No matter how well we may think we know the show, we still never see the plot twists coming.

One day, it’s business as usual. Then out of nowhere the unthinkable happens: we lose our marriage, our home, our good health, our savings or someone we love by an unexpected twist of fate’s knife. Suddenly, the theater is dark. The act is over. And we’re left dazed and confused as we shuffle, blindly, back out into the world.

Our best laid plans, our comfortable futures, our hopes and dreams, once vibrant seeds of promise, are now nothing more than ghosts of the life we were supposed to have.

And still, in those moments of deep despair, a great power lies dormant within each of us. One that can sometimes be difficult to spot amid the debris and devastation, but is always able to be summoned at will. One that is not only important to our growth, but necessary for our survival: our freedom to choose how we respond to our circumstances.

Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his riveting memoir Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms— to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” While we can’t avoid suffering, Frankl says we can choose how to cope with it. We can will ourselves to find meaning in the midst of our struggle. And we can move through our pain with a renewed sense of purpose. 

A profound reminder to all of us as we step out onto the stage and into the uncertainty of whatever our next act might hold: We are not defined by the roles we’ve been given.

We’re defined by how we play them.