The Power of Your Past

The Art of Recalling, Reclaiming, and Recasting

John Schuster (Author)

Publication date: 04/04/2011

The Power of Your Past

Bucks the current cultural obsessions with "living in the now" that devalues our rich histories and blinds us to our true potential.

  • Bucks the current cultural obsessions with "living in the now" that devalues our rich histories and blinds us to our true potential

  • Provides insight and encouragement for mining the hidden gold within our lives and reprogramming hidden self-limiting beliefs

  • Includes affirmations, exercises, and questions in every chapter along with movie and book examples that bring the concepts to life

Most of us value learning from the rich histories of well-known figures, gleaning insights from their failures, triumphs, inspirations, and key learnings. And yet how many times are we taught to devalue our own past, to live it behind--especially when it involves difficulties and unresolved challenges?

The Power of Your Past is in sharp contrast to "nowness," a concept advocated by philosophers who argue that our past has little value. It has great value, but we don't use it well. John Schuster shows the many ways we ignore, distort, or become captive to our pasts and explains how we can tap into this treasure trove of wisdom be revisiting and reframing our experiences.

Schuster describes our good experiences as evocations--they allow our gifts and possibilities to be called forth. Negative experiences are compressions--they squelch, mute, and even mangle these same gifts and possibilities. But these processes remain largely hidden from us. We need to come to grips with what our stories were and what they mean for us now. As Faulkner said. "The past is never dead. It is not even past."

To unleash the power of our past we first must recall key images and experiences that have influenced us, for good or ill. Then we can reclaim the positive experiences--deepen our understanding of their impact and use them to guide our going forward. The negative experiences must be recast--reinterpreted so that they no longer lessen our possibilities but rather serve to expand our understanding of who we are and what we can be. Schuster guides you through each step of this process of recalling, reclaiming, and recasting, helping you to live more authentically and to consciously choose your future.

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Overview

Bucks the current cultural obsessions with "living in the now" that devalues our rich histories and blinds us to our true potential.

  • Bucks the current cultural obsessions with "living in the now" that devalues our rich histories and blinds us to our true potential

  • Provides insight and encouragement for mining the hidden gold within our lives and reprogramming hidden self-limiting beliefs

  • Includes affirmations, exercises, and questions in every chapter along with movie and book examples that bring the concepts to life

Most of us value learning from the rich histories of well-known figures, gleaning insights from their failures, triumphs, inspirations, and key learnings. And yet how many times are we taught to devalue our own past, to live it behind--especially when it involves difficulties and unresolved challenges?

The Power of Your Past is in sharp contrast to "nowness," a concept advocated by philosophers who argue that our past has little value. It has great value, but we don't use it well. John Schuster shows the many ways we ignore, distort, or become captive to our pasts and explains how we can tap into this treasure trove of wisdom be revisiting and reframing our experiences.

Schuster describes our good experiences as evocations--they allow our gifts and possibilities to be called forth. Negative experiences are compressions--they squelch, mute, and even mangle these same gifts and possibilities. But these processes remain largely hidden from us. We need to come to grips with what our stories were and what they mean for us now. As Faulkner said. "The past is never dead. It is not even past."

To unleash the power of our past we first must recall key images and experiences that have influenced us, for good or ill. Then we can reclaim the positive experiences--deepen our understanding of their impact and use them to guide our going forward. The negative experiences must be recast--reinterpreted so that they no longer lessen our possibilities but rather serve to expand our understanding of who we are and what we can be. Schuster guides you through each step of this process of recalling, reclaiming, and recasting, helping you to live more authentically and to consciously choose your future.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - John Schuster

John Schuster is an author and mentor/coach (www.johnpschuster.com), and has co-owned a speaking and training firm for 25-plus years (www.skalliance.com and www.profitandcash.com). He is a faculty member for Coach Certification Programs at Columbia University and the Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, and he is pursuing a certificate in Jungian studies from Saybrook University. He is also a coach for Merryck & Company, a CEO-mentoring firm, and works for nonprofit and government organizations.

John is the author of such books as Answering Your Call: A Guide to Living Your Deepest Purpose (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2003), Hum-Drum to Hot-Diggity on Leadership (Steadfast Publishers, 2001), and two books on open-book management. His clients include the American Academy of Family Physicians, corporations and hospitals, and many smaller midsize organizations.

John is a green advocate; pursues gardening, tennis, and guitar; and has three grandchildren. He is married to his business partner, Patricia Kane. He believes in learning communities, sustainability, and local food. He works to create markets and communities that work for everyone, and he naps whenever possible.

