10 Women Share the Greatest Thing They’ve Had to Overcome (and What They Learned)

It’s 2016. Our country has existed for 240 years, and for the first time a woman will grace our presidential election ballots as one of the front runners. While it took over two centuries to see a female rise to the top of Capitol Hill, women and girls everywhere have pushed boundaries and broken barriers. Every. Single. Day. These ladies are our sisters, moms, aunts, best friends. Our leaders. They’ve hurdled obstacles others created for them and those they created themselves, and while one struggle may have left them feeling confused or lost, in the end their strength has allowed them to grow, prosper and learn. Because that’s what women before us have done.

And that’s what we’ll continue to do. Fight, win and succeed.  

My happiness is worth more than a man

“Making the decision to call off my wedding was a pretty difficult decision. After being engaged a year, I noticed that my then-fiancé had physically and mentally abusive qualities. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with him for life. I realized how much I needed to trust my gut and not fear the unknown. This breakup taught me that life is too short to spend it being unhappy. Even if I’m alone for the rest on my life, I will be independent and happy, which is much better than being dependent and unhappy.” –Julie L., Elk River, Minn.

A disease won’t stop my dreams

“In December of 2015, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic illness where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is most commonly found in the abdominal cavity. It can cause a range of issues including digestive problems, extreme pain, fatigue, infertility and more. I’ve dealt with my endo symptoms since I was 14 or 15 years old, and it took until I was almost 23 to get a diagnosis.

“I had to put my life on hold for months until I found a doctor who knew enough about the problem to actually help me. In April, I had surgery to receive an official diagnosis, as you cannot have a true diagnosis until you are cut open to look for the disease, which takes a highly skilled surgeon. Now, I’m still struggling with the idea that it may be hard, or impossible, for me to have children, I still have pain sporadically and I struggle with my self identity, as I’ve been on hormones since I was 15 years old. All of it, though, has helped me in so many ways. It’s increased my confidence to advocate for myself to receive the treatment I need. It’s helped me learn so much about my own body and how the female body works. It’s helped me become more empathetic, and it’s helped me begin to realize the things in life that are truly important to me.” –Taylor R., Brooklyn, N.Y.

A stereotype doesn’t have to define me

“The hardest thing I’ve had to overcome, and continue to overcome every day, is my addiction to alcohol. Living in a society that celebrates alcohol and also being a college student in Nebraska, where there isn’t much to do but drink, I find it tough to stay sober. I also don’t look like your stereotypical alcoholic. I have a 3.7 GPA, I run a dance team and I’m the president of a university club. It’s now a mission of mine to stop the stigma that comes along with addiction. After outpatient treatment, I’ve stayed sober for six months, and I have amazing support from family, friends, and fellow students and staff. I just have to live my life one day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time.” –Taryn W., Wayne, Neb.

My daughter deserves a strong role model

“In 2015, I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship and also pregnant with my daughter. My self-esteem was shot. I had no self worth. I was controlled in every way possible. I was isolated from my family and friends, because I wasn’t allowed to see them. I believed I was nothing without him. Five days before I gave birth, he left me. I had never felt so alone. He had a new girlfriend less than 24 hours after he left me. I gave birth to my daughter alone. It was the hardest and most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but him leaving was the greatest thing that could have happened to me. I learned that I had the strength to do it alone. I didn’t need him. And I found myself again. I’ve raised my daughter without him, and she is thriving. I have never felt stronger.” –Lauren N., Elk River, Minn.

I shouldn’t underestimate my abilities

“I was in my 40s, a well-educated stay-at-home mom, when my husband was fired and our lives flipped upside down. I turned to my sister, a corporate executive who retired when she was 40 and started racing cars because she was bored, hoping she would tell me what to do, as I was clueless about personal finance. Instead, she pulled my ostrich head out of the sand and made me face reality.

“I would have done whatever she told me, but instead she started bombarding me with questions asking ‘Why?’ to almost every statement I made. I soon realized that I was wrong when I initially thought I didn’t have the ability to figure out finance. I was intimidated by the terminology and created roadblocks in my own mind, but over the course of three months, I learned to take control of my money—and my life—instead of it controlling me. Along this journey, I learned many things including ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is expensive. Not only in terms of money, but in terms of values and priorities that get misplaced or forgotten. I also learned that if I wasn’t comfortable with financial matters, I wouldn’t be able to educate my daughters, and I want them to be better prepared to face their financial future than I had been.”  –Tina P., Sugar Land, Texas

I will fight for myself

“On July 19, 2000, at 4:17 a.m., a man broke into my home and tried to take my life. I was sound asleep but had woken up to use the restroom, where I found him standing in the doorway. My first thought was ‘stranger danger,’ a leftover from when I was in grade school 30 years ago. But that thought was hardly complete before he attacked me. Although I was confused, it became very clear very fast that I was fighting for my life. I was screaming and woke up the upstairs neighbors, causing the attacker to hear their footsteps on the floor above. Just as he was ready to strike again, he ran out the door and was never caught.

