I was one of the very lucky ones, though it took me a long time to understand just how lucky I was. I grew up with loving parents, siblings with whom I never fought, very involved grandparents, and a bunch of cousins who I count as close friends today. I made friends with incredible people as early as kindergarten (one of whom is still one of my closest friends), and continued to have really excellent people as friends for the rest of my life. I thought that this was totally normal and nearly universal for a very long time.
Like anyone I’ve had big challenges in my life, but none of those challenges came from any sort of childhood trauma. If anything, my childhood helped me get through them.
As time has passed, I’ve met more and more people with childhood issues that continue to affect their daily lives. This was very surprising to me at first, but when I thought about how I continue to benefit from a good childhood, it made sense that issues from childhood would continue to plague people.
Through coaching, as you might imagine, I’ve seen a lot more of this sort of thing and have gotten to explore it in depth.
The most common thing I see is parents, usually fathers, setting expectations for a child based on their own lives (and often their own shortcomings). If the father was a lawyer, then any level of achievement that doesn’t look very much like his path in life is a complete failure.
A perfect example of this was a guy who made a million dollars in a year through his business, proudly told his father, and his father said, “Ok fine, but when are you going to get a real job?”. This dynamic is really surprisingly common. I see it all the time.
If you’re in a situation where your past works against you, the first thing you have to do is to recognize that you are not your past. You may be acting like you are, and you are certainly affected by it, but you aren’t bound to it. There are plenty of examples of people who have broken free of their pasts, and if they can do it, so can you.
Especially in the case of parent issues, it’s important to understand that your parents can mean well, love you, have the best intentions, and still totally screw it up. You can judge them and their influence on you separately. For example, imagine a new parent who is terrified of the responsibility of a kid, is underslept, and is trying his best. As the kid gets older he wants security for him so he tries to drill in the importance of a good job, maybe because that’s what his parents did. As his child grows up and veers away from the narrow path to success that the parent is familiar with, he keeps trying to nudge his child in the right way, fearful that he won’t have a good life if he doesn’t follow the path that he knows.
In this example it’s easy to see how a parent could be trying to do the best with what he’s got, and how it could also make the child feel like he’s not enough if he makes his own choices. Understand that following your own path isn’t a judgment on your parents, it’s just a judgment on some of their advice.
A principle that I believe is a universal truth is that you will never be happy and satisfied living up to someone else’s standards. You may share some standards with your parents, siblings, and peer group, but probably not all of them. Think about what you truly believe, what you truly want, and judge yourself according to those standards. If someone judges you against their own standards, just realize that that’s their problem. It’s not fair to set standards for other people and to hold them to them.
Sometimes your past self will set standards for you. This happens often if you’ve created an identity around something you did, and you now feel like you have to live up to it. You have the right to reinvent yourself and your goals and standards any time you want.
Where would you be if you weren’t hampered by your past or your upbringing? Where would you be if you had the love and support that you wished you had? As you think about that, realize that there is nothing physical stopping you from getting there. It’s all mental. Mental barriers are real, but they are also malleable and can fade away.
Think about what you want for yourself and think about how to get there. Identify goals that aren’t really yours, but are products of your past. Surround yourself with people who support you and hold you to your own standards, not theirs. Take the positive parts of your past and let go of the negative parts.
Photo is another drone shot of San Miguel de Allende.