The Power of Negativity

{By Hailey Sadler}

Everywhere you turn, someone or something is extolling the “power of the positive,” whether its positive thinking, attitudes, words, even dogs.

But what about the power of negativity?

Although it is often overlooked,  the circumstances, situations, or experiences that are generally considered “bad” or painful, have the potential for tremendous power. It struck me recently during research of various successful entrepreneurs and business leaders; interwoven throughout their stories was a common thread. Pain. A problem. A bad experience. For the vast majority of them, success was the result of a negative situation that they refused to accept, and instead motivated them to create a solution. Negative experiences are only completely negative if you allow them to be. Otherwise, they merely become motivation, fuel, pushing you to achieve, to create, to discover.

Here are three guys who channeled negativity into the creation of something positive, productive and, incidentally, quite profitable:

Meet Herb Greenberg:


  • Lost his sight at age 10
  • Could have enrolled in a school for the blind, but instead Herb continued his education in a traditional public school, graduating top of his class.
  • Completed his Ph.D., cum laude.
  • Applied for 600 jobs, which resulted in 85 interviews, which in turn was winnowed down to a mere 3 when employers learned he was blind.
  • Instead of being bitter, Herb turned the painful experience into an opportunity and founded Caliper, a consulting firm that works to asses job applicants more like human beings than mere resumes, allowing companies to see employees for who they are as people.


  • Caliper now has 250 employees and 13 offices worldwide.

Meet Ben Milne:


  • Dropped out of college to launch an e-commerce sight
  • Not too long before his company was bringing in more than a million dollars in revenue… but also  was paying $55,000 a year in fees to credit card companies and financial institutions.
  • Like a lot of people, Ben was sick of fees. But unlike a lot of people, he turned that negativity into a positive solution.
  • Sold his e-commerce company and founded Dwolla, a payment network that allows users to send payments from their checking accounts via email or text. The best part? If the transaction is under $10, there are no fees at all, and if it’s over $10 Dwolla charges 25 cents.


  • By 2012, Dwolla was processing approximately $50 million a month in transactions and has over 100,000 users.

Meet Jerry Murrell:


  • Growing up, Jerry’s family was not very close. His father, especially, was absent, working aimlessly at several careers in comparison to his diligent saleswoman wife. Jerry remembers him as “not being around much.”
  • Married and with three boys of his own, Jerry found his own family life starting to reflect his childhood. After several years of struggle, his marriage ended in divorce.
  • He moved with his sons to Northern VA, where he eventually married again and had two more sons.
  • Desperate to keep the family together, Jerry proposed a family business instead of college for the boys.
  • In 1986, the first “Five Guys” restaurant was opened, with the whole family working together.


  • Since 2009, Five Guys has doubled its number of stores and is now the fastest growing restaurant chain in the U.S. This year, the entire chain is expected to reach over $1 billion in revenues.
  • More importantly to Jerry, the Murrell family is very close, with each member heavily involved in Five Guys. They all own an equal percentage of the company, live within 20 minutes of each other, and vacation together every year.

These are just three examples among thousands of individuals who have channeled negative experiences – whether losing their sight, being frustrated with fees, or coming from a fractured family – into positive solutions.

Sure, it’s more fun when everything is smooth and downhill and life is a Glade candle advertisement but that’s not always the way things roll. Know that, prepare for that, and if you have the right perspective, negative circumstances or experiences merely become catalysts for your greatest successes.