Hard choices and adversity make us who we are. That’s the combined theme of two TED talks I just listened to. Ruth Chang helps us understand How to make hard choices. Andrew Solomon explains How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are.

When choices are difficult, it is because there is no best alternative. We can “do the math” on what is best for us. We forge our identity by looking inside ourselves for who we really are. Drifters let their lives be controlled by external forces: fear and greed. If instead of drifting, we make the choice by seeking out who we want to be, we become that person as a result of choosing.

There are no do-overs. We live life by our decisions. Sometimes those decisions cause pain. Other times, adversity comes to us seemingly at random. In all cases, adversity makes us who we are. We process our past, and through that, become who we are. We build our own identity by creating the reasons for who we are.

I’ve struggled with past failures over the years. These talks helped me understand that the failures are me. That made me realize how fortunate I am to have tried so many things that have failed. If I had an early and significant success, I might not have stopped trying so hard. I would have been less introspective.

Ruth Chang and Andrew Solomon have given me courage to face hard choices and to look for meaning in adversity.