The Past as Prologue: How Experience Shapes You

ID-10067212Life is full of daily lessons. We interpret experiences; tag them as good, bad or neutral; file them into memory (or not); and create stories about ourselves. If you want self-awareness, take a look at how experience has shaped your stories.

“Many leaders point to their childhoods as the source of important ideas and values, and the time when they began to develop emotional energy and edge.” ~ Noel M. Tichy, The Leadership Engine

Our stories are, in fact, quite loosely “based on a true story,” as the tagline boasts in movies and books. It’s not about what actually happened, but how we remember and form the story that joins our library of experiences. As Gail Sheehy notes in New Passages:

“The mind is formed to an astonishing degree by the act of inventing and censoring ourselves. We create our own plot line. And that plot line soon turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Psychologists have found that the way we tell our stories becomes key. Our perceptions of ourselves and others dictate how our stories define, defend and justify our actions and identity.

If you want to improve your self-awareness, start by examining your life stories. Deep psychoanalysis is not required! You can begin with some writing exercises or work with a trusted friend, mentor or coach.

This article explores how experiences are interpreted and preserved, and offers writing exercises to improve self-awareness through the ability to reframe our life stories.


This is a brief synopsis of an 825-word article and Article Nuggets*, suitable for consultants’ newsletters for executives and leaders in organizations. It is available for purchase with full reprint rights, which means you may put your name on it and use it in your newsletters, blogs or other marketing materials. You may also modify it and add your personal experiences and perspectives.

The complete article includes these important concepts:

  • The Past is a Map to the Future
  • The Formative Years
  • Writing Exercises
  • How Personality is Formed
  • Your Childhood Revisited


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