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PRODUCT.|PHILOSOPHY.|LIFE.

Revisiting the past


"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

I'm a sucker for stories. And always get a high when I'm able to connect the dots that led to a particular scenario. That probably explains why I like doing the two things that take up a majority of my time - product management, where everything that we solve for is eventually tied back to a 'user story', and writing. 

There are a ton of biographies that you can read and they all have one simple thing in common. They are written about someone famous, and over the span of the book, various events in that person's life are explored and the writer finds a way to connect them and attribute some aspect of the subject's future success (or failure) to these events. Biographies are about making a coherent story out of the life events of, usually, a successful person. 

While biographies are the ones that get published, each of us have our own auto-biographies in our heads, where we connect the various events in our lives that have led us to where we are now. While doing this (or reading a biography) can give you an idea about how things got to the state they are, it is by no means a replicable model. What you take away from a biography is not the things that the successful person did so that you can do the same. It is the attributes of the person instead. 

Some of you who have spoken to me may have heard my own story of how I've come to be doing what I'm doing now. That's me connecting the dots from my past. While this is something that makes us feel like we understand how things work and spur us on by making us think that we can control where things will move from here, it can also be a hindrance. For instance, the story that you tell yourself has a huge bearing on the things that you will allow yourself to do going forward. 

The story that you tell yourself shapes who you are as much as the actual things that you have done. So the narrative is important. And it needn't be set in stone. If you are willing to revisit the narrative and look at it from a different angle when you need to, it keeps you more flexible to do what you need to do going forward. And it is up to you to decide what can be revisited and what needs to be set in stone. 

As Jon says, you don't have to have a past that makes sense. But it definitely helps if you do. And the only person that needs to make sense of it is you. 

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