Why Your Past DOES Define Your Future -Episode 065

LFL 65 | Past Defines Future


Contrary to popular belief, your past defines your future because the past is all you’ll ever have. We make mistakes, but it doesn’t mean we have to be stuck there. Patrick Veroneau talks about how we should use our past as a guide in making better decisions for the future. We should not let it stop us from reaching our final destination. This episode explores how we all can make our past our ultimate power to become the best version of ourselves. Furthermore, he shares personal experiences that shaped the growth and learnings he acquired along the way.

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Why Your Past DOES Define Your Future

Your Past Is Your Power, And When You Leverage It, It Will Positively Dictate Your Future.

In this episode, we’re going to talk about something that I believe goes contrary to what we often hear. That’s around your past. We often will hear people say that your past doesn’t define you and I couldn’t disagree with that more. I think your past absolutely defines you. You want that to be the case because our ability to decide what that definition looks like is all about our past, whether it’s in the present or future. Let’s get into it.

It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot of different comments, whether I was listening to other podcasts or interviews, where people kept going back about their past. Somebody would say, “Your past doesn’t define you or don’t live in the past.” I would agree. You don’t want to live in the past, but I do believe that our past does define us because that’s all that we have. If you think about it, we have nothing else but our past to decide what we are going to do going forward. What I mean by that is whatever mistakes we’ve made, challenges, heartache, or hardships that we’ve undertaken, it’s understanding that what happened in our past will allow us to make different decisions going forward.

There are three things that are worth mentioning here that hopefully will help us understand. They’ve helped me to understand how I put this into context. One that I mentioned is the GPS. Before that, when I talk about your past as your power and that we need to know our past to be able to move forward, the analogy that I would often use is prior to GPS if you were to think about getting directions from somebody to go somewhere. You head out in your car and follow their directions, but you miss one of the streets you were supposed to go down. You go down the wrong street. You get turned around and get lost. You finally are able to get reacclimated and make it to where you’re going but it took you longer to get there.

The reason that’s important is because, let’s say, I have to go to that location again from my house. When I leave to go there, if I pass that same street that I made a mistake on the last time, I know that’s not the right street to go down. I don’t drive by that street thinking, “I’m so dumb. I can’t believe I went down that street again. I went down that street the last time. I’m not going to be able to get where I want to go going forward from here because I made that mistake. I went down that wrong street.” We don’t do that. We go past that street. It’s like a GPS. Now, we all have GPS on our phones. If we think about this the same way, we need to equate our brains or thought process the same as though it’s a GPS.

What I mean by that is if I were to leave my house to go anywhere and somewhere that I didn’t know how to get there and I plugged it into my GPS or I went down the wrong street, it would simply tell me to recalculate and it would put me on the right direction. If I then got to that next street that I was supposed to turn and miss that street again, it would simply say recalculating again and it would put me on a new path. The time that it was going to take me to get there would probably increase, but at no point would it say to me, “Why don’t you pull the car over? Put it in the driveway. You’re not going to be able to get to where you’re going.” It wouldn’t do that, yet we do that to ourselves.

Always ask yourself how you could be better going forward. It will miraculously change things for you. Click To Tweet

We make a mistake. There’s a roadblock in the way. Maybe we experience a traumatic loss in our lives and somehow, we get derailed and think we can’t get to where we want to go. If we think about ourselves as the same as a GPS, then it allows us to always look at the mistakes and all of those things as an opportunity to recalculate. “I know that wasn’t the right decision. Here’s what I’ve learned because of it and how I’m going to get back on track to where my destination is.” That provides us that opportunity.

The next piece I’m going to talk about is around antique furniture. Anybody that is familiar with antique furniture, a lot of times, what we know is that the patina, which is the dirt on this piece, is oftentimes where the value comes from. I’m reminded when I watched one of the episodes of the Antiques Roadshow. There was a couple on there and they had this beautiful dresser that they had refinished. The appraiser was asking about the history of the piece. They said it had been in their family for a long time and that they finally decided to go ahead and refinish it. It looked like showroom quality. The appraiser said, “In its current condition, it’s worth about $5,000.” They were thrilled. He said, “However, had you not refinished this, it would be worth 5 to 10 times that amount.” Their faces dropped when he said that. To me, it’s no different than our own lives.

