Are you stuck in the past?
Does your mind fester with years-old feelings of guilt for the wrongs you have done (or the wrongs that have been done to you)?
I, too, have felt the fear, the shame, the guilt. But here are 11 reasons why my past does not define me. And why yours does not define you.
Let’s dive right into it.
11 Reasons Why My Past Does Not Define Me
#1 Your Past Does Not Define Your Future
Vincent Van Gogh only sold a single painting during his life. Yet he remains a household name when it comes to artistic skill. His work will live on for centuries into the future despite being ignored in the past.
Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a shark bite when she was 13, but two years later she won a national surfing competition.
Do not let your past define your future.
Whatever setbacks you have suffered. Whatever pain you have inflicted. Whatever obstacles tripped you up in the past. You do not have to let them define your present or your future.
This can be a hard concept to grasp because sometimes we have really monstrous challenges to overcome. So to make it a little easier, aim for a small win.
Choose one thing that set you back yesterday, and vow to overcome it today. Make it little. Maybe you drank too much coffee yesterday. Dial it back today. Maybe you yelled at your kids yesterday. Shower them with love today.
Little steps like this help us realize that we don’t have to let our past define our future.
#2 Your Mistakes Don’t Define You
More specifically, the accidents, mishaps, and mistakes of yesteryear should be left in the past.
So what if you wasted your 20s boozing it up? That doesn’t mean your 30s have to be just as wasteful.
So what if you dropped out of high school? That doesn’t mean you can’t still pursue an education.
So what if you hurt someone you loved? That doesn’t mean you can’t make amends or at least forgive yourself.
Now, we can’t always fix the things we’ve broken in the past. But we can always ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes in the present.
#3 What You’ve Been Through Doesn’t Define You
Of course, you are not the only one who makes mistakes. Your past is probably dotted (or even filled) with people who have wronged you.
Lovers who have scorned you. Family who have abandoned you. Friends who have stabbed you in the back. Even criminals who have preyed on you.
Sometimes, the pains of the past don’t even come from people. They come from the bad luck that life has thrown our way.
Living in poverty. Losing a loved one. Suffering injury or disease.
The pain you suffer shapes you, for sure. But you don’t have to let it define who you are.
If you grew up in poverty, never knowing where your next meal was coming from—that doesn’t mean you have to be poor for your entire life. But it does mean that you can empathize with the struggles of the less fortunate better than anyone else.
#4 Your Roots Don’t Define You
You may also fear that the family or community you grew up with defines who you will become.
But that’s not true.
While your family will always be your family, you don’t have to let their mistakes become yours. Whether you grew up in a family of racists, drug addicts, religious zealots, or otherwise—you are your own person.
Even if you fell into their lies or temptations for years, you can still break free. Remember: your past mistakes do not shape your present or future self.
Repeat after me: “My past does not define me”.
#5 Your Past Is Important
At this point, you may be wondering if your past has any influence on who you are or what you can do. Does it affect you in any way at all?
Yes, your past is important. Let me tell you why…
Why is your past important?
Simply put, your skills, abilities, and talents are shaped by what has happened before the present moment. To make it really simple: if you didn’t know arithmetic yesterday, you can’t learn algebra today.
So you should embrace those aspects of your past that you can build on. The memories, experiences, people, and events that will help you grow into your true self.
But absolutely reject the negative pieces of your past. Learn from them. Let them make you grow in empathy and understanding. But do not let them define who you are.
#6 You Have Free Will
Some people are of the opinion that everyone’s actions are predetermined. That a person has no power to choose their successes or failures in life.
But a simple thought experiment easily proves this untrue. Take a moment to ask…
What do you want to eat for breakfast tomorrow? A bagel? Eggs and bacon? A bowl of cereal?
If you have free choice over simple matters like breakfast, there is no reason to think that you can’t also make decisions about…
- how you treat people
- what career to pursue
- the relationships you form
- whether to avoid a vice or succumb to it
- the good you want to do in the world
So you do have free will, and you can actively choose to make your future better despite a rocky past.
#7 People DO Have The Power To Change
Another common saying that gets thrown around is that “people never change”. This ridiculous generalization can easily be tossed out the window just by recognizing a few examples to prove it wrong.
Have you ever known anyone who has overcome an addiction to alcohol? Have you ever known anyone who has converted to a new religion? Have you ever known anyone who has done a 180 on their career?
Even if you don’t know anyone personally, you can easily admit that these people DO exist. And there is nothing inherently different about them.
So if some people can change, then anyone can change. Including you.
Say it again: “My past does not define me.”
#8 Adversity Builds Character
You probably are aware that in order to build muscle, you have to break it down first.
Well, life can be the same way sometimes. Often, the most difficult setbacks shape our character for the better.
Surviving cancer teaches us how to appreciate the little things.
Losing a friendship to anger teaches us temperance.
Years of addiction teach us the importance of self-control.
#9 You Are Worthy of Forgiveness
Another reason why my past does not define me is that I know I am worthy of forgiveness.
And so are you.
We have all done things we regret. Some have even done very, very bad things. But all that is required for forgiveness is true sorrow and a willingness to turn away from the mistakes of the past.
#10 You Have The Power To Forgive Yourself
Even if those you have wronged cannot bring themselves to forgive you, you can still forgive yourself. Sometimes, forgiving yourself starts with forgiving others who have hurt you.
This isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it.
Once you can forgive yourself for the mistakes of the past, they will no longer hold any anything over you.
#11 You Are Wiser Now Than You Have Ever Been
Finally, consider that wisdom comes with experience—especially challenging experience.
Today, despite everything you have done, suffered, or endured, you are wiser than your past self. So whether you want to admit it or not, you have already overcome the mistakes of your past a little bit.
Now you just have to take that wisdom and use it to shape a better future for yourself.
What Are You Going to Overcome?
One last time, shout it from the rooftops: “My past does not define me!”
Now, in the comments, share with me one setback that you are going to overcome today.