My TEDx Talk



Experiencing adversity is a given but allowing that adversity to derail the impact you have on this world is not. This talk will give you the freedom to regain control and cultivate resiliency by examining four key choices you make when bad things happen. Overcoming adversity through these choices will allow you to experience life and leadership in a surprisingly, refreshing way.


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The Four Choices to Overcome Adversity


  • Confidently navigate and overcome any obstacle that comes your way!
  • Apply the strategies from Carrie Koh’s popular TEDx talk: The 4 Choices  to Overcome Adversity
  • Regain your power and presence when you feel:
    • Derailed by adversity-big or small, professional or personal
    • Out of Control
    • Or at the mercy of your circumstances

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TEDx Talk Video Transcript

The Four Choices to Overcome Adversity

You should read this,” he said. He handed me a tattered and well-read book from across the table.

The title was When Bad Things Happen To Good People and I was grateful, but I have a confession. I could not bear to open that book.

I was not ready to be pulled from my suffering. Just a mere eight months earlier the excitement of giving birth to our first born son quickly turned to panic and worry.

Elliot entered this world silent and limp and we lived with him for his first five months in the NICU. During that time, he was diagnosed with a rare muscle disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy.

50% of boys with this disease do not live beyond 18 months of age.

And as I learned more, I realized that the catastrophic impact of this disease was due to just one tiny shift in the physiological makeup of my son’s muscle cells. That tiny shift crushed my hopes and my dreams. I cried to one of Elliott’s beloved nurses, “This is so hard, but what choice do we have? This is the hand we were dealt.” And she responded with one question. “What if you walk into this hospital room every day and ask, how can I make this day the best day for Elliott?” She offered me a choice when I thought I had none. And so we formed a bucket list. We had an actual pool party in my son’s hospital room, he got his picture taken with Santa, he had a play date on the lawn of the hospital and on one very special day we surrounded him with a thousand paper cranes, hand folded with love by my husband’s relatives in Singapore.

The choice to celebrate Elliott’s life became even more meaningful after he tragically passed away in my arms before his first birthday. I spent years after Elliott’s death mired in self pity and self doubt. I was trapped in this cycle of making choices that increased my suffering rather than released it. And when I finally found my way out of that cycle, I realized I’m not alone. Bad things happen to good people every day. Big things, little things. Good people go to work with a smile on their face, only to realize they’ve been let go. Good people get diagnosed with cancer. Good people get a text from the love of their lives and read, “This isn’t working. We need to break up.” We all have circumstances that leave us feeling hopeless or defeated, but adversity does not require suffering. You can create an experience that’s on your own terms.

And through my personal journey and my work coaching and consulting physicians and healthcare leaders, I have learned that there are four primary choices that we have available to us when bad things happen, and those four choices define our experience within adversity. Now, before I share those four choices, let’s talk about why they matter. Right now, even in your suffering, there’s someone looking to you for inspiration. And as hard as you may try to find your strength and power in adversity, there is this 500 pound gorilla made up of your fear and anger and self-doubt just sitting on your chest, keeping joy just out of reach. I wish we could simply choose joy, but I found that there are some very important moment to moment choices we must make first. So, here are those four choices that you can use to shift your experience from suffering to simply surviving, to ultimately living and leading to your highest potential.

The first choice we have is ownership. Choose to own all those uncomfortable emotions and the unflattering behaviors that they create because when we don’t own them, the default choice is blame with a side of victim mentality. The other day I was in the grocery store at the checkout line, when the cash register broke. Well, the woman behind me snapped. “Turn off your register light then. I can’t believe I have to put all my bleeping groceries back in my bleeping cart.” We have all been that woman. We have all been in a situation where it wasn’t about putting our bleeping groceries back in our bleeping cart, it was about something much more painful. And the recipient of our blame may not have been a cashier, but maybe your significant other or maybe your colleague or maybe you’re blaming the system that you work in. Part of being human is accepting you will have all those crazy, uncomfortable human emotions and the moment that you choose to own them instead of project them is the moment that you start connecting.

And connection is our second choice that we have with an adversity. Choose connection in those times where your instinct is telling you to retreat in isolation. It’s easy to resist connection because when bad things happen, it ignites this guilt or shame inside, and in that guilt or shame you create these fears like being a burden to others or being misunderstood. But connection with your friends or family or professionals or your faith, whatever that means to you, that is what moves you forward from that guilt, shame and fear. And here’s why. Connection impacts how we feel. Studies show that connection has a positive impact on our physical health and our mental and emotional wellbeing. Connection offers a very important counterpoint to that voice in your head. You know that one who is relentless in her demeaning tone and critical messaging? And connection allows us to step outside of ourselves. We get to see another perspective. And so as you connect and experience its benefits, you will start to discover who you’re meant to be.

In other words, your true identity, which is our third choice that we have within adversity. You must choose your own identity. Identity and confidence are linked. When you allow others or your circumstances to define who you’re supposed to be, at best, your confidence takes a hit, at worst, it is gone because it is tethered to these external and unpredictable factors. You become this identity chameleon, just taking on those traits you think others expect you to have. Instead, in those moments of feeling hopeless or defeated, you can choose to pause and ask yourself, “Who am I at my inner most core?” And when you step into that intentional identity, well your confidence begins to reshape and you dare to define what’s truly most important to you, even when your circumstances are completely out of your control.

Now this brings us to our fourth and final choice, focus. When you focus on what’s right in front of you, it’s all you can see. But what if what’s right in front of you is the actual problem that’s completely out of your control. The diagnosis, the disruptive behavior of others, the lawsuit someone just slapped you with. When that is all you can see, you will feel helpless. Instead, you can choose to focus on what is most important to you and what’s in your control. Families who’ve lost a child go on to raise thousands, millions of dollars in research, because what’s most important to them and what’s in their control is helping future families avoid a similar loss. Exceptional leaders who’ve lost their jobs go on to create amazing businesses of their own. When you focus on what is most important to you and what’s in your control, you naturally begin to feel present and grateful and empowered, and it is only in that state that we can begin to see there’s possibilities within our circumstances.

Bad things happen to good people every day, but the moment you choose to not let it define you is the moment that you stop simply surviving and start living. And once you get these four choices right, ownership, connection, identity, and Focus, they will become a very important part of your personal leadership foundation. They will impact every interaction that you have. And because of that, there’s a responsibility that comes with choice. Because as you shift your choice, you increase your presence in this world. And as you increase your presence, your impact and influence expand exponentially. When you take your place in this world, you will inspire others to do the same. Choice is the enemy of playing small. Controlling your choices creates freedom from your circumstances. And I am on a mission to help you create that freedom by shifting your choices, so you can start living and leading to your highest potential. One tiny shift in the makeup of my son’s muscle cells caused catastrophic results.

And if that is possible, then I know and have experienced that the one tiny shifts that we make in our moment to moment choices will create exponential impact.

So, instead of asking, “What choice do I have?” Ask, “What choice can I make?” Thank you.


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Executive coaching, Consulting, Keynote Speaking and Workshops. Or schedule a call with Carrie to
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