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November 16, 2018

Psychologist and business coach Miller Burke helps readers turn childhood challenges into adult successes.

Why did you write The Adversity Advantage?

Twenty-five years of counseling and coaching successful men and women in large and small companies have led me to believe that there is a predictable journey from childhood hardship to career and personal success. I wanted to illuminate this process with scientific data and interviews to take years off a difficult and confusing process. I grew up in a troubled family and, through many difficulties, detours, and obstacles, became successful. The research-based, up-to-date information and heartfelt stories I have gathered will ease the way forward for others.

Tell us a little bit about your research into childhood adversity and the people whose stories inform this book.

I conducted a scientific research study of 310 highly successful men and women—CEOs, artists, psychologists, and community leaders—half of whom were self-made millionaires, who grew up in lower-income to middle-class families. Among the study group, 40% experienced childhood abuse, witnessed abuse, or had an alcoholic parent, which is higher than the national norm. These challenges did not keep them from achieving a high level of success, however.  

Did you find that childhood adversity affects men and women differently?

Both men and women reported experiencing childhood abuse, witnessing familial abuse, and experiencing alcoholism in their families. This is a surprise to many people. In addition, the pathway to success for men and women is more similar than different. However, women—as reported by men and women—experience more prejudice and discrimination while seeking financial, professional, and leadership success. Women also absorb the second shift of childcare and household responsibilities, even when they generate a larger portion of the family income. The more childhood adversity the women experienced, the more likely they were to take control of their lives by starting and owning their own businesses.

The men in my study group experienced more childhood abuse and witnessed more family abuse than the women did. Both sexes developed perseverance and flexibility on their career paths, had a protective work style, and struggled with self-esteem and relationships at work. However, they became students of the skills they did not learn at home, which helped launch them to success. Both sexes also used detours and failures to launch them into new opportunities.

Who is your ideal reader and why?

The ideal reader for this book is someone who experienced childhood hardship, or knows someone who has, and wants to learn well-researched and easily described ways to transform this adversity into personal and workplace strengths.

Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now?

Society is growing increasingly accepting of the idea that childhood forms who we are as adults, creating both healthy and unhealthy habits that may hinder or help us. This is a book that will help readers manage their childhood "triggers" at home and at work to move forward toward success. Learning how to maximize positive behaviors and to minimize negative coping strategies is absolutely possible. All it takes is practice.

What is the one thing you most want to tell people about you or your book?

This is the only easy-to-read inspirational book that outlines specific steps on the journey from childhood hardship to adult success. The lasting, serious effects of childhood abuse, alcoholism, and poverty on one's mental and physical health are described along with clear strategies for recovery. Readers will learn that they can drop that heavy old friend, childhood trauma, for lighter and brighter futures.