We have all had various experiences that have had a significant affect on who we are. What I’ve noticed over time is that it’s not so much the experience itself that is important, but the meaning we assign to the experience. What is the story we tell ourselves about that experience? That’s what affects who we are, future decisions we make, and how we interact with others.
For instance, my parents were divorced when I was 8 years old. The way that affected me is different than the way it affected other people who were in a similar situation. I remember noticing this as a teenager. I saw other kids with divorced parents and how they experienced it differently. It was even different between my siblings and me.
The meaning we create from our experiences shape who we are.
I saw this quite clearly during a recent client program. I was working with a group of CEOs who were part of the TEC Executive Program. They meet monthly to get support, guidance, and advice from peers. The ultimate purpose is to help each member be a better CEO, a better employer, and a better person. I was there to help them build a deeper level of trust with each other so they could be more vulnerable and more real together.
One way we learn to trust others is through getting to know their story, learning about their experiences and the learnings that have emerged. As a way to share life stories together I led them through an activity simply called Tell Your Story.
Each person got a piece flip chart paper and some markers. They had 10 minutes to draw their life story, then 5 minutes to share the story with the group.
After the 8 CEOs shared their story I was struck by one common theme. Every one of them had challenges they had dealt with of various sorts. That wasn’t unusual. That could be said of nearly every human. It was that every one of them had this attitude of taking charge of their life. Not in a controlling sort of way, but in a way that said, “I get to decide how I approach life and this is how I want to live.”
Each one of them spoke about specific decisions they had made with that particular attitude. For most of them they had shifted at some point in their life to recognize that they had choices about life and the type of person they could be. For nearly all of them embracing that philosophy led them to their current role as CEO and more importantly, helped them thrive in that role.
All of them had figured out that the meaning we create from our experiences shape who we are and we get to create the meaning, therefore create our own lives.
What experiences have you had that affected your life? What meaning did you glean from those experiences? What other meanings can you create?
This week, pay attention to small things that happen during the week. How do you react? What meaning do you create in the moment? What if you gave the experience a different meaning? What would it be? How would it affect you?
I’d love to hear what you learn! Leave a comment below to share with me and others. Thank you!