top of page

Inner Citadel: Get Grit from Life and Business Adversity

One of the most compelling traits that identifies a strong leader or entrepreneur is in the amount of resilience and grit they are able to deploy to any obstacle that might change their chosen path.

By definition, a startup entrepreneur is expected to bring forth something new to the world - something that was not existing prior to them pulling that idea from their head and taking the steps to make it into something tangible for the world to benefit from.

This inevitably means the entrepreneur is going to be exposed to the “tribe’s” judgement. No doubt there will be moments in which they might fall flat on their face or some disaster will hit without warning.

I believe those who have had extreme challenges early in their life have the opportunity to be exceptionally resilient to adversity. They had to choose one of two ways to absorb and deal with their respective pain: (1) feel sorry for themselves 😢 or (2) use it as fuel to build themselves back up again 💪 - stronger, harder, better, and more compassionate than before.

Bring the Pain

One of my personal battles came when I was just 10 years old and developed extreme chronic pain in my left hip. I was eventually diagnosed with a rare and crippling childhood condition known as Perthes Disease.

Anyway, I was in constant pain. For a kid who, prior to developing this condition, identified himself as an “outdoorsy spirit” and athlete - who played baseball and football with friends daily - this obstacle was devastating. The condition forced me to rethink not only how I could interact with the world, but also how I identified myself. My ego could no longer be wrapped up in those physical activities in which I was no longer permitted to participate.

Chin Up Kid, Life Can be Tough

Shortly after my diagnosis, I remember sitting on my bedroom floor - watery-eyed and staring at my legs. At that time, I had no idea if I would ever walk unassisted again. My mother walked in, sat next to me, and began talking with me. I had seen her cry a couple times for me before this - not knowing if I would ever have a “normal life”; however, in that moment, my mom was strong. While she said many comforting things during that talk, the one statement that really stuck out to (and stuck with) me was, “whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for yourself”. Those words felt strange and they made me both mad and stronger at the same time.

Kids Can Be A$$holes (I Mean Cruel)

In order to overcome this disease, I was required to wear a brace that forced me to walk with my legs spread wide like an overworked cowboy. I was initially very self-conscious about my outward appearance and the way I moved, but I did my best to not focus on my differences with the other kids.

Needless to say, though, I was made fun of for the next 3 years by many kids at school and on the neighborhood streets. I was officially “different” - and “different” according to the “kid tribes” meant that I would be punished by criticism and ridicule behind my back and sometimes to my face.

Getting it Back Together

From the time that my mother gave me those golden words of strength, I knew I needed to become something else because the pain and orthopedic brace restricted the way I previously defined myself. I decided to change my focus from what I could not control onto what I could.

I chose to listen to the doctor and wore my brace every day despite the urge to go without. I knew if I did not address the issue, I would be crippled for the rest of my life with no chance of walking unassisted without pain. I also knew my upper body was fine - so I asked for a weight set for Christmas that I used nearly every day.

After 3 years of health issues related to my hip condition, I was finally recovered enough to stop wearing a brace. In addition, I was given the go ahead by my doctor to start slowly getting back into sports. By the time high school rolled around, all that weight lifting paid off - I was a 3 sport athlete. Furthermore, as an adult I was able serve in the military and did long distance running (half and full marathons).

Good Comes From Adversity (if you want it)

Thinking back on the pain from the disease and cruelness of the kids who made fun of my differences, I am now grateful for them. The experience did a great service for me in the long run.

It gave me a strength that could not have been earned in any other way - other than through some pain and suffering (physically and emotionally in this case). Instead of bringing me down, the health-pains and ridicule did me a favor in that they helped me grow into who I am today.

I think of it like a carpenter’s apprentice whose hands bleed from swinging a hammer most of the day for the early part of his or her career. It’s understood by the apprentice that the pain and blood associated with swinging that hammer every day will surrender to evolution and turn into resilient hands that are strong and calloused - hands and fingers that can endure the punishment required by the craft in order to be capable of building new structures.

This is why you can associate setbacks in life with entrepreneurship. When change is happening, it sometimes hurts and bleeds; however, the more you push forward, the harder it becomes to get pushed back. You are ready for those inevitable challenges life and business will throw at you.

If you are willing to accept moving forward through adversity, it will transform into the grit that will help you to do the hard things that are different from the norm - which is a requirement for entrepreneurship (by the way).

Build Your Inner Fortress (because no one else can)

For entrepreneurs, it’s inevitable that setbacks will happen. The Stoics called the idea of grit your “Inner Citadel” - that fortress inside of us that no external adversity or force can break down. This fortress is built on all the setbacks and challenges you have faced in your life.

I hope you have chosen, and still choose, to use those significant setbacks and challenges from your life as the bricks and mortar to strengthen your Inner Citadel... because if you choose to indulge in self-pity, it will make your Inner Citadel strength closer to a house of cards rather than a durable fortress ready for any challenge that business and life can throw at it.

Which life challenges helped you to build your Inner Citadel? Do you source strength from those experiences when life throws dirt in your face?

About me: I’m mostly focused on internet growth, culture, and startups and am the COO at Wafer Inc. When I can find time between being a co-founder and life I enjoy writing, mostly here and occasionally on Linkedin. If you enjoy my writing, subscribe or follow me on LinkedIn to see more in the future.


bottom of page