After I saw that episode, I started thinking about, “How are we similar to antique furniture as it relates to patina?” I came across this quote by an auctioneer who said, “Patina is everything that happens to an object over the course of time. The nick in the leg of a table, a scratch on a tabletop, the loss of moisture in the paint. Patina is built from all the effects, natural and man-made, that create a true antique.” When I think about that, I think natural and man-made. Those are the things that have happened to me that I didn’t have any control over but also the man-made problems that I created for myself and my past. Both of those things create my value going forward. It goes on to say, “Patina is what oftentimes gives a piece of furniture or an artifact its value. The process by which people attempt to remove the patina from the furniture or to restore. It has the unintended consequence of reducing the value of the piece.”

I think about this so often. We make mistakes. What do we do? We want to hope that nobody notices that we made those, yet that’s where our value comes in or the struggles that we’ve had, the disappointments and failures. Those things provide us the richness and value of going forward. Those do dictate and define who we will become but it’s our choice. We choose how that’s going to impact us. We live in a social world that oftentimes skews that. We look at Instagram or Facebook, where the picture is taken six times before it gets posted and it has got three different filters on it. The person that we’re seeing oftentimes isn’t even recognizable because there are so many different filters. This is about taking off the mask and being transparent. That’s where our value comes in.

The last piece that I would like to mention as it relates to this idea that your past defines who you are is around the smoke detector. We generally all have smoke detectors in our houses. Most of them are probably hardwired at this point. The analogy that I will use is that if we had food that burnt on the stove. It was just burnt food on the stove. There was no real fire and the smoke detectors were going off saying that there was a fire. I don’t think anybody would run into the street calling 911 because you know it’s not a real emergency. You would simply go over to the smoke detector. You might wave a towel in front of it or unplug it for a minute until the smoke clears, but it’s not a real emergency.

LFL 65 | Past Defines Future

Past Defines Future: A traumatic loss could instantly be a roadblock in our path to the future, but that’s not where we’re going. We need to get past that circumstance to get to our destination.


Unfortunately, our brain does not operate the same way. Our brain is similar to that smoke detector. The difference being is that it always sets off the alarm. We can imagine it as though it’s hardwired to an alarm company. What I mean by that is every time there’s burnt food on the stove, the amygdala part of our brain would look at that as smoke on the stove might be something that somebody says that’s threatening to us or offensive. Maybe it’s a decision that we decide we’re going to make, a risk that we’re going to take or we’re going to do something out of the ordinary from what we would normally do. Our brain says, “Don’t do it. This is going to cause a problem.” It sets off the alarm. When in reality, it’s not a real emergency.

If it’s in your house and it goes to the alarm company, as anybody knows that has a system like that, if they burn food, what do they have to do? They’ve got to call the alarm company quickly with a code to say, “This is not a real emergency.” We have to do the same thing to our brains. We need to pause and realize that those things that seem the scariest to us that we want to go away from or shy away from, oftentimes, it’s our brain trying to protect ourselves from something that is not a real emergency. It’s just smoke from burnt food on the stove. That’s it. We need to quiet that and remind ourselves that this is not a real emergency. When we think of each of those things in terms of your past defining your present and future, we have that ability.

If we think about it as the GPS, we’re going to make mistakes, go the wrong way and do the wrong thing. If we take that as it relates to the GPS and recalculate and find a new direction, then we’re going to overcome that. It’s not going to be an issue. If we think about even after the fact we’ve recalculated, we’re back on track is then not to beat ourselves up because we went down the wrong way. We’re not going to be able to get there the same way to look at it as though it’s antique furniture and say, “That’s where our value is going to come from.” It’s from oftentimes the nicks, dirt, and the things that are not as flattering that we’ve had to go through. Those are the things that are going to provide us the real richness and value going forward.