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Table of Contents


Contents
Preface Introduction: Your Past Can Work for You 3
Part I: Discovering the Power of Your Past 15
Chapter 1: The Underused Past: The Price of Forgotten Yesterdays 19
Chapter 2: Good and Bad News: Evoked and Compressed 45
Part II: Tapping the Power of Your Past 69 Chapter 3: Recall 73 Chapter 4: Reclaim 101 Chapter 5: Recast 127
Part III: Channeling the Power of Your Past 151
Chapter 6: Answering the Big Question: When to Say Yes and No 155
Chapter 7: Using Suffering to Grow 175
Notes 191 Acknowledgments 195 Index 197 About the Author 205

Preface

Introduction: Your Past Can Work for You

Part I: Discovering the Power of Your Past

Chapter One: The Underused Past: The Price of Forgotten Yesterdays

Chapter Two: Good and Bad News: Evoked and Compressed

Part II: Tapping the Power of Your Past

Chapter Three: Recall

Chapter Four: Reclaim

Chapter Five: Recast

Part III: Channeling the Power of Your Past

Chapter Six: Answering the Big Question: When to Say Yes and No

Chapter Seven: Using Suffering to Grow

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

About the Author


ContentsPreface Introduction: Your Past Can Work for You 3Part I: Discovering the Power of Your Past 15Chapter 1: The Underused Past: The Price of Forgotten Yesterdays 19Chapter 2: Good and Bad News: Evoked and Compressed 45Part II: Tapping the Power of Your Past 69 Chapter 3: Recall 73 Chapter 4: Reclaim 101 Chapter 5: Recast 127Part III: Channeling the Power of Your Past 151Chapter 6: Answering the Big Question: When to Say Yes and No 155Chapter 7: Using Suffering to Grow 175Notes 191 Acknowledgments 195 Index 197 About the Author 205

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Excerpt

The Power of Your Past

Introduction:
Your Past Can Work for You

A common story line for movies and novels is the amnesia-stricken hero, who doesn’t know who he is or how he got to wherever the story starts. We meet him as he embarks on a quest to find out his story.

We are all that character. In the movies, the amnesia is total. Our amnesia is partial. Either way, the effect of the amnesia is a kind of disorientation. We know that we are somewhere, doing something, and we wonder why. In the movies, a sinister secret spy agency or a trauma to the head is the common origin of the amnesia. In our case, the origin is a culture that encourages us to disconnect from our past and focus on the present and future.

You are the hero here. You are about to go on a quest to overcome amnesia by harnessing the power of your past and clarifying your identity and direction. Amnesia is a metaphor; your being a hero is not.

MANY OF US don’t have a useful, full relationship with our past, the kind that could inform us for a lifetime. We avoid the difficult parts and underuse the enriching parts, when we could draw lessons and energy from both. We find ways to demonize, sentimentalize, ignore, forget, and more.

What we don’t know does indeed hurt us. We don’t know what we don’t know about our collective underuse and misuse of our past. We don’t know what our personal history can do for us or how our amnesia carries such a big price tag in life and work. The price is paid at different times and in different ways, but it is always paid in full.

I recently witnessed a seven-year-veteran vice president of a large enterprise getting fired for his collective acts of self-delusion, ones that had grown more dramatic over time as he refused to confront his inner scam. He blamed and undermined the boss artfully at first, and then increasingly recklessly. He subtly and then not-so-subtly manipulated his employees’ impressions, and hid the contracts that weren’t working. It all went up in flames of indignation that he could be so underappreciated when his “incompetent” boss delivered the termination.

Some false story he had started spinning about his capabilities and his role, born of past failures to accept feedback and see the truth, became the fiction that led to his demise. Among other things, he pictured himself as the smartest guy in the room and felt that being reared in a tough environment with ample money gave him an edge over his rural-born, middle-class boss. He wasn’t, and it didn’t.

This executive’s behavior is an example of what Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, describes as flawed leadership: “Many leaders . . . leave little room for self exploration. . . . Often, [they can] be successful for a while, but it [leaves] them highly vulnerable, as their lack of self-awareness can lead to major mistakes and errors in judgment.” 1 The seven-year veteran was all of these: vulnerable and without enough awareness to see his huge errors in judgment.

When we approach our yesterdays with the courage to confront their truths and the imagination to expand on their lessons, then we move into our future equipped with richly sculpted identities.

This collective amnesia exists for a reason: many argue that the past has no value. None other than Eckhart Tolle, who has a sizable following, starts out his popular book on the importance of staying in the moment, The Power of Now, with this sentence: “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it.” 2 And then he argues for a few hundred pages on why now is the only source of real human potency.

“Little use for the past”? This is an extreme position to take and feels like a loss—and, in many instances, an outright danger. Our yesterdays are a rich vein for learning and more, if we use them well. We all sense the validity of Santayana’s axiom, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 3

I contend that an easier and more fruitful way to improve our awareness is to do what we do naturally, which is to scan our past, creatively. Our memories are more important than doing mental gymnastics on behalf of all-powerful nowness. Our history is richer and more useful as a resource than pretending we don’t have it. I grant Mr. Tolle that in one sense, now is all we have, and I would grant him that many of us attend to our history quite poorly. Yes, we can get stuck in our stories as we repeat them. 4 But that in no way means that we should not regularly dip into our yesterdays with awareness and care, learning what we can from them and drawing inspiration and self-definition.

