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Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.
Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.

How Greater Challenges Help You Grow

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”—C.S. Lewis

My blog post on the topic of being different is coming to a close soon. I wrote a book on this topic called "Standing Up for Standing Out," and for a few days (until Monday, August 25), I am offering the Kindle version completely free here.

John Schwartz, a short writer for The New York Times, interviewed another short author, Steven Hall. Hall said that small people “are forced to learn that they can’t get their way by sheer physical means,” which puts on the pressure for “smaller kids to cultivate other ways of exercising their will” though verbal ability or sense of humor.

He went on to say that, “Dealing with adversity, having exposure to adversity early on, is very useful in how someone goes through his life.” He suggests that one actually becomes wiser and “inoculated” against stress by having to deal with it early on, just as a vaccination helps your body learn to resist germs before they can do your body serious harm.

Growing because of trials can be compared to the oyster that has a little piece of sand lodged inside. In response to this intruder, the oyster makes the most of its trial and makes a beautiful pearl! Without the challenge or setback of having this uncomfortable piece of sand, the oyster would never have made the pearl.

For example, I recall many instances from my past when all of my friends were playing basketball without me. I couldn’t play well because I was short and not very coordinated, but at the same time, not playing made me feel extremely left out.

However, during those long periods of time, while my friends played game after game, I was working on improving myself. I was practicing the piano, reading self-development books, focusing on excelling in school, etc. These were very formative times for me and I believe that I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not endured the challenges that came from being different.

I believe our differences do shape us, and the challenges we’re dealt can help us make something beautiful and inspiring. Those we interviewed supported this principle and there were several reasons why they experienced greater growth from greater challenges. These included feeling stronger overall from the experience, growing more as a result of expending more effort and being put in positions of leadership. Those we interviewed also described how their experiences were helpful in learning to deal with emotions in an effective manner.


Your difference can make you into a stronger person as you learn during your struggle. Alex, who is challenged by being overweight, said: “Eventually you’re going to have to come to terms with this issue, but if you get past it, you’ll be stronger because of it.” It may not always feel like it at the time, but your struggle in being different will make you stronger over time because you will learn to withstand teasing and will find inner strength.

More Effort

Izumi, from Japan, described how the challenge of being different necessitated more effort on her part to achieve academically. “In school, it’s hard for me to get good grades because English is my second language. But because I know I’m different because I’m not American, I work harder to be one of you guys...because I’m different, I do put in extra effort.” Extra effort was required from several of those interviewed in order to achieve. As more effort is expended, more growth is also achieved.


Ann described how being tall can make you a natural leader. Naturally, there are challenges inherent in being a leader that would necessitate greater growth for Ann and others. She describes:

"I think the biggest thing is just to have good posture, be proud of it and be radiant! It does make you stand out; it makes people look to you. It can make you a natural leader because people will look to you first. So it can really be a benefit in terms of leadership and taking charge if you let it."

Ann felt like her height made her a leader. As discussed in earlier posts, being different makes you stand out. This often will give you opportunities for leadership that will help you grow more and develop the skills that come from leadership.

Of course, being tall isn’t the only trait that can help you be a natural leader. A big part of being a leader is confidence, which Ann also supported with her quote. As you show your confidence, others will want to follow your lead.

Learn to Effectively Deal With Emotion

A key growth opportunity that stems from navigating the challenges of being different includes learning how to deal with your emotions in an effective manner. Alexis, who has a deformed hand, described how she learned that getting mad about being teased did no good: “I guess I just have to get over being mad at them. It’s just like anything else you have to get over; you just have to be patient and tell yourself, ‘It doesn’t really matter. And it doesn’t do anything to get mad anyway.’” This was an important insight Alexis had about how it does no good to get mad, and she learned this after dealing with a lot of teasing in her past.

Daciana, from Croatia, said:

I think it does start with liking yourself. When you understand yourself, you start liking yourself...when you start to look at other people and put yourself in their shoes and stop judging or criticizing, you will love those people. You will show compassion and will be willing to work out the problems and be willing to listen to what they have to say. Sometimes people will tell you things that are not really nice; are you willing to listen and to come to a common ground with that person, so that you can work out challenges and differences? I think that’s important.

Dacianna found that even when people are not “really nice,” you still need to employ the good communication skills of listening and coming to a common ground.

Juanita, from Mexico, described how important it is to not let yourself become bitter as you respond to negative input from others:

Don't be bitter. Feelings will come; there will be things that happen that will make you sad and make you feel stupid. I've gone through that. I was a very shy person coming into middle school, very embarrassed about myself. And it was because of the hard experiences I had in elementary school. But I'm glad that my parents taught me to never be bitter and to not hold a grudge. Because I've moved passed those negative experiences, I've learned so much more about myself and about others, and I feel like it's taught me that there are no boundaries in life. Bitterness is what creates boundaries.

Resisting the urge to hold a grudge helped Juanita move on and get past the hurt. It prevented her from forming walls between her and others.

Finally, Brittany pointed out that many of the painful experiences come from strangers, as she experienced because of her tall stature. If you are going to be happy, you’ve just got to move on. She says:

"Part of it was feeling more comfortable with myself, and the other part was realizing: You know what, this is going to happen so often in my life, and if I let total strangers get to me like this, I am never going to be happy. Just realize you are never going to see these people again and move on."

Brittany and the others learned about the importance of not letting others have control of your emotions and moving on when dealing with the negative emotions that come from hurtful comments.


The challenge of being different provides great opportunities for growth. Those we interviewed mentioned getting stronger from challenges, needing to expend more effort, having more opportunities for leadership, and helping you learn to deal with your emotions in an effective manner.

If you enjoyed this content, you'll love my book, Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different on Kindle or in hard copy.

About the Author
Nathaniel Lambert Ph.D.

Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D., is a psychology professor at the University of Utah.

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