Reflect on Your Past to Thrive in the Future
When was the last time you were enjoying an activity so much that you lost track of time, perhaps even skipped a meal, or missed your bedtime, and still felt energized afterwards? I get this feeling every time I’m creating a workshop, working on a new lecture for my students, and even when I’m preparing for a coaching session with a client. I just love the process of being immersed in information, doing research, reading and taking notes, breaking the content down to its fundamentals, and then piecing them back together, organizing and designing it in a way so that I can create an engaging visual story that helps my audience enjoy learning new information and find practical ways to internalize it going forward.
That process comes naturally to me, it makes sense, it is work but feels like play, it’s challenging in the most delightful way and even though sometimes it gets really tough somehow it still feels effortless. Does this sound familiar to you? Doing something for the sake of the activity itself, for the process and not necessarily the outcome, feeling energized in the moment, driven and excited by the progress you’re making without worrying about the end result, and you get this euphoric sense of accomplishment afterwards. I’m hoping you recognize this feeling which you might have heard people refer to as being in one’s natural element, functioning in a flow state, being in the zone, feeling connected with one’s authentic and true self. These terms are most commonly used to describe people who have attained exceptional achievements in their domains regardless of their field, whether it’s business, music, science, arts, sports. We might admire these people for having found their passion, we may even be envious of their luck that their professions combine their natural abilities with things they actually enjoy doing.
Fortunately, we all have the opportunity to find this state of being and the intersection of our natural abilities and our passion by reflecting on our past. Discovering these areas, uncovering our possibly untapped talents, and building on them going forward will help us thrive in the future and contribute to us leading a happier and fulfilling life.
Our past is filled with stories and hints about what we are good at, what we genuinely love, and how we thrived when we did. I hope that you’re curious about what you might find on this journey reflecting on your past experiences, tapping into and exploring things that intrigued you back then, and digging into the memories of the experiences you truly enjoyed and felt energized by.
OUR MOST AUTHENTIC SELF IS EDUCATED OUT OF OUR SYSTEMS
When we were kids we probably had a much better sense of what we enjoyed and what we were effortlessly good at even though we may not have been consciously aware of it. Unfortunately, we start losing this clarity and confidence in our natural abilities and preferences as we grow up, being tremendously influenced by our families, our society, our culture and our schools, and their expectations of how we ought to be.
I consider myself fortunate to have built a life and a career that allows me to enjoy my work so much, and I couldn’t have had the courage or the inspiration to go on this path had I not discovered TED Talks in 2008 and watched the remarkable Sir Ken Robinson, one of the most brilliant minds of our time who sadly passed away last month. In his famous talk, “Do schools kill creativity” he is witty and charming as he delivers stories on creativity, the education system’s focus on academic ability not taking into account an individual’s aptitudes and natural preferences, and how we might reshape our thinking to unleash our creative capacities. This talk made me wonder, for the first time, whether I was on the path of my own choosing or following a template that I had adopted from society, trying to fit in, please and feel accepted. I have to admit that that period of questioning my whole life, my choices up to that point, even my whole existence, was not the happiest of times but buried underneath the darkness, I found the light and little crumbs of my most authentic self that led me to this path I am on today. I’m hoping that the exercises and questions below will help you uncover your possibly hidden authentic self and bring it back to life.
REFLECT ON YOUR PAST
You deserve to live the most fulfilling life and that’s why you should make it a priority to take some time out of your day to sit down and reflect on your past. The purpose of these exercises is to help you identify the areas that truly energize and interest you. The goal is not for you to drop everything and go on a completely new path, but to find ways to start incorporating these areas into your life, perhaps taking opportunities to explore your untapped talents.
Exercise 1: Remembering Your Childhood
Below are some questions you might ask yourself, journal and reflect on or better yet discuss it with someone. I’ll include examples to get your juices flowing:
Think back to when you were a kid, a teenageer or maybe even when you were in college.
1. What were the things you genuinely enjoyed and looked forward to?
It could be anything that pops in your mind: breaking apart and piecing together things around the house to understand how they work, creating and rehearsing dance routines, baking cakes and cookies with your mom and testing your own recipes, watching “Making the Video” on MTV to understand the process and story behind shooting a video, spending hours in nature exploring the life of bugs and insects.
2. What were the areas that intrigued your interest whether or not you acted on them?
When I was 12-13 years old, we had one computer at home in the back room and I was only allowed to be on it for a limited time on Saturdays. I remember buying architecture magazines that came with CDs of demo versions of various design software and just playing around with them, building houses, trying to make sense of the structures in these complicated programs. Then in 2000, Sims, the video game, was released and you can imagine my excitement switching to a more colorful and fun way of building houses. Unfortunately, I was not able to pursue a career in architecture because we had a family business in retail, and it was “suggested” that I study business. Fortunately, after getting my business degree and making my family proud, I was able to pursue a secondary education in visual communication design and incorporate design into my work. I feel confident that my interest in architecture will manifest itself at some point in my life.
