Your past is multiple choice.
There’s rarely a cohesive story.
We like to try and make stories out of our lives. We assign different life changing decisions to different life changing situations and experiences. We look for the apple that fell from the tree and inspired the theory of gravity.
Everyone likes to sift through the lives of people like Steve Jobs and Joan Didion and look for a narrative thread that makes their decisions and their reasoning ordered and structured. Biographies do this all the time, and we keep on reading them.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, there’s not always a simple story. People aren’t usually superheroes, who have easy back stories involving toxic sludge and Gotham city and singular events that spark life long, spandex suited crusades.
Most people aren’t Batman, with an easy to follow childhood story that defines their every action. You know what people are? People are a lot more like the Joker, who famously said:
If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!
People’s lives only make sense in retrospect to them and anyone else if they give certain values to all the random crap that happened to them at different times. It’s not something people do consciously, it tends to just be a natural reaction, as we attempt to prove to ourselves that the random crap had a point.
I think the great thing about people is that we are, in fact, just a bunch of wildly inconsistent creatures roaming about a huge rock doing a series of things for a series of reasons that even we will never completely understand.
Nobody has a single personality. The way we act, react, respond and reply to the world around us is rarely consistent, and it can change from day to day and from minute to minute. This is why it’s so hard to see anyone’s future, because people change tracks at the flick of a subconscious switch, and they do it all the time.
Take me. I’ll respond completely differently to a business opportunity if I’ve been watching Seinfeld than I would if I’ve been watching Suits. I’ll order a different meal if I’ve taken one route to the office instead of another. I attribute some of my best decisions and choices in life to the mood my sneakers put me in.
And one of the biggest deciders of my behavior is whether I’m dealing with a problem before or after I’ve eaten. When I’m hungry, I can be a mean son of a gun. When I’ve smashed a cheeseburger, I’m like a kindly wizard. It’s all constantly changing, all the time.
I know I have no chance of turning my past into a fully cohesive story. How do you weave punk rock, entrepreneurship, comic book writing, six months of law school, tech blogging, tattoo flash drawing, full time touring, record producing, burger flipping, marketing, freelance design and child care work into a beginning, a middle and an end? It just doesn’t happen.
I can understand a few elements of me. I know I communicate online and through writing because of the problems I had with my speech when I was a kid. I know I got into music because my brothers played me the Grateful Dead and the Sex Pistols. But I can’t find one simple narrative in any of it.
And it’s okay. You don’t have to have a past that makes sense. You don’t have to be able to look back and point to a series of milestones and say yeah, that’s where I made my destiny. If you can, good for you. But it doesn’t matter.
Jon Westenberg has appeared and published in Business Insider, Inc.com, TIME and dozens of other publications, talking about startup entrepreneurship, writing and innovation. Jon has helped hundreds of businesses worldwide grow their audience and take control of their future. Jon is an investor, an entrepreneur and a digital publisher. He is the founder of Creatomic, a globally recognized communications firm.