

Louis Zampereni

Louis Zampereni was already a champion and an Olympian—still the youngest American to qualify for the 5,000 meters—when he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II and became a bombardier. During a 1943 rescue mission, his plane malfunctioned and fell out of the sky in open water.

After surviving 47 days at sea, he and his companion were captured by the Japanese. He was tortured daily until he was finally released two years later, suffering from nightmares and alcoholism. After his wife threatened a divorce, he gave up excessive drinking, became a Christian evangelist and offered his captors the gift of forgiveness.

Apollo 13

By the time Apollo 13 launched in 1970, missions to the moon were practically routine. It was the seventh manned space mission and would have been the third moon landing, but an exploding oxygen tank wrecked the spacecraft, leaving the astronauts stranded in space…unless the brains back on the ground could help them find a way back.

While the astronauts rationed their supplies and braved near-freezing temperatures, engineers at the University of Toronto had six hours to run the numbers that would allow the crew to re-enter the atmosphere safely. Their calculations saved the astronauts and reminded the rest of us never to underestimate the power of Canadians.

Chilean Miners

In August of 2010, 33 Chilean miners found themselves trapped in a mountain of stone “twice the weight of the Empire State Building.” For 69 days, their only connection to the outside world was a five-inch hole. Reporters who covered the story were pessimistic, but the miners’ families, who kept vigil outside the San Jose mine in an encampment aptly named “Campo Esperanza,” refused to give up hope.

While underground, the miners stayed in good spirits by exercising, listening to music and even gambling. One billion people watched as the miners emerged from the rocks, showing the world that hope, perseverance and hard work can make miracles.

You’ll probably never have to find your way home from outer space or the center of the earth. But you’ll have your own bitter tests and tragedies.

Let these stories of the indomitable human spirit remind you that life’s lemons are the main ingredient in what could be your biggest successes. A little determination and a lot of hope will make them sweet.


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