“Like many women, I had never taken a self-defense course in my life. I knew it would be a smart thing to do, but I always found an excuse not to. The truth was, I was scared. Before I was attacked, I had this suspicion that I wouldn’t fight back or defend myself. The attack taught me that the will to survive is much greater than we realize. I started training the Japanese art of Ninpo Tai Jitsu (Ninjitsu) with the intention of just learning a few moves, but I stayed with my teacher for eight years, and out of sheer perseverance, became the first woman in his 25 years of teaching to reach instructor level. Traditional self-defense courses are often taught by men, are fear-based, and focus on women’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities. As women, we are well aware of our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We need to focus on what we physically have in our favor—and we have a lot! I strongly believe we learn just as easily whether we’re laughing or crying, so why make self defense scary? If it’s fun, you’ll come, you’ll learn, and you’ll stick with it.” –Susie K., Berlin

Love conquers all emotions

“My husband of 25 years had just planted the softest, most lovely kiss on me at our 25th anniversary vow renewal, but one month later he met someone who avidly tried to steal his heart. I did not find out until months later, and when I did, I was beyond devastated. I could not eat, cried every day, hid the truth from my children, and had no idea if we would stay together or if this would lead to an ugly divorce. What I learned from the experience is that when I was in the eye of the storm,  I wasn’t able to see a way out. I needed faith in a higher power and all the strength I never thought I was capable of, but if I found love once, I could find it again. I did not know if I had the capacity to forgive and start fresh, but I did. No, we did. Now, five years later, we are stronger than we have ever been and are about to celebrate our 30-year wedding anniversary. I can still get melancholy when a song comes on the radio, or I see a woman in the grocery store that looks like her, but I can also move forward. I can look into my husband’s eyes and see the twinkle he had when we were young and know that he truly is the one for me. –Stacey G., Cleveland, Ohio 

My disability can open doors

“Five years ago, I was an able-bodied adult. Then, I started experiencing issues with my vision, hearing problems and chronic exhaustion for which I now use crutches and a wheelchair. I am still undiagnosed. However, I have learned so much from this change in my life. What seems like a dead end might actually be a sharp left. As a result of my issues, I have become a strong legislative advocate for others with disabilities. I have learned the importance of adapting and moving on. My issues continue to progress, but rather than sit in front of my mountain and glower, I quickly look for a way over and around my mountain, usually with adaptive equipment or a lifestyle change. I have learned that when something like this happens, you make a choice to be bitter or better, and I choose every day to be better.” –Carla C., Phillipston, Mass.

Good things can evolve from third chances

“I realized I was an alcoholic before I was even of age to have a legal drink. However, it took me another five years to understand the depths of the disease. Three DUIs, two visits to county jail, house arrest and months spent in prison were not even the tip of the iceberg of pain, heartache and desperation I felt while consumed by the bottle.

“I threw my life away day by day. I made horrible, selfish and dangerous decisions that didn’t only affect me, but those who loved me, and even those who didn’t. I hurt a lot of people, it was only by the grace of God that I did not hurt someone seriously, or even kill them. I often asked why I was alive myself; I was a waste and a complete disgrace. Somehow, I managed to pick myself up the morning after receiving my third DUI and ask for help. I have been sober since July 6, 2010. This journey, one that I am a part of every single day, reminds me that I have a choice and that I deserve a life of good things. If I do my part and I make the effort, I never have to live that way again. My future children will never have to see a drunk mother or go through whatever type of abuse that inevitably comes along with the drink. Today my life is beautiful, and I am forever grateful for that.” –Drea D., Sartell, Minn.

Small worries aren’t worth the stress

“I’ll never forget the phone call. My best friend’s parents had been in a car accident. Two people were dead. A man and a women. The only man in the car was her father. The woman, either her mother or their family friend who was also in the car, couldn’t be identified. The one who survived was in life-saving surgery. She called my husband and me to come stay with their two daughters.

“The next several hours, days and months proved to be incredibly difficult. My friend’s mother miraculously survived after staying in ICU for months and has since suffered severe brain damage that affects her memory and mental stability. Lending a helping hand and witnessing the life of my friend, her mother and their family taught me not to sweat the small stuff. The garbage that didn’t get taken out, the different opinions floating on Facebook, the driver who cut you off—at the end of the day, it’s small stuff that doesn’t matter. I learned to save my energy for life’s hard, challenging times and leave the mundane small stuff behind.” –Jasmine S., San Jose, Calif.



Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.