Yes! You Can Change Your Past
Are you bound and chained and immobilized by what you thought happened to you?
I cannot even count the number of persons who have come to me, bemoaned their circumstances, and then attributed their current situation to something that happened in their past. Some awful tragedy, some dire misfortune, some unfortunate event whose long arm is still clutching their throat.
Some have risen from their adversity and flourished. Some have sunk into despair. Some have hovered in between – partially free but still unable to free themselves from the nightmare of the past.
All are firm about one thing. There is nothing they can do about their past.
Do you feel the same way?
You are dead wrong.
The events that happened in your life don’t matter all that much. The stories you tell yourself about those events matter a great deal.
Consider the tale of Joe and Frank:
The Tale of Joe and Frank
Joe watched through the window as Frank and his friends climbed into the limo. They were going to spend winter break at Frank’s home. Estate actually. Frank’s father was a successful financier and they lived well. Joe had not been invited. “He needs me to help him with his homework but doesn’t want to have anything to do with me outside class or study hall,” thought Joe bitterly and the bile rose in his throat.
Neither of Joe’s parents had gone to school. His mother was a domestic worker. His father did odd jobs where he could find them – hanging wallpaper, painting houses, chopping wood. Both parents fiercely valued education and were determined their son would do better than they had. By chance, his father discovered that the summer home whose lawn he was mowing belonged to the headmaster of an elite private school. Summoning all his courage he begged the headmaster to do something for his son.
The headmaster was a kindly man and summoned Joe for an interview. The lad had raw intelligence and grim determination and the educator felt an instinctive liking for him. He arranged for Joe to come to his school on a scholarship. And so, Joe left home for the first time and went to an upper-class boarding school. Hard work never bothered him, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Within a year he was at the top of his class – an academic superstar.
Social life was something else. The scholarship paid for tuition, room and board but there was little left over. He was also required to work in the school library, and this ate up his free time. Joe could not afford to go to the theater in town or hang out in pubs and bars and clubs as his classmates did. They were underage but they drank and had a good time and Joe felt excluded.
Frank was his idol. Frank was handsome, captain of the soccer team, opening batsman in cricket and a good fencer. The other kids turned away when they saw Joe’s shabby clothes, winced when they heard his thick accent and ignored him. But Frank was always civil. Frank even asked Joe for help in math and the two of them studied together and had long conversations.
Frank invited Joe out with a group of his friends. When they were at the bar a talking head on the big screen television announced that a Princeton mathematician had solved Fermat’s Last Problem. Joe was so enthralled that the others asked him what was up. He gave a brief description of the centuries old mathematical puzzle that had not been solved until now. It had stumped the best mathematicians in the world for three centuries. Joe was so earnest that the others started tittering and the conversation soon turned to girls and football.
Frank never invited him out again.
“I should have known he was ashamed of me,” thought Joe bitterly as he watched the limo exit the school gates.
A month later Frank asked him if he would like to spend the weekend at his place. A thrill ran through Joe. He was mistaken! Frank was not ashamed of him after all!
“Who else will be there?” he asked excitedly.
“Why no one,” said Frank hesitantly. “It’ll be just the two of us. My parents are away so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”
A hot burning rage of humiliation settled on Joe. He had been right all along. Frank did not want to be seen associating with him. The invitation was his consolation prize for helping Frank with math and physics and lab work. Frank was putting up with him for the weekend. “No thanks,” he said gruffly as he strode off. He was darned if he would accept such charity.
Years passed but the hurt rankled. Joe became partner at a prestigious consulting firm. He got pulled into a meeting with the CEO of a company his firm was pitching. He walked in well prepared and ran into Frank. Frank was the outside attorney and the CEO had specifically called him in to evaluate the deal and bless it if it passed muster.
A hot ball of lead formed inside Joe and settled in his stomach. He knew he no longer had any chance of landing the contract, and seriously contemplated walking out. Doing so would have been unprofessional and Joe had his own team to consider. So he went through the motions and made his presentation. He summed up the many ways in which his proposal would benefit the client.
And then he skipped lunch and left.
He was washing up in the Men’s room when another figure slipped in. “Oh, there you are,” said Frank. “I was looking for you all over. Will you be personally supervising the project?”
“Yes,” said Joe brusquely.
“I would have been,” he added quickly to let Frank know that he knew the project was dead. Joe was a big boy now and could take his lumps and move on but the molten ball of lead still remained.
To his surprise, Frank grabbed his hand and pumped his arm up and down. “How wonderful,” said Frank. “This means we’ll be working together again. I’ll recommend that we give the contract to your firm. Can you start next month?”
Frank forcibly took a bewildered Joe to lunch and they sat at a private table. “It’s so nice to run into you again like this,” said Frank and he seemed to be sincere. “I admired you right through school. I could kick a pigskin sphere, hit a hard red ball with a piece of wood, but you, you could really understand math and physics and make them come alive.”
“Yeah,” said Joe both skeptical and bitter. “How come you never wanted to be seen with me outside school.”
Frank did not pick up on the depth of emotion in Joe’s question. “I was ashamed,” he confessed sheepishly. “I thought if you knew how shallow my friends were, and how frivolously we wasted time, you wouldn’t want to work with me again. Remember the time you explained Fermat’s Enigma? I really wanted to know more but those idiots couldn’t understand the beauty of what you had just laid out. I wanted to be more like you, but I just didn’t have what it takes. The theories and formulae never sang to me as they did to you.
“I went to a lot of trouble to engineer a weekend just for the two of us. I was hoping you would explain some of the exercises you were working on that were far outside the syllabus, but you turned me down. I can understand that you didn’t want to hang around with someone so far behind you,” continued Frank wistfully. “But after all these years it still hurts a little.”
The molten ball of lead said “Goodbye” and disappeared.
Joe reached out and clasped Frank’s hand. “Let’s make this project a home run,” he said, and his eyes were moist.
Don’t be like Joe.
Don’t tell yourself stories that cement your past into a disagreeable mess.
What ‘happened’ in your past matters a little. The stories you tell yourself about what happened to you in your past matter a great deal.