Erasing Personal History

If you’re like me the first time I read this phrase, you’re asking yourself, “What does that even mean, erasing personal history?” If you’re like me, you’re intrigued to find out.

Almost 20 years ago, I was assigned in a college course to read The Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda. At that time – and to this day – it remains one of the strangest and most challenging books I’ve ever read.  Though easy to dismiss as the drug induced ramblings of both the author and narrator, the prose was at once as direct as it was confusing.  After seven readings, I’ve come to understand that my attraction to this novel is fused to both the mystery and the majesty of its protagonist’s (Don Juan) innate ability to cut through the self-created bullshit piled in our minds with candid, poignant, and humorous life lessons. Erasing personal history is one of those life lessons.

The gist of this lesson is twofold: first, almost instantaneously and over time people form an idea of you; second, no matter how you mature and change, no matter how long it has been since you last saw the person (be it a year or a day or a decade), everything you do confirms their idea of you. For example, like to try new hobbies because it increases your learning and keeps your mind active? Ask a friend and she might say, “Betty’s so flighty; she can’t even commit to a single hobby for any length of time.” Like to do things on your own, without your spouse or partner, because it feeds your soul in a necessary way for your happiness? Ask a family member and he might say, “You’ve always been selfish taking time away from your family. I guess you don’t really care about us.”

Erasing personal history is at its core the following advice: stop giving a crap about what people think of you because most likely their thoughts don’t reflect an understanding of the real or current you.

I like to think I’ve been moderately successful at not caring about what others think of me, but I will never be 100% successful and don’t want to be. I couldn’t care less if people like my tattoos, my political opinions,  or my clothes or if they agree with or approve of my decisions,  choices, or taste; however, when if comes to living according to my values, I care very much that people experience me in a way that is congruent to and representative of those values.

What I hope I’ve been more successful at – and what I challenge you to strive to do – is not pinning anyone down with my ideas of them. Change and growth being of utmost importance to me, I would never want to deny, ignore, or not recognize changes manifest in someone else. Our ability to adapt and learn, gain wisdom and mature, cultivate our interests and passions (new and old) is the nucleus of joy in life and love.

Allowing those in your life to change, or rather allowing your thoughts of that person to change, is a tremendous gift to bestow, not least because it helps them change how they think of themselves. Encourage the ones you love to discover, embrace, and reveal the healthy parts of themselves hitherto unknown to you and, perhaps, unknown to themselves. The fact that those closest to you change and that your thoughts about them change is not a betrayal of your relationship or of you. Allowing the ones we love the liberty to adapt and to change in our minds and seeing them for who they are now engenders deeper commitment, loyalty, passion, and in essence erases personal history.

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