Niels Bohr, the early-20th-century physicist, said that the opposite of one profound truth is another profound truth. It is the dynamic tensions between polar opposites that hold the field of truth. So this book will provide the truth opposing nowness.

Using your past well is not a cakewalk, but it is easier for most, and I would say more fruitful, than nowing-it-out at all times, minimizing the lessons of your yesterdays. More on this when we discuss our underused past.

THE PRICE: WHAT YOU ARE UNAWARE OF CONTROLS YOU

The failure to understand the truth of our yesterdays leads to errors in judgment and a significant sapping of our energy. It robs us of the very power that life yearns to have flow through us. Each denial and misassessment, even the small ones, has a cost. Collectively, they go far beyond any price we think we may be paying. This amnesia-caused mistaken sense of ourselves creates major obstacles in three important areas:

Image Identity: We fall short of identifying who we are and what we are here to do.

Image Potential: It lessens the expression of our unique capacities and our ability to make a difference.

Image Self-direction: It allows us to be influenced by others and the social messages around us rather than charting our own course.

Not knowing how to harness the power of yesterday is an honest-to-goodness showstopper. It is a game ender, a crying-out-loud shame, a mission mangler.

I vividly remember the woman at a workshop who came up to me at a break and said, “I feel like a puddle compared with my husband.” My heart got a bit caught in my throat at this offhand self-destructive description. The image of her negatively comparing herself to a puddle will never leave me—what a devastating self-assessment, at what cost, devoid of any realization of her inner beauty, gifts, or opportunities to be uniquely herself in the world. Without any more information, we can all sense how the puddle image damages her identity, her potential, and her self-direction. What in her distant and more recent past had driven her to such a conclusion?

TRANSFORMING THE MOMENT THROUGH REDISCOVERING YESTERDAY

Misinterpreting your past is one thing. Using it really well is another. Let me give you a few examples.

You can’t be around Tommy Emmanuel, whom many think is the world’s greatest guitarist, without getting infected by his enthusiasm. 5 He is contagious with possibilities, the beauty of music, and laughter. And he has a million and one stories from his past. When I interviewed him, he shared this one.

“I came over here in 1980 [from Australia]. I was 25, I came to America the first time. I remember I was sitting in Chet Atkins’s office waiting for him to come downstairs . . . and it hit me like a ton of bricks where I was. I’d made it to America and I was sitting in Chet Atkins’s office. And for a second I kind of had a small panic attack and thinking, “Oh my God, what if I just sound like a terrible version of him?” You know what I mean? And he’ll go, “Oh, no, not another one.” And I panicked for a second.

And when he came in the room, he put his arm around me and a sense of peace really came over me immediately, and he said, “Do you want to pick a little?” . . . And I started playing “Me and Bobby McGee.” And he’s watching me really closely. And I’m trying to play well for my idol, my hero, my mentor. And he says, “I didn’t do that, I didn’t do that,” and he’s pointing to all these things that I’m doing. It was his way of saying, “You’re doing your own thing.” And it was a really great moment. And I learned. . . . It hit me years later when I was talking about that, I suddenly realized, “Wow! He never said, ‘You play just like me.’ He said, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And it dawned on me what he’d done. And he sent me away 10 feet tall. 6

It was years after that first encounter with the incomparable Chet Atkins that Tommy realized the full power of what Chet had given him. Tommy’s memory, not affected by amnesia, contains this story and thousands more, from what I could tell by being with him at guitar camp. 7 His passion for guitar fully links to his memories of his life and of the gifts he received, and to the gift he is to the world of music.

I know a female entrepreneur from South America who worked for the United Nations in her 20s before starting her own business in Manhattan. In a recent distressed state of overwork and being stretched too thin, she needed to remind herself of why she put up with these hassles of entrepreneurship. As her mentor, I evoked a salient memory of the time she single-handedly, totally outside of her job duties, rewired a floor of the United Nations for some new IT capacity, rather than waiting for the bureaucracy to respond. This incident, the 25-year-old version of her taking charge, making up her own rules as she went along, revivified in her imagination the core path for her life’s work. She was bound to go the route, rocky at times, of an entrepreneur forging her own way in the volatile financial services industry.

