How The Worst Moments In Our Lives Make Us Who We Are
Andrew Solomon’s speech is one of the best TED talks of all time. It discusses the traumas of youth and how to spin them into your own story of triumph. Solomon discusses what it was like for him to grow up with prejudice of being gay in middle town America. He understands that there are many people that have worse situations than him especially in the social rights movement yet at the same time it left deep wounds where he felt that he didn’t belong and would never be accepted by society. Each person deals with different struggles that they don’t have the power to control yet they don’t have to let it run the rest of their life. They have the opportunity to take control of the story and shape it into something that will empower them.
Forge: “to build identity”
When I had first listened to this talk I misheard the line about forging identity and took it to mean something similar to the cliche “fake it until you make it”. After I re-listened to the video I realized that I heard it wrong. He meant that you are in control of the story you tell and you are able to phrase it in a way that makes sense for your life. It becomes an identity when you attach yourself to the story that has meaning for you and eventually you become the person that you wanted to be.
“Forging identity and building meaning”
It’s not an easy process to see struggles as opportunities. Plenty of people will wallow about what was unfair in their lives or how they never got the opportunity to pursue their dreams. They have constructed an identity that reacts to the pain of the world as a victim and they allow the bad things in the world to dictate the conditions of their life.
Some are able to overcome the struggle by taking ownership of the bad experience and using it as a way to create something better for themselves. It will always be an understatement to talk about how events such as the Holocaust were terrible. What I always wondered about was how do people come back from an experience like that? Elie Wiesel became a massive human rights activist. Otto Frank did also when he published his daughter’s diary. If it’s possible that they were able to spin their hardship into something positive, then anyone is capable of the same thing.
“We seek our identity in the wake of painful experiences.”
When I first started getting sick, I read a lot about people that had serious illnesses. A lot of them wound up saying that it was the best thing that happened to them. At the time it made me angry to keep hearing the same cliched sentiment from people that weren’t in pain anymore so they had to luxury to say it was all a good thing. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t see past the immediate. I couldn’t imagine what would happen as a result. After getting sick, I was obsessed with how to get better. I read everything about anything even remotely related. Slowly I got better and then I lost weight and now most days I’m not in pain anymore. I’m probably in the best shape of my life now and I’m about a decade ahead of people my age who are still binge drinking and eating McDonalds every day. I would probably never say it was the best thing that happened to me, but getting sick was a huge turning point. It forced me to examine my life and make some very important changes for my health and well-being.
“If you banish the dragons, you banish the heroes.”
Without the struggle there can be no triumph. If there was never any adversity we would have no poetry, no epics, and no heroes to inspire us to do better. In every trial there is the opportunity to use that experience to become a better person. When you chose to overcome the struggle with grace you forge the identity for yourself. Then it builds meaning for the way you live your life and the way people view your story.
The pain was not the “best thing that happened”. It was the catalyst for change and the best thing that happened was the way you created meaning for yourself.
If you haven’t watched the video yet, do it now!
What was a difficult event that helped shape your life?
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