How the Worst Moments in our Lives can Make Us Who We Are [Andrew Solomon]

“We cannot bear a pointless torment, but we can endure great pain if we believe that it is purposeful”


“Sometimes forging meaning can give you the vocabulary you need to fight for your ultimate freedom”


If you banish the dragons, then you banish the heroes”


One of the most profound explanations of turning adversity into opportunity is Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk on how adverse experiences forge meaning in our lives. His platform is explained by the simple phrase, “forge meaning, build identity”. In this scenario, he brings us on a journey of negative experience that becomes profound qualifiers for creating experiences that are positive only because of the negatives that have occurred. I used to have a professor whose e-mail signature read, “Contrast is everything”. His explanation to the class, years later, was a discussion that we only appreciate the sunshine because we understand the rain, the snow, and the storm. We appreciate and are humbled by experiences of diversity, and Andrew illustrates this with a variety of stories about being bullied that helped him understand the joys of later life experiences.

When it comes to welless as it relates to losing weight or getting into shape, I have found that many stories of people who have a significant amount of weight to lose, include adversity beyond obesity. Losing weight is a form of overcoming adversity, but there seems to be a theme with morbid obesity that begs a deeper inspection of one’s life. For me, there were aspects of my adolescence, some repressed, that I thought I moved beyond, but after losing weight, realized that they affected me in a much more profound way that I had thought. Additionally, there were hurdles after losing weight that I had to face. For me, I subconsciously created barriers to relationships by being overweight. I believe a big reason people who lose a significant amount of weight end up gaining it back is because they do not turn focus to look at these other adversities of their life. What I love about this video is that it embraces adversity as a learning opportunity for identity; a chance to be empowered and change perspective because of the experiences of our past. Growing up poor was not easy for my family, there were times we did not have a vehicle or times that we couldn’t pay certain bills and were evicted from properties.

Last year, I bought my first home. The experience was humbling and exciting. Growing up, we only ever owned 1 of the houses we lived in (out of the 23 times that I moved before the time I was 18). Owning a home is a cardinal milestone in one’s life, but it was not one that I was familiar with based on my upbringing, and thus, owning my own home now brings a certain sense of pride due to the lack of having this experience as a child. A home is a place where deep memory is created, and my memories of childhood are broken throughout a series of homes, between both my mother and father. This is just one example of how an experience that can be taken for granted can a profound one based on a challenge in a person’s life.

When I think about my own journey, whether it be from struggles as a child, or even my story as it relates to obesity, I appreciate the work that I have had to put in to come to the place I am today. For many years, health was something I took for granted, as I grew closer to a life of complacency and a true lack of wellness. Being on the other side of this adversity has enlightened me to a world of self-love that I never knew possible, but had I not gone on this weight loss journey, I may never have seen this side of me. And thus, adversity helps us move towards a more self-actualized self, IF we can use it in the way that Andrew suggests; “Forging meaning, building identity”.

Adversity is the key that unlocks the chains of critical reflection.

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