Are We (to be) Defined By Our Experiences?


your past is over


Recently I gave a TEDx talk where I shared my message encouraging all of us to define ourselves by WHO we are, and not what we are. In my talk I noted my belief that “when we define ourselves by our experiences, we limit ourselves, because there is so much more to who we are and then some…”


In one person’s feedback to my talk, the person stated the following:  “I was thinking about what you said about experiences defining us. I believe that we are products of our experiences, and we definitely have certain defining experiences in life which shape us. I don’t think that that necessarily limits a person. It depends what you do with that experience and if it can be used as a source of growth, awareness and insight.”


While I agree with what this person writes, I still feel that it is dangerous (yes, not just limiting) to view our particular experience (whatever that may be for each of us) as something that may have shaped us. I believe that it is important to separate that experience from WHO we are.


When we define ourselves by our experiences or state that a certain experience has shaped who we are, we are essentially giving that experience power over us. We allow for that experience to control how we view ourselves or what category we put ourselves (or may want other people to put us) into. We allow for that small part of us to play a bigger role in our lives than it needs to play. When we describe or define ourselves by those experiences, we shift the attention of the incredibly rich, complex, beautiful people that we are, to something that is only ‘a part’ of who we are or what we have experienced in our lives.


Approaching my own experiences in this way, this is how I responded to the person’s feedback:

“Thanks so much for your feedback! I agree with you that our experiences give us the opportunity to grow in ways that we may not have been able to without them. The message that I was aiming to give over in my talk is how we relate to those experiences. We can view our experiences as things that define us OR we can view our experiences as things that have happened to us.


I remember feeling very upset many years ago when a friend of mine, who was impressed with my healing from the abuse said – with all of the right intentions – that she felt that what had happened to me HAD to happen in order for me to be the person that I am today. I do not know whether or not that is true, but I do know that by believing that that experience is something that might have had to happen to me, I give that experience power over me and I choose not to live that way because it does not benefit me in any way. Choosing to view my experience as an experience allows me to let go of that experience and for me to be in full control of my life.”




How about you?
How do you view your experiences?


Do you view your experiences as those things that have happened to you or do you view them as things that have shaped or define who you are?


How do you define yourself?
Are you defining yourself by what you are or do (your profession or the various roles that you play) or the things you may have experienced or done/accomplished in your life (e.g. winner of the Amazing Race, high school prom king, survivor, victim…)?


OR are your defining yourself (and walking out into the world) by those things that really define WHO you are – your qualities, values, beliefs…?


As always, be in touch with your questions and comments. You can reach me anytime Here.


In support of and in awe of ALL that you are,




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Career & Relationship Coach | Leadership Trainer | Founder of UnleashingU!

Hi, I'm Jenny Sassoon, founder of UnleashingU! I guide professionals, students, entrepreneurs, and executives to move forward and thrive in their career, business, leadership and life in a way that is right and authentic for them. To schedule your complimentary consultation to learn more about how I can help you, click on the 'contact' tab above.

  1. Sara Jacobovici

    Hi Jenny, I was very impressed by your TEDx Talk. I also applaud you for having the courage to distinguish between experiences as things that define us or as things that have happened to us. You mention the words “choose” and “choosing” in your article. For me, this is the defining factor. Our experiences do happen to us, we do not choose those experiences and have no control of the experience itself. What meaning or influence we give to that experience is our choice. So if I was to say what defines me, it would be something like; I am someone who is aware that the only choice I have is how I respond to something. So who I am and what I do goes hand in hand with the realization that it all comes from me. Jenny, if this sounds like Viktor Frankl to you, that’s right. His teachings really resonate with me.

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