How often do you allow your past to determine your future?

Today is February 4 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow your past to determine your future?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well requires a staunch belief that one’s past does not determine their future. New York Times best-selling author Cassie Leo wrote “You can’t let your past define your future. Once you get that figured out, you begin to understand the joy of living in the present. And the present is full of tiny gifts that we can only see when we stop looking behind and ahead of us. Sometimes, these gifts land right at our feet. Sometimes, it is our feet that carry us toward them, running at full speed until our hearts nearly give out. Either way, never stop noticing them, and never stop wishing.” Nearly everyone who has every navigated the chaos and practiced the art of living well was wronged in some form or fashion. Friends who betray, coworkers who lie, or a family member who disappoint are just three examples of someone who could keep your past from determining your future. You need to decide if how you were wronged is going to hold you back. Not the person who wronged you, but you. You are going to allow your past to determine your future because you are incapable of letting the past go and moving forward. If you want to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well, practice moving forward.


People often blame their childhood, family situation, or physical location for a lack of success later in life. Lacking access to education, opportunities, and mentors, some say, prohibits one from developing the necessary personal and professional skills required to succeed as an adult. A life of despair, dysfunction, and poverty is the only visible path. Researchers have shown that these risks are real, but they also have found a surprising pattern among those whose early lives included tough times. For some with a difficult past they choose to not allow their past to determine their future.


Research suggests individuals draw strength from hardship and see their struggle against it as one of the keys to their later success. A wide range of studies over the past few decades has shed light on how such people overcome life’s adversities—and how we might all cultivate resilience as well. One such study was the Kauai Longitudinal Study, an ongoing project begun in 1955 by psychologists Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, examined 698 babies born on the island that year, with assessments at ages 1, 2, 10, 18, 32 and 40.


Of the children in the study, Drs. Werner and Smith identified 129 as being at high risk for future problems, because they faced four or more adversities at birth, ranging from poverty and family discord to alcoholism or mental illness in the home. Two-thirds of these high-risk children went on to have difficulties of their own, such as delinquency, unplanned pregnancies and underemployment. One-third, however, fared well. At school and at work, they did as well as, or better than, their low-risk peers from more affluent, stable homes. In adulthood, they found supportive partners and built loving families that, often, differed greatly from the ones they grew up with. As Maria Konnikova wrote in her New Yorker article "How People Learn To Become Resilient," published February 11, 2016 “they had attained academic, domestic, and social success—and they were always ready to capitalize on new opportunities that arose.”


These resilient individuals became, in the words of the researchers “competent, confident, caring adults.” These individuals practiced resilience several ways. First, they were active problem solvers who, over a period of decades, fought for better lives for themselves. Second, they used whatever strengths they had to their advantage such as a particular talent, an engaging personality, or a ready intelligence. Additionally, they sought out support via friends, teachers, neighbors, or relatives. They made plans to better themselves and set ambitious but realistic goals for the future.


Moreover, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control” and believed they, not their circumstances, affected their achievements. As Konnikova noted “The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they scored more than two standard deviations away from the standardization group.” Finally they created opportunities to move forward in life, by way of higher education, the military, a new job, a supportive partner, or parenthood.


The easy thing to do is to blame your past for your current situation or for blocking future opportunities. Those who navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well understand how counterproductive it is to blame their past for their current or future life situation. They do the hard work required to develop the resilience necessary to focus on making the future better than the present. As author Alain de Botton noted “A good half of the art of living is resilience.” How often do you allow your past to determine your future?