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Letting Go Why You Shouldn’t Let Your Past Define You

Updated: Feb 19


The quote about our inability to change the past is one you’ve likely come across. But in typical fashion, the human mind is good at taking advice but not so much at acting on it.


So, you’ve probably heard the advice, but for one reason or another, you keep on ruminating on your past which you can’t seem to shake off.


You are not your past


Look, we all have a past. And there’s no denying that for some of us, that past can be quite complicated or hard to bear.


Like me, you might have been born into a poor family with no guarantee of a meal or roof over your head.


Your past might have involved a challenging relationship with a parent. Like a father who was never present physically or emotionally.


Or an abusive past involving a parent, relative or someone else.


You might be dealing with past trauma.


Or not getting over cheating in a relationship.


It could be a bad investment you made.


Or poor business decision.


Quitting a job you shouldn’t have in retrospect. And other career mistakes that have proved costly.


Not graduating from college.


It could be anything…


Whether you were dealt a bad hand in life, or some poor choices you made along the way, your past doesn’t have to define you. That may sound cliché, but ask yourself this: what use is it stressing about things you cannot change? However bad they were?


Changing the narrative


You may not change your past now, but what you can do is recognise that consciously or subconsciously, your past has a bearing on your future. It may not define your future, but it very well might if you let it.


The difference lies in how you decide to respond to it. Dwelling on the past will not change anything. If anything, getting stuck in your past may be getting in the way of your goal achievement and the success you always dreamed of, whatever that may be.


It’s important to learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made. Or if it’s someone that wronged you – parent, partner, co-worker, teacher, schoolmate or anyone else who may have had a negative or undesired impact on your life previously – there is no use to keep blaming them. That is all confined to the past now.


Dwelling on your past only robs you of emotional energy and keeps past wounds from healing, making it difficult to move forward to where you want to be. It reinforces self-limiting beliefs in you that only serve to hold you back both in your personal and professional life.


Borrowing an example I have used in my book, The Irrepressible Mind: Nine Steps to Overcome Adversity, Jim Carrey did not let the struggles he had endured in his earlier life get in the way of his goal to explore his comedic talents and reach the very top. He had to cope with dyslexia, severe depression with his mum, financial problems at home and more adversity along the way.


But he kept his eyes on the prize and kept pushing himself towards that goal, never letting the adversity hold him back from achieving his goals.


It is a leaf we can borrow. I have been there, I know.


Having grown up in slum life under conditions beyond most people’s imagination, I never let my challenges hold me back. And there were plenty – living under a staircase where we called home, no decent meal to eat on the occasions it was available, losing four siblings to the appalling conditions and enduring an avalanche of traumatic experiences…I could easily have given up.


But I didn’t. I could not change the family I was born into. But I could definitely influence my future.


Reconciling with circumstances


Just because you may have endured a difficult past or made mistakes in your life doesn’t mean you are beholden to a life of suffering. Whatever transpired does not have to define you. You are much more than your past; your mistakes; the way other people may wish to perceive you.


The most important thing is to take the lessons of yesterday – or the current situation if you are not where you want to be – and work to improve the situation.


It’s good to start by accepting where you are. But do not let that dictate where you end up in future.


The beauty of life is that it affords us a clean slate. Every day is an opportunity to let go. To turn a page and start writing a new story.


And guess what?


While your past is already written, the future is not. And it is full of possibilities.


Do you want to continue playing victim and linger on the problems? Or to view things in a more positive light and take charge of your life?

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