REMEMBRANCE: THE PROCESS FOR CAPTURING THE POWER OF YESTERDAY

The process we will use for tapping the power of our past is remembrance, the willful act of imaginative remembering to overcome any form of amnesia. Remembrance includes three distinct phases: recalling, reclaiming, and recasting:

1. Recalling—mapping our unique past

2. Reclaiming—amplifying lessons from the positives

3. Recasting—reinterpreting lessons from the negatives

Your past should sing and play and work for you, like it does for Tommy Emmanuel. The remembrance process, which is a guided tour of your yesterdays, will most likely also make you sweat some—recalling, reclaiming, and recasting is not a one-way coast downhill. It might even make you bleed a little, in a good way, as you come in deeper contact with your core.

Many authors include exercises that have readers delve into their past. Books on improving your relationships, on money matters, and on food issues often include a section on getting at the origins of your limited current thinking that is causing underperformance and problems. These are piecemeal approaches to our yesterdays because of their singular focus, and they most often are getting at the negatives without fully appreciating the positives. These authors have a feeling for our accepted amnesia and forgetfulness. They sense the power latent in the past with payoffs for our identity, potential, and self-direction, but don’t have a full appreciation of remembrance as we will use it.

Our approach here is balanced, on the positives with reclaiming and on the negatives that need recasting. It is also comprehensive. We naturally confront our past, in part and haphazardly, at events like weddings, funerals, holidays, and class reunions. All these events offer opportunities to reframe the lessons from our yesterdays. We experience them with varying degrees of awareness and rarely think of them as times to increase our self-knowledge, even though that often happens.

Here we are more intentional, as we systematically address the fundamentals that we all need to review. I will also encourage you to go past the basics into the specific memory sets that hold the most meaning for you. We will use both creative and analytical approaches, and you’ll get to decide what is your best combination of thinking processes. Only our own higher-level thinking can address the three obstacles that our amnesia causes: not knowing who we are (identity), not using all of our gifts (potential), and not doing it our way (self-direction).

WARNING ON TRAUMA

This book provides methods for attaining more self-awareness and wisdom. It is not a replacement for therapy. All of us have a range of negative experiences in our yesterdays, from the slightly negative to the horrific. If you have not done any work on the serious negative events, get some professional therapeutic help. Even if you have done some therapeutic work, but you still have some past events that bring up significant pain, anger, or anxiety, you need to take action. Also, if you suffer from intense mood swings, see a professional. Go to the sources in your network—a friend, the Internet, your church—and find referrals for the assistance you need.

I am not pushing you lightly on this. Can you feel that big heavy push in the middle of your back to take this step? That is me.

I used to be reluctant, as many of us still are, to use a therapist to review past problems and limits. I used to think therapy and its claim of healing damage incurred in earlier life chapters was for those who were not normal or strong enough to be happy.

I don’t think that anymore.

The more we bury old damage by not attending to it, the greater the chances that we are seriously stuck somewhere in our lives and work, not knowing how to proceed. Bully bosses, wimpy workers, women who love too much, men who can’t access their feelings, those who are afraid to assert or have to be the center of attention, everyone who borders on or is a full-fledged workaholic—all are stuck in past mental/emotional patterns that limit their life, work, and leadership.

So go get some competent therapy if you never have, and you can read more on this in chapter 5, on recasting.

Image Core takeaway idea: Your yesterdays are filled with lessons and energy waiting to be tapped.

Image STATEMENTS OF INTENT TO ENGAGE THE WILL AND FIRE THE IMAGINATION

My past is a unique and extremely valuable resource.

I absorb the lessons of my personal history as a primary means to embrace my potential and to explore my future with a full appreciation of my gifts.

Yesterday’s lessons are available to me as a storehouse of wisdom for today’s decisions.

Image QUESTIONS FOR SELF-REFLECTION

The executive mentioned at the outset was fired because of his false sense of self, born of the inflated judgment that his past had given him powers that set him above the team, including his boss. What haunts me is how we all carry around faulty thinking, the kind just out of our awareness, like in the old V8 Juice ads where people hit themselves on the head in a “What was I thinking?!” moment of realization. Our poor learning and unlearning, embedded in our history, inevitably leads to self-induced setbacks perhaps even more severe than getting fired.

Let’s begin the process of lessening that unlearning with some questions concerning our self-awareness that deserve our attention.

Image How well do I integrate the gifts of my body, my mind, my will, my feelings, my sense of play, my enthusiasm for learning, in a way that helps me to be a well-balanced person?

Image Do I get stuck in a major way of being (I am my relationships, or I am my thoughts, or I am my work) and underdevelop the other ways of being?

Image How well do I follow my own path versus the one that my family permitted or my surroundings rewarded?

Image Do I combine the best of the models for life and work that I observed, and options I was given, with those I created for myself? What examples can I think of?

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Endorsements

"With gentle wisdom and real-world common sense, John Schuster offers a refreshing way to uncover purpose in the only place is truly exists: inside your mind, heart...and past. It should take its rightful place on every seeker's must-read list!"

--Richard Leider, bestselling coauthor of Repacking your Bags and author of The Power of Purpose

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