Recently, I spoke to a class of at-risk high school kids. These kids, mostly non-white, have faced many different types of challenges. Some come from abusive parents. Some don’t have parents. Some don’t have a bed. Nearly all rely on the donated food they get at school as their daily sustenance. Every one faces economic challenges of varying proportions. For a few, it takes several buses and nearly two hours to get to school.
These kids are barely making it through high school — at a time when many of my peers’ kids are celebrating acceptances to upper echelon colleges. This school is their last chance. Simply getting to school on a daily basis is a hardship when you don’t have any money or any food. Or anyone to motivate you to do so.
When I asked which of these students had experienced some adversity in their lives, all of them raised their hands. When I asked whether they felt these challenges had made them a better person, they nearly all raised their hands again.
I didn’t grow up like they did. I’ve had a relatively privileged life. School was easy for me. I never had to worry about having a family who loved me, or food to eat, clothes, or a bed. I attended one of those top tier colleges. I’ve always been lucky.
But I now believe that most of us, if we live long enough, will experience one of those unexpected events in life that creates a seismic shift in perspective. This happened to me recently, and is the subject of my TEDTalk. I was 43, about to celebrate my first wedding anniversary with a wonderful guy. We had successfully negotiated a second marriage and a blending of two families. I was the happiest and healthiest that I had ever been.
The source of my cataclysm is better revealed in the short three-minute TEDTalk above, as I don’t want to spoil the story for you. I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far into this post, you might be willing to invest the time to watch the video clip.
I am very aware that not every cloud has a silver lining. I get it.
— Stacey Kramer
Sharing my story at TED was a remarkable opportunity. The very thought of being on stage gave me sweaty heart palpitations — and that is why I knew I had to do it. I was so nervous the teleprompter wouldn’t work that I bribed the AV techs with good chocolate, hoping they would pay extra attention to the prep for my insignificant short talk. When I walked onto the stage, the screens were blank, and they remained that way.
I wanted to share the positive side of a tough ordeal, and maybe inspire others to be able to see bad experiences as growth opportunities. I am very aware that not every cloud has a silver lining. I get it. I don’t even know anyone who has experienced what I went through without some lingering physical disability, at best. I lost a friend and colleague last spring. His diagnosis was way worse than mine. He was not so lucky. He left behind a beautiful wife and two young children. I doubt they feel that losing him was a growth opportunity.
But maybe, too, there are some unexpected and unwanted things in life that will bring you down if you let them, and instead it’s possible to shift your perspective and see the positives. I still feel lucky, even more so, and I wouldn’t now choose to not have the experience that I did. I know that the next time I may not be so lucky, but until that time comes I will strive to embrace all the positives in my life and try not to dwell on the negatives.