Updated: Aug 17
‘We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.’ ~ Rick Warren
I have yet to meet a person with no goal in life. Even the man on the street hopes to one day, in some way, find a better place to sleep. The circumstances may not allow it, but that does not mean he/she does not yearn to improve his/her conditions, even when bereft of all hope.
Every human desires to achieve something, be it great or small, at some point in our lives. We harbor deep-rooted dreams and hopes for the future, with an itching desire to accomplish great things.
This is ingrained deep down into the core of who we are, and woven into the very fabric of our society. As a matter of fact, we couldn’t have achieved what we have as a human race without it: that ambition to accomplish the impossible; a desire to transcend the ordinary.
But while as a society we have made momentous strides, most of us seem to falter when it comes to our own personal lives.
Sometimes, or rather more times than we realize, the past has a hand in it.
Your Past Shapes You
Your past has a huge impact on your present and future. The past molds the individuals we are, and it can make or break us. What we remember and how we remember it influences our self-image and lays the foundation for what we imagine to be possible.
At some point in our childhood, we lose a sense of who we actually are. This is because we experience events that go on to form our core beliefs about ourselves, other people, and the world as a whole.
As we grow up, these beliefs influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. We form likes and dislikes, opinions and judgements, reactions and coping mechanisms. We start viewing life through the lens of these past experiences.
Some beliefs might be so deeply ingrained that you may not even realize you have them. You may not even consider them self-limiting, instead brushing them off with such talk as ‘that’s how things are’ or ‘that’s the way I am’.
Ask yourself, how have you been raised? What’s your story?
Do the fears, negative beliefs, or events from the past hold you back? Or have those experiences positively impacted on your future by giving you the drive to succeed?
Do you know that even things that seem good in your life might be a stumbling block getting in your way of achieving something even better?
Your Past Doesn’t Have to Define You
The past is a complex web of things that happened to us and decisions we made; environments we found ourselves in and places we went to; people who came into our lives and people we tended towards. It is full of highs and lows, fulfilled dreams and broken promises, successes and failures.
The truth is, though, to live well in the present and plan adequately for the future requires a wise approach to the past. You need to learn to let go. To avoid getting stuck in your past.
Of course, disentangling yourself from a negative past is not easy. But you need to realize that failure to do so can and will hold you back in life, hurt your present, and ruin your future.
The biggest injustice you can do to yourself is allow your past failures to get in the way of potential future success. Everyone has made mistakes along the way, but those mistakes don’t have to define you. You may have been dealt an unfair hand in life, but you are more than your past negative experiences.
It is human nature to take the most unattractive experiences from our life and then build walls around us in a bid to shield us from a similar kind of hurt again. But in order to grow, you cannot single out a part of your life and let it dictate everything else about you. You cannot let those past experiences become your identity.
Because in reality, they are not.
You Cannot Rewrite the Past
Your past does not define you. It is only there to remind you of the path you have walked, and to learn from. It is not a life sentence. That is the beauty about life, actually. Nothing is carved in stone, and you have the power to rewrite your destiny.
It starts with letting go, and forgiving yourself and others whose negative impact in your life is still affecting you. It is not easy. But it is good to acknowledge holding on to past hurt does not serve your interests either.
Ultimately, it all comes down to choice. You can choose to define yourself by dwelling on the pain, hurt, and ‘if only’. Or, you can make the choice to instead dwell on the resilience it took to endure and bounce back from the daunting circumstances.
You are still here, reading this. You survived. And now you can make the decision to choose what you want to take from your past. You can look back on it, wallow in it, and let it hold you back. Or you can look back on it, and borrow from it to create your own future, knowing the past is gone and you can never change it.
In the words of Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard:
‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’