I recently came across a Facebook post written by somone who grew up a few blocks away from where I did.
The post was a commentary on how, as children, we somehow survived despite doing many things that children are no longer able to do because parents today will be criticized and shamed for allowing it.
The post was a testiment to a far more care-free time and, I'll admit, a description filtered through a rose-coloured lens.
The author of the post obviously had very fond memories of their childhood and there is nothing wrong with that.
However, one individual took great exception to the description that had been written.
This individual had very different and far more negative memories of growing up in this area.
His memories reflected a far less pleasant childhood experience...one that he has never let go of.
In fact, one that continues to haunt him today because he has allowed these memories to define the adult he has become.
He has allowed his past to adversely affect both his present and future self.
By doing so, he continues to re-live this adversity rather than examine it...looking for ways to use it as a spring board to create a better life for himself today.
THE ROLE OF OUR PAST
This may sound trite, but our past is our past.
We can't escape it.
We are unlikely to forget it.
And if our memories of our past are particularly painful...they may do little for us other than to perpetuate that which we would like to escape or forget.
So, is this the purpose of our past?...To remind us how hard we had it?
I believe the answer is both YES and NO.
YES...to the extent that we are reminded of the lessons we learned, the challenges we overcame, and the situations we found ourselves in.
By remembering our past, we are far better equipped to prevent it from repeating.
On the other hand, NO, in the sense that we must not allow our past to dictate and define our present.
No one is, today, exactly who they were yesterday.
So the purpose of our past is to influence us...our actions and behaviour...in our present (and future)...
NOT to define us.
Yesterday's failure can actually aid in today's personal success, but only if we do a few key things first.
ACCEPT YOUR PAST
Growing up, I was always the shortest boy in the class.
This made me an easy target for bullies.
I was repeatedly made fun of, verbally abused, and a couple of times even beaten up.
My first year of highschool was 9 straight months of fear and anxiety.
Yet, as terrible as all of this was, I wouldn't change a single thing about it.
All I have to do is think about my amazing wife or picture my two children to know the answer.
Everything that I lived through growing up resulted in a choice being made.
Some choices were big ones, while others were seemingly inconsequential.
Yet all of these choices have ultimately landed me where I am today.
If even one of those choices had been different, big or small, I may have gone down another path and the family picture sitting in front of me would not exist.
And when I view my past, even the most painful moments, within this context...I accept it as necessary for me to be who I am today.
This doesn't mean I am happy that I had to endure the torment or experience the pain.
It merely means that I accept my past for what it is and do not allow it to torment me today.
Acceptance is NOT agreement.
USE THE PAST FOR GUIDANCE
Everyone has experienced pain of some type in their past.
The question is...will you remember that pain or will you continue to experience it years after whatever caused it has long passed?
When we continue to experience it, we remain stuck.
When we remember it, but don't continue to feel it day after day, we can begin to use that pain as an important source of guidance for our present and future.
By remembering, rather than re-living our past, we can prevent similar situations from occurring, avoid similar pitfalls, and help others who may be experiencing something similar in their present.
I was bullied.
So I co-founded a company to help others who are being bullied learn how they can stop it.
Until I was in my teens, I was small for my age and allowed this to negatively affect how I viewed myelf.
So, as I raise my sons, I use this to positively affect how I parent them so that (I hope) they are less likely to experience the same issues regardless of their physical size or appearance.
I take the hard-learned lessons from my past and find a way to use that experience to improve someone else's life today so that they are (again, hopefully...) spared the same obstacles, issues, or pain.
In other words, I find ways to turn the negatives of the past into positives for the present and future.
YOUR PAST IS A SOURCE OF SELF-RESPECT
No matter what happened to you in your past, you made it through.
I am not suggesting it was easy.
Nor I am suggesting that it was pretty.
But, if you are reading this article then you did it.
At times, you may have wanted to give up.
Perhaps at times, you did.
Yet, here you are.
Now, you may not see this as a big deal...
But, if you came across someone else who had gone through what you have, you would very likely respect them for it.
Few of us see the magnitude of our own accomplishment at making through the tough times...we don't value it as we would if someone else had done the exact same thing.
We undervalue what we have done.
And see what others have done as almost superhuman.
We deserve our own respect for continuing on even when the days seem darkest.
You deserve your own respect for not staying down any of the many times you were knocked down.
When you find self-respect, your ability to recognize your personal successes takes off.
WE ARE NOT OUR PAST
Our past helps to shape us but does not define what that shape must be.
Only we can do that.
When we continue to experience the pain of our past, without ever letting go, we allow our past to define us.
When we remember our past and see the lessons and opportunities it has created for us, we create the conditions in which we can achieve tremendous personal success.
Our past will always be a part of us...what we do with it is a choice we each have to make.