Each of us has had experiences that have left indelible marks upon us…that have shaped us in ways that have had a lasting effect. The question is “Are these marks really indelible? Or are we able to change the seemingly unchangeable aspects of who we are?”
In last week’s blog I referenced a 60-Minutes piece entitled “The Monroe Doctrine (opens in a new link).” It left an indelible mark on me that I believe has helped shape me for the better. But as this thought occurred to me, I wondered “Are there indelible marks that have shaped me in ways that do not serve me, or others, well?”
The answer is “yes and no.” Yes, there have been experiences that have shaped me in ways that haven’t been helpful. No, they are not indelible. The indelibility of the mark depends upon two things:
- Willingness to adapt
Certainly our environment, especially in our youth, has shaped us. Yet, we are locked into that perception of ourselves only when we’re no longer open to new information. A closed mind is acceptance whereas an open mind is one of possibilities. Here’s an example from my personal life to illustrate the difference.
When I was in elementary school, I played basketball. The coach told my dad that I’d play more often if I was more aggressive in my play. From this comment I surmised that I was not an aggressive person.
15 years later, as I was exiting my first controllership position, the head bookkeeper told me that the owner of the company had told her, on the day he hired me, not to get used to having me around, that I was too aggressive to stay around for long.
Had I had a closed mind, I would not have given any credence to the second comment on my aggressiveness. I would have accepted the earlier perception as my lot in life. Because I had an open mind, I came to realize that I was indeed aggressive in career pursuits and in gaining the knowledge I needed to excel in the business arena.
I also realized that I didn’t possess the same level of aggressiveness in other pursuits, including sports. While I enjoyed sports, I wasn’t willing to put forth the time and effort necessary to excel at them. This awareness helped me understand why I wasn’t more successful in sports.
By having an open mind, I gained greater insights into my nature while being open to new insights in the future.
Openness is only part of the equation though. I could have been open to new input, yet not have acted on the new information.
In my case, I was comfortable in the aggressive pursuits of my career goals and the education I needed to enjoy the success I desired and continued them as I had been doing. At the same time, I enjoyed sports as a recreational activity rather than a competitive activity. In other words, I could enjoy being aggressive in one area of my life and lacking aggression in another.
Realize that there are no truly indelible marks left by what you experience. You have the ability to adapt to what you learn in each and every experience you have. With each experience, you should be asking yourself:
- What did I learn from this experience?
- How will I change my behaviors based on this new information?
- What will I gain from making this change?
There will be times when an experience affirms what you already know so that no change is required.
At other times, you’ll gain insights that have the ability to shape you in ways to make your life more successful and joyful. It’s at these times that you have to realize that you have a choice…a choice that you should make consciously. For conscious choices typically produce far better results than emotional choices made subconsciously.
For our kids
As you see the kids in your life embracing negative impressions of themselves, use the three questions listed above to help them reevaluate their initial reaction to what they experienced. Let them know that as long as they keep an open mind and are willing to change when new information indicates that they should, they’ll enjoy far greater success in whatever they choose to do. They’ll thank you for it.
Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.
I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your experiences in a comment.
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Another wonderful and enlightening article Dale!
Thanks Deanna. Glad that you enjoyed it.
Hi Dale, Always appreciate your insight into complex issues! My experience is that behaviors can be changed once we change our perspective.
Bill, you’re right. Our perspective needs to change before we’ll change our behaviors. We are, after all, creates of habit…even when those habits don’t serve us well.