define: to determine or identify the essential qualities or meaning of
refine: to improve or perfect by pruning or polishing
Although "define" and "refine" are separated by only one letter, their meanings are vastly different. And when facing struggles or difficulties, which we all will, we can choose one of the two, and the one we pick can make a profound difference on the trajectory of our lives.
Unfortunately, I believe it's commonplace to be defined by our faults, strengths, weaknesses, illnesses, family, job, defects, etc. I think it's our basic human nature. It's our default. It often feels like the easiest thing to do. We can just throw in the towel and let our circumstances define us. I can remember as a doctor often getting to see this first hand. Patients of mine would become fixated on their sickness and it seemed to consume them.
I know there are times when it feels like all I can think or talk about is my traumatic brain injury (TBI). When my life starts revolving around it. I give way too much attention to my struggles, and make sure everyone else knows about them as well. But this is exactly what I don't want to do because this is when I'm letting my TBI define me.
So instead of focusing on all the things I can't do anymore, I need to focus on what I still can. Instead of thinking about what's worse, I can think about what's better. Instead of dwelling on what I've lost, I can dwell on what I've gained. If I can do this, my TBI is no longer defining me. It's refining me.
We will all face difficult times. Adversity is inevitable. It spares no one. But we get to choose how we handle these. It might be easier to let these trials "define" us. But I believe there is another way. We can let them "refine" us.