“You can’t take the sky from me.” –Joss Whedon

You’ve heard the saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” It’s often thrown around when you’re going through a particularly hard time. It may be received as a welcome reminder of the big picture, or it can make your hackles rise if said at the wrong time. But, the human spirit truly is something to behold. With the many varied forms that destructive and tragic forces drop into our lives, some people’s spirits just cannot be subdued.

South African and American, Oscar-winning Charlize Theron had plenty of reasons to lose her confidence and will to succeed. Her father was an alcoholic and frequently became abusive while intoxicated. During one particular family argument, he physically attacked her mother, and threatened both Charlize and her mom after a wicked binge. To protect Charlize as well as herself, Theron’s mother shot and killed him–all in the presence of the then 15-year-old Charlize. The shooting was ruled to be self-defense and thankfully her mother faced no charges.

Demi Moore’s mother was a teenage alcoholic with bipolar disease, and her father left home before Demi was born. She did have a stepfather, but he struggled with holding jobs as he battled his own addictions. As a result, the family moved over 15 times, and dangerous alcoholism fueled a physically abusive relationship between her parents. They separated, and two years later in 1980 her stepfather committed suicide. Demi moved out of her family house when she was just 16 years old, and dropped out of school in her junior year.

Megastar and actress, Oprah Winfrey could easily have allowed despair to ruin her life. Being born to an unwed teenage mother in Mississippi, Oprah’s teenage parents split up early on. She lived in rural poverty often wearing dresses made from potato sacks, for which she was frequently ridiculed by local kids. At the age of six, she moved to inner-city Wisconsin where she endured repeated incidents of molestation by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend beginning at the age of nine.

How can you explain why these lucky few succeeded beyond the limitations of their early lives? Their beauty, talent, personality? All those attributes certainly help, but the real key here is perseverance. It takes undeniable inner strength. Oprah herself stated, “Where there is no struggle, there is no strength.” And looking back over her life, she once reflected, “I don’t think of myself as a poor, deprived ghetto girl. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.” Charlize Theron credits her mom for making her who she is today. She says her mother encouraged her to be independent, and to “be confident and enjoy life.” Demi Moore has reflected on her past traumas and subsequent success, “Don’t let your wounds make you become someone you’re not,” and regards some of her lowest points as “the most exciting opportunities to push through to be a better person.”

The truth is as human beings we’ve all been through quite a bit. Even if we’ve lived relatively stable and comfortable lives, we still have had to witness our share of pain and suffering. It could be argued that being an actor is filled to the brim with tons of rejection and heartache. But you can’t allow it to get you down because there have been many great ones before you that have persevered and won the day. You can do the same; but you’re going to have to persevere as well.