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A Different Past Would've Changed You — So What?
Rather than focusing on what you might have done and been, focus on what you can and will do.
It's natural to wonder about how much better your life might've been had you been born into different circumstances. A recent conversation with Tim Berry made me think about this.
Tim is one of those remarkable people who have managed to do well in his entrepreneurial career and be an amazing father, husband, and friend. While I appreciate his success, what I'm most inspired by is what his kids are up to. Given who he is, he probably wouldn't say that they're doing it because of him, but you can't deny the presence of a good role model and catalyst. One of his daughters is now the CEO of Palo Alto Software. One of his sons is the CTO for HuffPo/AOL. Another daughter is the marketing director at Klout. And so on.
Great job, Tim. ’Nuff said.
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When I hear stories like that, I always wonder how my life would be different if I had been raised in different social circumstances. The brute fact is that growing up as a poor, multiracial kid in the South meant that I missed out on a lot. I didn't have a computer until I bought my first one in college, so being a programming prodigy wasn't in my cards. Our financial circumstances precluded me from attending many creative arts programs or getting a lot of musical instruction as a kid, so that track was out for me, too. My family culture, combined with some of the social dynamics of the South, wasn't conducive for me to focus on business as a teenager.
I started off "behind" in a lot of ways.
But, as I've said in History, Luck, and Intention, that things would have been different doesn't mean they would have been better.
Maybe I wouldn't have developed the drive I have. Maybe I wouldn't have learned to use what I had to the fullest, even if I had to use it in novel ways. Maybe I wouldn't have learned to see people for who they are and what they can do, rather than where they come from. Maybe I never would've made the choices that led to important formative experiences that forged my character and experiences. And maybe there wouldn't have been a lot of people who were willing to give me a chance precisely because I wasn't born with a silver spoon.
Moreover, being born in different social circumstances would likely mean that I'd have other personal challenges to go through. I might be worried about filling my parents' shoes. Or living up to heightened potential or the opportunities they laid down for me. Maybe I'd be dying inside because the people in my social network were all too competitive and lost to check in with themselves and those around them.
In the end, it doesn't matter.
What might have happened isn't a foundation for what is happening and has no bearing on the choices I'll be making or the steps I'll be taking today. Better to take the emotional and creative energy it takes to fuel those "might have been" stories and use them to fuel the "what is" for today and the "what might be" for tomorrow.
A different past would have changed us, but who says it would have been for the better?
And does the silver-lined story we create as a better-than comparison of our actuality warrant the energy it takes to create it, especially since we rarely create a story in which our actuality is the better picture?
Rather than focusing on what you might have done and been, focus on what you can and will do. The former disempowers you; the latter harnesses the power you have. You can't rewrite your past, but you can write your way into a better present and future.
What "might have been" narrative are you giving power to?