Except for a brief spell when I was fascinated by the Native Americans and decided I should have belonged to such a tribe, I was never really a big fan of history.
I didn’t really see the point in looking back, I wasn’t going that way.
Like many people, I probably over-used the saying: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, but the present is a gift”.
Not that I don’t believe that living in the moment is not of tremendous value, but I think to stay there all of the time, with no regard for the past, would be foolish.
For many years, I lived a nomadic, hedonistic life, seizing the moment, in case it was my last, and although I’ve had some amazing life experiences, I am now seeing the value in both planning for the future, but also looking to the past for what I can learn from it.
Could it be, as I write this on my 44th birthday, that I am growing up at last? Maybe, in a way I am, but I do think we never really grow up, we just get a little older and wiser, and lose our capacity to deal with hangovers.
In that way, we learn. It is from our mistakes that we gain our greatest insights, from our biggest challenges that we learn resilience.
Yet we need to choose carefully at how we look at the past. Our stories from the past can shape our beliefs of today, and if it is a sad story, this can leave a rather negative imprint on our minds as well as our bodies.
To ignore the story, however, to think to ourselves, “it’s in the past now, it doesn’t matter”, means that we never really get the chance to understand how it might have shaped us, how it might have helped us.
In fact, it could be that looking to our past can help us move forward from where we may have been stuck. By rewriting our story, we can create new meaning in our lives, we can make sure the old story doesn’t affect us in the same negative way, and we can start to see the world with fresh eyes.
It took me a long time to re-write my story, and even longer before I shared it. My old story was that I wanted to be a dancer, but when I broke my back in a car accident aged 18, that was the end of that. I put it behind me, and even though I committed to healing myself physically, it was always a sad story rather than an empowering one.
Then one day I woke up and realised what I really wanted was to use that story to inspire and empower others. I had a very close shave, but I was given the second chance at life, because I still had work to do here, and that wasn’t performing, it was teaching. This is my new story, and every time I tell myself that story, I know exactly what I am doing and why. I am inspired to action and I feel my life has purpose, not sadness.
We always have the choice about who we show up as in this world, and that is usually the choice between two roles we can play. Are we the victim, or are we the master and commander in our own lives?
If we don’t look at our story, and consider what we may have learned and how we can use it, we let the story define us in that way. Yet when we pick it apart, look for the lessons, the gifts, what we can take from it to use today to bring to our world, we can take charge again.
We can choose the meaning we take from it, we can choose a new way of thinking, and we can choose how we want that particular story to end.
As the ever-inspirational Brene Brown puts it:
“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending”.