Who are you and what defines your identity? It is not your past, a sum of your experiences or your environment. YOU define who you are.
You have the power to define ‘who you are’ and what you will be in the future. None of your past experiences define you unless you let them, or want them to. You can create the vision for who you choose to be in life and then work to become that.
To many people let past experiences or external factors define them. It can be productive and instructive to acknowledge and honestly evaluate your past, but when you let your past define your present and future self, it puts a shackle around your ankle limiting your potential for growth. Great men never allow themselves to be limited in this way. Extraordinary things have never resulted from this approach. Visionaries shape the world we live in and you can be the visionary who shapes your life.
I’ve referred to my own past experiences occasionally in recent articles, interviews, or podcast. But this story has nothing to do with what I’ve chosen to become and who I am today. Let me repeat that, NOTHING. I share my story to inspire others, not to wallow in the past. To me it feels like the story of someone else’s life at this point, almost like fiction, compared to my life today.
My upbringing living in abject poverty did not create me. We poached animals, put water out in the sun in gallon jugs to shower, and met a lot of unsavory people through the years. I don’t remember how many winters we spent with a family of 5 living in 16-foot trailer “down by the river.” We moved every 2 weeks after the forest service questioned us so we appeared to be camping. When we had homes they were often without electricity or power and occasionally condemned.
In my first few years of school I was held back and told I was a slow learner. Then I buried myself in books, which was easy to do without TV or other modern day distractions. It also helped that I didn’t have many friends at that time and didn’t like talking to people. I became the nerdy straight-A student by the time I entered high school. Then I decided to do sports and lift to become strong both mentally and physically. After high school I challenged myself with a career in leadership which was probably the farthest thing from my introverted and non-social childhood.
I made choices that helped me overcome my circumstances even early in my life, and these choices created opportunities to make more choices that allowed me to take control of my own life and create my own future. My brother, who I love dearly, chose to let those circumstances impact who he became. Things that happened in our early years destroyed him mentally because he let those experiences define his identity. Today we live dramatically different lives. He still lives the one I left behind, refuses to change, and has probably become even worse.
During my senior year in high school, my wrestling coach approached me and asked me for my thoughts about the upcoming district meet. I told him that I was going to win and go onto the State Championships. A few years later he confided with me that prior to that conversation he didn’t think I was going to make State because I had already been bested by three guys that season.. But my response was so matter of fact, unwavering and certain that he didn’t know what to do but believe me. I went on to win districts and went all the way to the final match at the State Championships without having a single offensive point scored against me the whole time.
I could have told you in my late teens I would be a world-class strength athlete. At my first management job, I looked around and decided that I would be General Manager of large production plants within 10 years. I decided that I would be in the position shaping the vision and direction of the companies I worked for. I also knew I didn’t have the credibility to say these things without being laughed at.
Instead of expressing my vision I began to get a tattoo. It took a few years to finish but the eagle that covers my stomach and the eagle that covers my back are actually shackled by chains that run all the way down to my ankle. The tattoo represents the idea that “you can fly to whatever heights you can envision in life if you realize that the only thing holding you back is yourself.”
I am now in the process of tattooing over the eagle on my back, because it doesn’t matter any more. I have proved what I knew when I was younger — that I could determine my own future and become my vision by letting go of the past. That understanding is so much a part of who I am today that I don’t need to be reminded of it at all. There is no shackle…only the eagle. Only the symbol of my vision. Only victory and self-directed growth.
You have the power to control and shape your life, to become the best possible version of yourself. Release yourself from the shackles of your past, of negative experiences and missteps. Let your vision of victory define your present and future, and look back only to see how far you have come.