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Finding Hope Beyond the Crucible:

Three Amazing Heroines

Warwick Fairfax

October 14, 2019

A crucible is a cauldron where metals are thrown together and heated to very high temperatures.  The metals combine to form an alloy, something that is different than it was before.  A crucible experience is one that is life-altering.  Who you are after your crucible experience is different than you were before. You are never the same.

A crucible experience can come in many forms:

  • Business Failure
  • Financial Failure
  • Health Challenge
  • Family Challenge
  • Abuse
  • Addiction

A crucible experience may or may not be your fault. Either way, there may be loss of self-esteem, loss of self-respect, and possibly even feelings of humiliation.  You may feel marginalized and may even feel that no one could like or love you.  You can feel incredibly angry at others, yourself, or even God.  You often feel alone.

But you are not alone. In fact, Crucible Leadership recently surveyed more than 400 professionals, from CEOs to independent contractors, and found that nearly half had experienced something so traumatic or painful that it fundamentally changed their lives.

The commonality is that a crucible experience tends to be excruciating and devastating.  The pain can last years, even a lifetime.

Three women who have overcome very different crucible experiences come to mind.  These are women from different backgrounds with different personalities.  But what they share is courage and a determination to not be defined by their crucible experiences.

Mary Kay Ash – The Cosmetics Trailblazer

Mary Kay Ash founded Mary Kay Inc. in the early 1960s to sell cosmetics through direct selling.  As of 2018, Mary Kay Inc. generates $3.25B in revenue in more than 35 markets worldwide and is the sixth-largest network marketing company.  The mission of Mary Kay Inc. is “enriching the lives of women and their families around the world.”

But Mary Kay’s company grew from a crucible experience.  Mary Kay Ash had been in the direct selling business for 25 years.  She was very good at making sales of in-home products.  By 1963, she got tired of seeing yet another man that she trained get promoted above her and earn a much higher salary.  Mary Kay sat at her kitchen table and drew up two lists.  One was of the good things she had seen in companies.  The other was of the things that she thought could be improved.  When she looked over the lists, Mary Kay knew she had created a marketing plan for her dream company.  So, in 1963, with $5,000 of savings at age 45, she launched Mary Kay Inc. with her first store in Dallas.

One of the keys to Mary Kay Inc.’s success is the strong vision of the founder.  Mary Kay Ash launched Mary Kay Inc. to help women achieve their potential and bring their dreams to life.  She founded the company based on the Golden Rule, treating others as you would want to be treated.  Mary Kay’s principles were placing faith first, family second, career third.  Mary Kay Inc. was a company “with heart,” as she would say.  Mary Kay said, “Individuals sometimes feel insignificant and doubt they can really make a difference in the world.  Well, believe me, one person can.”  Mary Kay established the Mary Kay Charitable Foundation, which supports cancer research and efforts to end domestic violence.

Bethany Hamilton – The Inspirational Surfer

Bethany Hamilton is a champion surfer.  She has had two movies made about her life, Soul Surfer in 2011 and a documentary Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable in 2018.  From the youngest age growing up in Hawaii, Bethany surfed and dreamed of being a champion.  At 13, her life changed.  The morning of Halloween in 2003, Bethany went to surf with family and friends on Tunnels Beach in Kauai, the Hawaiian Island where her family lived.  She was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark, which severed her left arm just below the shoulder.

Bethany had been a rising surf star and she was determined to not let her crucible experience stop her.  One month after the attack, she returned to surfing and, within two years, she had won her first national surfing title.  The key to Bethany overcoming such a horrific life-altering event was her faith and her indomitable courage.  “I know life can be hard, but I’ve learned that we can rise above even the biggest challenges and fears,” she has said.  No matter what you’ve come from or what you’re facing, you are loved by God, and you can overcome.”

Remarkably, Bethany sees the shark attack as a blessing.  She says, “I definitely would allow the shark attack to happen.  The thing for me is I know that God allowed it to happen because of all the good stuff that has come from this terrible experience.  I’m still surfing, loving life, and being able to reach people a lot more than I would have probably with two arms.”

Bethany continues to give back through her movies and the Friends of Bethany Foundation.  The Foundation says, “We believe there is a longing within every individual to overcome the trials, pains, and difficulties of life.”  The Foundation’s most renowned program is called Beautifully Flawed, a retreat for young amputee women ages 14-26.

J.K. Rowling – The Best Selling Author

J.K. Rowling is the best-selling, world-famous author of the Harry Potter books and movies.  J.K. Rowling, whose first name is Joanne, has sold more than 450 million copies of her seven-book series.  In 2004, Forbes named Rowling as the first person to become a US dollar billionaire by writing books.  Rowling has a charitable trust, The Volant Charitable Trust, which supports Scottish charities (where she now lives) to help alleviate social deprivation, as well as women, children, and young people at risk.

But Joanne Rowling’s life has not been easy and took a turn for the worse beginning in 1992, two years after she conceived the idea for Harry Potter. Joanne’s mother died after battling multiple sclerosis since Joanne was a teenager.  She had a difficult divorce from her first husband, and was living in poverty on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Her relationship with her father was strained, she had a young daughter to support and had been diagnosed with depression, being on the verge of suicide.

Joanne has said that she was “as poor at it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless… I think it is fair to say that by any conventional measure… I had failed on an epic scale… The fears that my parents had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

But Joanne Rowling refused to give up or give in.  She wrote her first iconic novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in cafes in Edinburgh while walking her young daughter in hopes her daughter would go to sleep and Joanne could write. Joanne submitted the manuscript for her Harry Potter book to twelve publishing houses who all rejected it.  The thirteenth publisher, Bloomsbury in London said yes, and the rest is history.

Joanne Rowling has said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”  In a 2008 Harvard Commencement Address, titled “Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination” she said that, “Failure was stripping away of the inessential.”  She said that she stopped pretending to be anything other than what she was and began to direct all her energy to finishing the Harry Potter book.  She said that, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the arena I believed I truly belonged.  I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.”

When asked how she pushed through the book rejections and all that she had endured, Joanne Rowling said, “I had nothing to lose and sometimes that makes you brave enough to try.”  She has said, “Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.”

These three remarkable women give us clues to how to come back from a devastating crucible experience.  No matter how painful or life-altering, or in some cases humiliating, those experiences were, these women refused to give up.  They used their pain as motivation to rise up.  The seeds of their purpose — their mission in life — were found in the excruciating life-altering pain of their crucible experiences.


  • Amidst the pain of your crucible experience, what is this revealing about the essential core of who you are?
  • What mission coming out of the devastation of your crucible experience may be taking shape that will chart your purpose in life?
  • Why does the world need to hear about and benefit from your mission?
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