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You Can Control What You Do Today

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” ~Pericles

Life is full of challenges. These obstacles are the greatest teachers we can have.

As I’m sure is true for all of us, I have struggled with many things throughout my life. I used to feel a sense of “woe is me,” but I’ve learned to leverage these experiences to make positive changes in life.

Don’t let your history dominate your life. We have a choice. You can let your past be the ruler of your life—or, you can make a choice to change your attitude and perspective. 

I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My parents showed little in the way of affection, and I dare say they stayed together “for the kids.” This was a recipe for disaster. Water boils at 212 degrees, and our family was moving closer to that boiling point on a daily basis.

The inevitable collapse came to fruition during the summer of my freshman year of college, in 1995.  After an intense argument, I had to separate my parents from a potentially disastrous physical altercation.

A call to the police was made, and my dad was taken to jail for the night. Twenty-six years of marriage gone in an instant. That was it. My dad moved out the next day.

I felt extreme guilt. I was faced with unending questions about what I could’ve done to save my parents’ marriage. I didn’t allow myself to grieve. I felt the grief my parents were feeling was enough for all of us.

I buried these feelings and numbed myself. My negativity and destructive thinking overwhelmed me. I was never the same as a college athlete, as I let my personal challenges affect my confidence. My relationship was never the same with my girlfriend. It eventually went up in smoke.

My biggest mistake was never talking to anyone about what I was going through. I turned to drugs and alcohol to ease the pain. This only caused more problems. 

It took many years for me to come to the realization that this wasn’t my fault. My immaturity and lack of perspective placed a burden on me that I thought was insurmountable. As the years went by, I learned to open up and seek help.

I eventually made a decision: I could be the victim of my past and let life go by. Or, I could take control and learn from these experiences.

If you take this “learning” approach, you change your perspective. You don’t forget your past, but you find a way to push forward because you appreciate what the bumps in the road taught you about who you want to be. The beautiful part about life is that we all have the ability to make changes.

As I began to view my past through the lens of learning, I started making better choices.

My career began to flourish. The constant anxiety I felt started to diminish because my focus turned to what I could control, and to my future. I met an amazing girl, who I eventually married. We now have two incredible children and I couldn’t ask for more out of life.

Now, my complete focus is living for today and building for the future. I feel a sense of purpose—to create a great life for me and my family, and to help people however I can.

I’ve learned that this is the true meaning of life. One of my favorite quotes is by Arthur Ashe, “You make a living by what you get; however, you make a life by what you give.”

Do I struggle with my past from time to time? Absolutely. When I find myself dwelling, I remember that these experiences helped me learn to appreciate and enjoy the good things in life.

We all experience setbacks. Don’t drown in negativity. Ask for help if you need it. Whether you consult a professional or simply confide in a friend or family member, open up. Is this easy to do? Hell no. I promise you, however, it will help immensely.

Embrace your challenges, knowing they don’t have to rule your life. You can’t control the past or the future, but you can control what you do today.

Photo by Bruno_Caimi

Profile photo of Jon Giganti

About Jon Giganti

Jon is the founder of The Catalyst Project, a blog about work/life performance and contributing to the world.  In addition to writing and coaching, Jon is in corporate technology sales and serves on the Board of Trustees for the non-profit, Creative Living.  He lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and two children.

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  • Jameilla

    This is one amazing post!  I so need this.  <3

  • Apple

    That was incredible. What struck me is that your story is quite similar to mine. I grew up with a similar family dynamic. My freshman year of college, I dealt with a situation similar to what you described. The summer after my freshmaN year, I was the mediator between my parents in a series of intense fights. I pretended I was ok, stayed silent about it, and to resolve my problems, I turned to drinking, drugs, and random, unsafe
    sexual encounters. Your post is so refreshing, because I constantly have to remind myself to let go and to use the hurt constructively. Thank you for reminding me not to wallow, that we have power over the present and the future, and the past does not decide the future. I needed that. God bless.

  • John King

    We have the same story. Enjoyed the read. Thanx!

  • I had to bear witness to actual physical altercations – one so brutal that my mother was left with gashes in her skull, bleeding profusely and all I did was standby helplessly and watch. I don’t think I’ve quite reached the stage where you are, but I know I’ve definitely given up the drugs and alcohol. I have struggled to form relationships with members of the opposite sex. On the other hand, I have a sterling education, I’ve been successful in most other ventures and I’ve finally managed to start letting go of a lot of the hurt and pain that has been such an imprint on my life. Thanks for sharing this story.

  • What

    I don’t need to read the book now, I just read the good part above!

  • Read this in time for what I’ve been going through. I grew up in an abusive household, and I’ve gone through sexual abuse by former partner. It took me ages to realize how I’ve let the past bog me down and keep me from moving forward. I guess you could say I pitied myself a lot, which tends to be a bad thing. It was like.. I had an excuse for everything I failed at doing. “Why aren’t you so outspoken and confident?” – my excuse would be: Because my parents made me this way…blahblah..blah..blah. It doesn’t help anything really. It even bogs OTHER people down. Nobody likes excuses really.

  • Narwhaltat

    I have had a very similar journey to yours .. I too buried my feelings and numbed myself in order to be around my parents and their own pain .. and have been gradually peeling back the layers of feelings .. brushing away the soil and the sand .. and discovering the treasures I buried along with the pain .. joy, laughter, play, fun, sunshine .. and I need regular reminders to breath into the love .. thank you for this wise reminder :o)

  • agreed!!! but i think understanding and confronting the past as you did, esp the emotions and thoughts, serves to set us straight for today 🙂

  • Jon Giganti

     Hi Apple – I’m so, so sorry for not responding sooner!  I’m happy that my story has helped you.  We do have to remind ourselves that we need to learn from the past.  Fear is crippling and a lot of times we let it take over our lives.  Stay strong!

  • Jon Giganti

     Thanks John…so sorry for the delay in responding.

  • Jon Giganti

     Hi Jameilla – So sorry for the delay in responding.  Didn’t know these were on here.  So glad this helped!

  • Jon Giganti

     Hi Noch – I’m with you!

  • Jon Giganti

     Hi Narwhaltat – Thanks for commenting.  Sorry for the delay!  Yes – we have to take what we’ve experienced in the past and let it go. Don’t forget, but forgive.  It makes us stronger and the ability to experience joy and love is that much greater when we’ve experienced pain.  Best of luck to you.

  • Jon Giganti

     Jen – I totally understand.  I never wanted to admit I was afraid or had a problem.  I blamed myself.  It was a bad path.  Not until I came to the realization that it wasn’t about me, that I was ok, did I enable myself to experience happiness.  Thanks for commenting!