Maya Angelou said, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot — it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
That’s a beautiful quote, full of truth, and a great guide for making decisions in life. For some, though, the past is made up of more negative than positive experiences. How do we build a positive future from the negative experiences of our past?
Often there is an innate desire to erase our personal history and focus solely on what’s ahead. Sometimes that can be a good thing. It’s what lets us not be defeated by one mistake, what lets us stay hopeful about the positive future we really do have the ability to build. But in doing that, we cannot ignore the impact our history has on us. We miss so much growth when we overlook where we’ve come from and the journey each one of us has taken to arrive at our present position.
How do we build a positive future from the negative experiences of our past?
We need to use what we have learned to navigate forward in life instead of pretending the story that led us to where we are doesn’t matter. It does matter.
Even the pain and heartbreak, the tears and letdowns, the broken relationships and lost friendships are experiences that are worth taking the time to process through in order to allow yourself to move forward from them wiser and more capable. Otherwise, they’re just anchors we end up dragging along through the years.
Without taking the time to process through these things, we remove ourselves from the redeeming growth these experiences can provide.
We can take the time to process by being open with loved ones about what we have experienced, seeking out therapy, taking time to resolve past conflict with those who were involved. The key is really to be intentional about taking the steps to restore the pieces of you that have been broken or fallen away.
By working through the things that happened in our past we are able to develop the ability to view hardships a tools for shaping ourselves into something beautiful. Like Michelangelo chipping away at the marble to find the sculpture of David beneath, we can chip at our hard exterior that life has dealt us to find the remarkable work of art that has always been there.
When you can look back and be grateful for the past making you who you are today, it means you haven’t let the past win.
We can change our mindset from viewing our past as something to be ashamed of and ignore, to viewing our past as the vehicle that led us to where we are now. In a way this allows us to persevere — more than just persevering, we can reach a point of thriving. We need to believe in our future. We need to see the possibility of what lies ahead in order to be filled with our own potential.
What you have been through has helped form the person you are right now, each hurt and heartbreak has built the strength and endurance of your character. When you can look back and be grateful for the past making you who you are today, it means you haven’t let the past win.
Your future remains full of choices that will lead you somewhere. You decide where.
You are enough.
You are capable.
You are prepared.
Step forward into what’s ahead for your life.
Images via Becca Tapert