Everyone faces challenges on the path to achieving their dreams. When someone is bullied for pursuing their passion simply because it makes them different, they can get discouraged and want to give up. But that's exactly when you shouldn't.
Many people who were bullied as children have grown up to lead successful and fulfilling lives. Instead of believing the naysayers and letting those negative voices control their lives, they used their experiences as motivation to work harder. Their stories prove it's not life's obstacles, but how you respond to them that define a person.
While even the strongest survivors of bullying still remember the moments they felt the most alone and unwanted, they found the courage to overcome those painful memories and do what once seemed impossible. These seven people not only proved all their naysayers wrong but went on to do some pretty amazing things.
Instead of listening to everyone who said their dreams were "impossible," they worked hard to make those same dreams say, "I'm possible." Because they did it, you can, too.
1. Tess Holliday, Model
Last year, Tess Holliday became the first size-22 model to sign with a major agency, MILK Management, and graced the cover of People's Body Issue. However, as an adolescent, she was bullied relentlessly for her size.
But the more her naysayers tried to tear down her self-confidence, the more she was determined to pursue her passions that built it up. Through becoming a makeup artist, she showed how makeup could transform not just a person's outer appearance but their inner beauty. Meanwhile, Holliday blogged about her life and daily makeup looks, using social media to launch the body-positive #effyourbeautystandards movement. Eventually, she began working as a head makeup artist, hair stylist, and creative director for numerous fashion shows before segueing into her history-making modeling career.
2. Tony Hawk, Professional Skateboarder
Skateboarding wasn't always considered a cool sport, as Tony Hawk knows all too well. In school, Hawk was often bullied for spending all his free time pursuing what was then considered an obscure and nerdy hobby. But he didn't doubt himself or give up his passion. Instead, "That gave me the fire to push it even further. That gave me the reason to try harder and make it more legitimate," he told The Talks. "I felt like I had something that they didn't really understand, and I liked that. I liked that it set me apart, and I didn't care what they thought."
Now, his former bullies are definitely thinking something different. Hawk has not only won more than 70 skateboarding competitions over the course of his 17-year-long professional skateboarding career, but has also started his own skateboarding company, Birdhouse, and a charitable organization, the Tony Hawk Foundation.
3. Jodee Blanco, Author and Anti-Bullying Activist
Jodee Blanco was bullied from fifth grade through high school. "I was the kid that was outcasted for the same reason so many other kids are today — simply for being different," she told A Plus. "I was tormented and excluded." But she didn't let her doubters define her, and instead built and ran a successful public relations firm in the entertainment industry. Eventually, she turned her negative experiences into positive creative expression through her New York Times best-selling memoir about bullying, Please Stop Laughing at Me.
Now, she's an anti-bullying activist and speaker who travels to schools and communities all over the world to spread her message of compassion and hope to both victims and bullies. She encourages others to see the beauty and strength in themselves, even when no one else does. "If you are struggling to fit in, if you are being bullied or feel invisible, there is nothing wrong with you," Blanco said. "It is everything right about you that often can make you a target. Don't change for anyone."
"All the things that happened to me growing up, the rejection and exclusion for being different, I turned all that pain into purpose," Blanco said. "Instead of resenting my lonely childhood, I see it as a different kind of a gift because it enabled me to save lives now."
4. Dannie "Dee" McMillan, Student and Animal Welfare Activist
After a bully made a fake Twitter profile with the username @fatwhaledee, Dannie McMillan wanted to cry — but she didn't. Instead, she collaborated with her mentor, model Laura Lee, to find a way to transform her self-doubt into self-confidence.
Together, they came up with the slogan "Dee the Fat Whale Saves the Whales," which they printed on T-shirts and sold through a GoFundMe page. More than $11,000 of the campaign's proceeds went to Save the Whales, a nonprofit organization that educates "children and adults about marine mammals, their environment and their preservation."
While McMillan was grateful for all the donations, she was even more thankful for the words of encouragement and inspiration she received from total strangers. "Without everyone's support, this campaign would not exist," she told A Plus in a previous interview. "The kind words have given me a confidence in my body that I've never had before."
5. Chris Rock, Comedian
Chris Rock has made a successful career of finding the humor in difficult situations. His childhood experience of getting bullied as a Black student at a mostly White school is no exception. In 2007, he told James Lipton, the host of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio, that getting bullied was "the defining moment of my life … it made me who I am."
While that experience could've defined Rock's life in a negative way — crippling him with self-doubt — it instead empowered him to believe in himself when no one else did. From a young age, he was already gaining the tough skin necessary that has helped him thrive in comedy.
Instead of holding a grudge against his naysayers, he thanked them for not only giving him loads of material but a strong sense of self. Being bullied, he also said, fueled him with a drive to succeed and follow his dreams of making people laugh.
Rock even channeled those negative experiences into a successful TV show. The semi-autobiographical Everybody Hates Chris, which aired from 2005 to 2009, often incorporated plot lines based on Rock's memories of being bullied. Despite his childhood difficulties, he got the last laugh.
6. Laura Donovan, Journalist
As a writer for attn:, Laura Donovan has been a public voice for bullying survivors, sharing her experiences in a personal essay for the publication. It's an experience she believes she shares with too many other young people. "I think most people experience bullying in school, some worse than others," she told A Plus via email.
By writing and keeping a journal at home, Donovan motivated herself to succeed despite the social issues that plagued her until graduation. "It empowered me to express myself in a way that I couldn't in school ... In a journal, I could share my side of the story without doubt or judgment from others," she said. "Fiction writing also allowed me to create a better world for myself than the one I had to live in every single day."
In seventh grade, Donovan even wrote about her experiences with bullying in Discovery Girls, allowing her to take some control over the situation. "Getting published at age 12 made me feel good about my storytelling abilities early in life, and this confidence has taken me a long way in my writing career," she said. Instead of listening to the story of self-doubt, she rewrote her own — and hasn't stopped since.
She attributes her current writing success and confidence to those daily habits of self-expression she developed as a positive response to bullying. "When I feel in my gut that I have an important story to tell or write about, I fight for my pitches and ideas," Donovan explained. "My editors trust that I am passionate about a story for a reason, and they always want to help me get it out there."
7. Egypt Ufele, Young Fashion Designer
Diagnosed with a critical asthmatic condition at a young age, Egypt "Ify" Ufele wasn't able to be active as a child, and the intense treatment caused to her gain weight. Once Ify was healthy enough to go to school, however, she was bullied and called "chubby." Instead of listening to those who doubted her, she decided to "make a difference, not just for herself, but so other kids could feel safe and not have to be tormented or bullied over something that they simply had no control over."
Unable to find fashionable clothing in her size and realizing others might have the same problem, Ify created her own fashion line called Chubiiline. The brand focuses on "African print design with an urban twist," celebrating Ify's heritage and health.
Because Ify believed in herself and her talents, others did, too. At the 2016 New York Fashion Week, models wore her powerful and confident designs down the runway. Since then, Ify has also won multiple awards, including the Young Trailblazer Award, not just for her fashion line, but for the guiding principles of compassion and acceptance behind it.
She and these other visionaries prove that — no matter what anyone says — if you believe in yourself and your dreams, you can do anything. Nothing has the power to define you or prevent you from pursuing greatness. You, too, can start pursuing your dreams and setting your own course — all it takes is a strong desire and the willingness to work hard to make them a reality.
Strayer University offers in-demand subject areas, flexible scheduling and over 120 years of making it possible. Fall classes online and on-campus start October 3rd. Possible starts now at Strayer.edu.