Lastly is when we’re in places where we’re looking to break out of a situation that was safe for us or not making a decision that we aren’t sure what’s going to happen. We want to play it safe to know that oftentimes is our brain trying to protect us. It’s going to tell us all the reasons why we shouldn’t do this but it’s no different than smoke from burnt food on the stove. It’s not a real emergency. We need to push through that, convince ourselves and talk about all the reasons why whatever we’re going to attempt to do, we will be successful. Not that we can’t.

My own personal experiences deal with each one of these, the GPS, antique furniture, and smoke detector. It’s the GPS for me from the time I was a young kid. I gave a talk where I mentioned how I was smoking cigarettes in the third grade. I was stealing them with a group of kids in the neighborhood that I was in. I jokingly say that, fortunately, it didn’t last that long. I went cold turkey and quit the habit early on. I got that out of my system, but it went onto other things from there. In eighth grade, I was drinking. In high school, I was drinking a lot through college, the same thing. I look back on those environments now and the challenges that I went through in terms of, I lost both of my parents at 17 and 18 years old, about a year and a half apart from cancer. That forced me to recalculate with my GPS. Where was I going to go?

The past is all we ever have, so we should use it to bring positive value to our present and future. Click To Tweet

I come from a large family. I’m the youngest of ten with many caring siblings, but in many aspects, I felt as though I needed to figure this out on my own. I wasn’t going to be able to rely on other people for that. I had to navigate that on my own on many levels, even though I did have the support. We’re never self-made on things but you need to be self-motivated. That’s what I had to discover from that. From there, in my late twenties, I went through a painful divorce. I had a ten-month-old son that I had primary custody of at that point. Again, the GPS needed to recalculate. What was that going to look like going forward in each one of those?

From there, I lost my job back during the 2008 crash. That was a career shock for me, which fortunately happened because that allowed me to recalculate again and provided me with the opportunity to do what I’m doing now. That’s the GPS component of this. Each of those, whether it was the death of my parents, the problems that I got into as a kid, going through a divorce, or losing a job, all of those things from the standpoint of value have provided me so much positive value. Would I want to experience them again in that order? No, probably not, but I know how much benefit I’ve received from each of those things.

Moving on, looking at my life from the standpoint of the smoke detector, there were many times where I questioned my ability, the direction I was going to go in, and the chances that I was going to take. It was always the smoke detector in my head, trying to protect myself, saying, “Don’t do it.” Each time to overcome that, it required me to be able to say, “This is not a real emergency. I will survive this. This is my mind trying to protect myself from something that I don’t need protection from right now.” Each one of those instances, the past challenges of my life, I’ve defined who I become if it wasn’t for those things and me looking back, especially on the decisions that I made that weren’t very good decisions, was to say, “How am I going to be a better person going forward? What am I going to do the next time I’m in that situation to make a better decision?”

Learning about your past will help you get back on track to where your destination is. Click To Tweet

That’s what I’ve done and what I continue to do, whether it’s recalculating, trying to find the value in the struggles, and also keeping my mind straight in regards to understanding what’s a real emergency and what’s just burnt food on the stove. When I look at how this relates to the work that I do, both coaching individuals and advising organizations on leadership and team behaviors, my background and experiences allow me to connect on many levels with people that if it wasn’t for those experiences, I don’t think I would be able to do it the same way that I’m able to do this now.

I’ll challenge you going forward. If you’re in those situations, challenge yourself to be like the GPS. Simply recalculate. When something doesn’t go your way, say, “I’m just going to recalculate.” After you recalculate, challenge yourself to say, “I’m going to learn from this. There’s going to be richness and value that’s going to come from what this event has cost.” Lastly is to constantly challenge yourself when you’re reluctant to do something that’s outside of your comfort zone. Know that most of the time, it’s not a real emergency. It has been fabricated by your brain to try and protect you against something that, quite honestly, you don’t need protection from.

I hope you’re able to take something away from this episode as it relates to your past does define your future. If you know somebody you think could benefit from this episode or any other, I would ask that you forward it on. It would mean the world to me if you would go on leave a rating or comment as it relates to this. Until our next episode, I hope you’re able to go out there and not only lead like no other but also to rise above your best.

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