From the time we are born, we start collecting data. We notice how our hands move, how words are formed, and how people treat one another. And we begin to mimic what we see.
The more we experience, the more data we collect. Patterns start to form. Patterns that determine our expectations for the future and our perspective of the world. All of this data informs how we see the world, ourselves, and the people around us.
Of course, not all of our experiences are positive. And not all of them are true. And so, as we grow, we get a complicated mess of narratives all stumbling over one another. The adult experience is trying to make sense of this mess.
Bad data leads to bad patterns. Perspectives that are not true.
An easy example: if every man in my life has walked out on me – a father, an older sibling, and a best friend – and all three of those men also drank to varying degrees, I might develop a perspective that any man who drinks is not to be trusted. I might actually assume any man at all should not be trusted. But I have probably seen movies or heard of friends with healthy male relationships, so I suspect there are data points I am missing. But the drinking thing, however, makes sense and seems true to my experience.
Our past follows us. It informs how we view the world. It sets up patterns for how we expect others to behave, what we desire in others, and what we think is ok.
Everyone has to struggle with this reality. We bring our scars into our newest relationships. We have to work through the data points we’ve collected so far, sometimes years and miles worth, even as we are collecting more each day.
It is easy to feel a slave to our patterns. They weigh so heavy on us. The past we’ve experienced is an elephant we are dragging around with us, for better or worse. The new things we experience often feel like a feather in comparison. The elephant so often tramples the feather, making a mess of the new things we experience.
Our past is powerful. And it is helpful. Whether we have been through trauma and tragedy or apathy and ease, the past is an opportunity to learn. So is the present.
Our patterns never cease to develop. They are never finished, never capped. Even when we stubbornly try to make it so, our new experiences strain and challenge our patterns. They invite us into growth.
The key to not letting our past define us is being open to growth. To take our experiences for what they are worth and collect our new ones in just the same fashion. We are all in such a hurry to have it all figured out. But growth is the natural inevitability of being human.
If your patterns are not working for you, if they have not brought about the fulfillment you thought they would, it might be time to reconsider either a) your parameters for fulfillment and whether or not they are true, or b) if you need to open your eyes to new data points trying to make themselves known so that you can change the unhealthy patterns into more effective ones.