3. What were some of the things that came naturally to you?
When I think about school, I remember being good at specific assignments more than a particular subject like math, science or art. I distinctly recall the poster I designed to capture Antoni Gaudí’s life, his works and his influence on architecture, or the 40-page “Greek Mythology” binder and the board we created for the history fair that got us the “best presentation award” – I had no idea there was such an award. I was a visual thinker and a very curious kid, so I just loved assignments where I could do tons of research and then communicate my findings visually. I’m happy to report that my first company in New York focused on creating pitch decks and fundraising materials for startups because that process just comes naturally to me. People say that I have a unique way of capturing content, conceptualizing it and delivering it in a visually appealing and memorable way that helps the audience engage in it – and since that is such a lengthy description, they now refer to it as “putting the magic touch”. (Yes, I love when they say that.) You might be great with numbers, theoretical arguments, building something with your hands, playing musical instruments, dancing and expressing yourself with your movements.
4. What were some of your quirks, uncommon traits, thoughts and behaviors?
My brother has been making fun of me my whole life, to this day, because I prefer to make presents and not buy them. When I was a kid, I would gift a painting of sorts as most other kids did. Then, I started making more elaborate designs that were not super impressive in quality but I loved the process of taking the information I have of someone (their interests, our relationship, their favorite things) and then creating a story to make something unique just for them. Yes, you could not exchange or re-gift these gifts but that was the confidence I had in my ability to create something unique for someone that would make them happy and feel special. I can confidently say that I still incorporate this approach to my work today, and of course my gifts.
Exercise 2: Remembering Your Accomplishments
This exercise helps you focus more on the skills you have developed, the settings that you thrived in, and the tasks you enjoyed working on. It takes a little bit of time and focus and you can always come back to this exercise.
Inspired by the book What Colour is your Parachute, by Richard Nelson Bolles.
1. Make a list of 10-15 of all your significant, enjoyable, and satisfying accomplishments, both from your personal and professional life. It could be from any point in time in your life. Make them specific! I could include my “best presentation award” from high school. For instance, instead of “volunteering”, write down “I ran a session for the public elementary school kids”, instead of “meeting our annual targets at work” write down “our whole team brainstormed ideas and found a new model to increase our efficiency and we met our annual targets”
2. Then, select 5-7 of these accomplishments that stands out to you and write a paragraph answering the following questions:
• What did you do? What did you do best? What were the skills you used?
• What aspect of it did you enjoy the most?
• What did you achieve? Why was it significant for you?
• What was the subject matter?
• What was the setting?
• How was your relationship with others? How were the interactions?
• Were you working alone or in a team, what was your role?
• How did you feel?
3. Once you are done writing these, you’ll see patterns emerging giving you a bit more clarity on the skills you enjoy using, the settings you perform well in and the areas that interest you.
You can now make a list of these and compare it to what you are currently doing in your life, see how you can incorporate more of these and be more open to opportunities going forward.
You deserve to spend your time and energy on things you truly enjoy and you are naturally good at. You deserve to be in your element, to be in a flow state and work on things that are at the intersection of what you are good at and what love doing, what you are passionate about.
You are more capable and creative than you give yourself credit for, you just need to uncover your buried or perhaps untapped talents, remember the areas that genuinely intrigued you in the past. The only step you need to take right now is to reflect back on your past, be mindful of the present and be open to opportunities, nothing more. We will dive deeper into envisioning our future and rethinking our daily routines in the upcoming issues.
I hope this journey to your past is one that is enlightening, inspiring, and energizing. What we have already experienced, enjoyed, and accomplished in our lives can provide so much insight into how we can set ourselves up for success in the future, and you owe it to yourself to explore what your past has to show you about your most authentic self.
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GG is a personal and professional development coach, and an organizational consultant focused on culture and leadership development. Her passion and talent in empowering individuals to discover their skills, strengths, and passions enables her to assist them in creating and leading fulfilling lives. Based on her cross-disciplinary background and experience, GG's unique approach incorporates resources, insights, and tools from a wide range of fields, including entrepreneurship, organizational behavior, psychology, design, mindfulness, and sustainability. Her coaching approach focuses on areas of motivation, engagement, and inspiration to amplify and build on the individual’s strengths so they can create a better environment toward their ideal future. Her company Mercury Change offers training, workshops, and leadership development programs for organizations.