My last post described the 5 Chapters that help people in transition make the next chapter their best chapter. This is the first of a five-part series to describe those chapters and perhaps help you along the way if you are considering shaking things up in your current situation and moving to a future you can’t see right now.
All major life transitions have a past, present, and future; past - what led you to this inflection point, present - what your experience of life is like right now, day-to-day, and, future, the infinite possibilities that lie ahead of you. In my experience, if we ignore the lessons of the past, they will repeat themselves. And, unless we consciously build in time for reflection as we move through life, we can easily fail to mine the past capturing significant nuggets of insight that impact us both positively and negatively as we move into the unknown. Worst case scenario, lack of awareness can keep us stuck in the past, in the limbo of inability to move forward.
“We are what we can’t let go of, and what won’t let go of us.”
reflection: noun, serious thought or consideration (Oxford Dictionary)
I would complete that definition by saying “giving serious thought or consideration to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and results.” Since many successful people are moving at warp speed and haven’t built in the discipline of regular reflection time, taking a structured and strategic time out to mine the past before any significant life transition requiring life-changing decisions and choices is a must.
At the end of December this year I sent out a series of reflection questions to all my clients. The assignment was to find a time when they wouldn’t be disturbed for at least an hour and reflect on the past year, the present, and what they wanted in the future (2022). About two thirds of them actually did the exercise, some albeit reluctantly. About a third “didn’t have time” during the holidays, hit the ground running in January and managed to set goals for 2022 without any reflection of the past or present.
What I noticed about the difference between the reflectors and the non-reflectors is the goals the reflectors set for 2022 were more thoughtful and reflected the person’s learning and wisdom from the past year. The goals (desires) were about who the person wanted to become as well as what they wanted to accomplish. The jury is still out, but my guess is the ones who took the time to reflect will have more commitment and focus, their goals will be more meaningful to them, and they will have better results.
In last month’s post I outlined the 5 Chapters of the process of making your next chapter your best chapter: 1) Mine the Past, 2) Assess the Present, 3) Chart the Course, 4) Neutralize the Barriers, 5) Live Your Best Chapter. I repeat them here because I think you can see that without mining the past, the course you chart won’t be as thoughtful and accurate and may potentially lead you in the wrong direction.
You may be wondering what parts of the past will give you the golden nuggets you need?
Here are a few:
Your Definition of Success
Where did it come from? Is it yours or someone else’s (your father’s, sibling’s, peer’s, society’s)? In what ways have you measured it? Does it include internals like the quality of your relationships, your sense of meaning and purpose, your level of contribution to your community, and your feeling of fulfillment (all aspects not measurable by others)?
“Success does not define you, you define success.”
- Hazel Breen
If you’re like most of the successful people with whom I work, accomplishment is second nature to you, and you move from one achievement to the next without really reflecting on what enabled you to succeed. You actually take yourself for granted! Taking time to review and claim your learnings, acknowledge your significant strengths, and note your level of satisfaction/reward from the results is time well spent and can be done forensically if you missed the opportunity at the time. It’s important to know the key components of what got you here.
“Great accomplishments shouldn’t be the end of the road;
just the starting point for the next leap forward.”
- Harvey Mackey
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got some doozies to put in this list! Failed marriages, failed partnerships, missed opportunities, and significant financial setbacks in economic downturns, etc., etc. The word perceived is italicized here to make the point that, upon reflection, every single failure led to something better and taught me invaluable life lessons about myself. Capturing the key learnings from our perceived failures can be 18-carat nuggets for shaping your desired future.
“In every perceived failure is the seed of success.”
- Deepak Chopra
A thorough mining of the past would not be complete without shining a light on who you have been as well as what you have done. What are the key components of your identity as you see yourself and as others see you? Certainly, a great place to start is with your own self-assessment. Are you an innovator or an implementer? Are you a collaborator or a lone wolf? Are you a visionary or an integrator? Do you love the lime-light or do you prefer the unsung hero role? You get the idea. And since we sometimes have a hard time seeing ourselves accurately (which is why 360 assessments were created), it might be a good idea to ask people who know you well and who would give you their unfiltered perception.
Without a doubt, the hardest change any highly successful person in a major life transition faces is letting go of the old identity of significance and worth and crafting a new identity that meets the need of feeling valued and important. Until you are clear on what skin you are shedding, it’s hard to move into the mindset of reinventing yourself in a wholly different future.
“Moving on is simple, it’s what you leave behind that makes it so difficult.”
- Author Unknown
Sources of Meaning and Purpose
Do you know what has brought you a sense of meaning in terms of who you are and what you have done? Was it working through others to achieve something you deeply cared about? Or, building life-long relationships with people you trust and respect? Or maybe it was finding a more effective faster way to produce a product, increasing profitability. Meaning is what makes our contribution or effort worthwhile. Another way to look at it is that it is a predominant driving force in what has gotten us out of bed every day. Discovering what brings meaning to our lives and finding ways to make it a part of every single day is one of the secrets happy people know.
Knowing what has felt purposeful for you and what hasn’t is another essential awareness. It is literally the “why” of you—your unique and special reason for being on this planet. You may not have been able to live on purpose all the time, but the past holds the clues you need to carefully create a future that is purposeful to you.
“The meaning of life is to find your gift; your purpose is to give it away.”
- Pablo Picasso
Here are some reflection questions to get you started:
“The past will be your teacher if you learn from it; your master if you live in it.”
- Dr. Steve Maraboli
Of course, all of our lives we’re in transition…kindergarten to elementary school, to high school, to college, to career, to marriage (or not), to parenthood (or not), through umpteen residence moves, and so it goes. And when it is time for us to make a big change in our lives is only known to us. There is one immutable fact in this equation – you can never move forward without leaving the past behind. If you are considering such a move, please remember, your past brought you here and has untold riches for you to bring with you into your new future if you take the time to mine it for the gold.
Mining the past is the first chapter to making your next chapter your best chapter!
If you are interested in having a no-pressure conversation with Rebecca to learn more, please click HERE.
Rebecca Bradley is a Master Certified ICF Coach and founder of Partnership Coaching, Inc. She began coaching individuals and teams to be successful in business over thirty-two years ago.