Turning a negative past into a positive future
Over the years, I learned hard-hitting lessons the hard way. Here are some: “Bad things happen to good people. Your greatest victory lies not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall. It’s your life – don’t expect others to live it for you. Sometimes, you’ll have an off night. We live in an imperfect world.”
Got bad luck?
You think you had the worst life? Or the world owes you big time?
Were you born of unmarried teenage parents, grew up with your grandmother on a small pig farm, dressed in potato sacks, was sexually abused by male relatives, turned to drugs and alcohol, and got pregnant at age 14? If not, you’d probably not be worth $2.9 billion, be the Queen of Daytime, own a cable network, and be the richest and most influential Afro-American woman like Oprah Winfrey.
Are you a single mother living on welfare like Joanne, or did you write books by hand because you couldn’t afford a typewriter while you babysit your own child at cafes? Did your agent warn that “you will never make a fortune out of writing children’s books?” If not, you’d probably be not worth $1 billion like J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame.
Are you like Demetria Gene Guynes whose biological father left her mother before she was born? Or did you live in trailer parks with your alcoholic mother and stepfather? Did you drop out of school at age 16? If not, you’d probably be unlike Hollywood star Demi Moore.
Did your mother leave you at age 11, and did your father die of cancer a few months later? Did you drop out of senior high to find gainful employment? If not, you’d probably not be a Hollywood Top Gun like Tom Cruise, worth more than half a billion dollars?
Were you lazy during childhood and couldn’t speak until you were four years old? Then probably you’d not develop the theory of relativity like Albert Einstein.
Did you witness your mother shoot and kill your father after your father attacked you and your mother? If not, you’d probably not be a renowned international actress, producer, model and millionaire like South African Charlize Theron.
So, do you think you had a bad past, or have gone so low that you’ll never move up ever again?
The difference between those who recovered from a difficult past and those who didn’t is not what they have or haven’t been through. It’s based on what they choose to do with their bad experience.
After a bad fall, people tend to be pessimistic. Game over. Others use the experience to be more optimistic, thinking that the bad phase is over.
Thanks to the law of averages. What else could be worse? Being optimistic gives you power. You don’t make your past an excuse for failing again. You don’t get mad. You don’t get even. You get better.
It’s normal to fear taking risks or making decisions after a bad fall. But, the past is over. After midnight today, it’s another day. You can’t go back and change the past. But you can use it to motivate you to make better decisions about today and the future.
My parents could hardly send me to grade school. After graduating valedictorian, I forced my way to a university high school in the city. It meant free tuition, but I lived alone, away from my family. I had two choices – to stay with my family and grow up in abject poverty, or fend for myself and get a good education. With a strong will, poverty would not stand in the way of getting a good education and a better life.
Here are some practical tips for turning a bad past to a great future:
Start with a clean slate. Past failures don’t make you a total failure. Let memories of failure motivate you to succeed. Throw all caution to the wind and start a new life. Convince yourself that you can do better.
Choose your end state. Know how you wish to be known at the end of your life. Regardless of what you are today, dream to be the kind of person you want to be. Use your passion, competencies, inclination, and interests to build a new you.
Develop skills and master them. Once you’ve known what you want to be, find out what it takes to be the best. Benchmark and choose a model, icon, or mentor. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Get advice, education, and tips.
Develop specific goals. Choose a realistic path to your success, not necessarily a straight line or the shortest path. There are alternative paths; find them. Work hard and live your life as you pursue your goals.
Just do it. Give your dreams and goals time, space and resources.
Dreaming alone will not get you to where you want to be. Time will not heal your past. You will have to do a lot of work to ensure that you’re turning into a better person.
Be flexible. The milestones you’re seeing might be different from your goals. Nothing is set in concrete. Change if you have to, but relish the journey. Be flexible, as long as you end up happy.
When you had a bad past, it’s normal to be angry. Heed Buddha’s wisdom, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”
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