Is Your Past Dictating Your Future? Live Your Dreams Despite Your Past

I received in my inbox today a VERY ENCOURAGING message from someone I knew growing up. She doesn’t know that I’m using her as the inspiration for today’s post so in an effort to keep her identity anonymous, I will call her Lisa.

Lisa has been following the blog since its inception. Which by the way hasn’t even been a week! So it’s nice to already have some loyal supporters. Thanks Lisa!

In summary, she shared with me how she felt she made some less than positive choices growing up, skimmed on her education, and is now regretting not putting more effort into her future when she had the chance to as a teenager.  She didn’t attend college and now, as a young mother with a family to support, she would like to move forward in fulfilling that dream.

How many of us can relate to her story!? I certainly know that I can. How many times does that mental movie play over and over in your head? Those scenes when in high school you didn’t try out for that school play, cheerleading squad, band, football team, debate team, etc.? Because you were too afraid or felt you weren’t skilled enough?

Maybe your movie is a little bit different. Maybe you squandered your free time watching television and partying, instead of studying; or your priorities lied more in the boy or girl sitting next to you in class than in what the teacher was saying; or maybe you were too occupied trying to fit in with the “it” crowd that nothing else seemed to be as important.

Well, at some point in our lives, we realize our mistakes. But there are few of us who accept them. As I shared with Lisa, what’s so inspiring about her story is that she accepted her past as the past, and is now resolved to learn from it and move forward in her life more positively and more proactively. How inspiring is that!? I was truly humbled and it certainly gave me the motivation to write to you today.

What’s REALLY holding you back?

There can be several roadblocks — imagined or real — that keep us from forging ahead to pursue our dreams. For Lisa it was the concern that by her attending college while working full-time, it would somehow keep her from her family. And she’s right. Anytime you take on more responsibility outside of the home, it will inevitably steal some time away from the people who are closest to you. 

But the question here isn’t whether it will steal time from her loved ones, it’s ‘How will it enrich the time when they are together?’

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves as we consider the plans to achieve our greatest ambition is to change our perception. Getting a college degree these days can take as little as a couple years’ commitment. And those years go by so fast.

This reminds me of my own story. When I graduated from high school, I attended junior college in my home town for a year and then decided I wanted to pursue acting. So I auditioned for an acting school in Hollywood, got accepted and before I knew it I was Hollywood-bound. I attended acting school for a year. But after that year of training, living in Hollywood, and mingling with celebrities I realized the lifestyle (or what I perceived it to be) just wasn’t for me. I felt God was calling me to do something else with my life.

So, I enrolled in another junior college in L.A., which thankfully at the time practically allowed anyone with limited income to attend for free. I was living completely on my own and voluntarily without the financial support of my family. Needless to say, as 19-year-old young woman I struggled immensely.

I was broke, always had an overdrawn bank account, some debt and no place to stay. Thankfully, I had made some true friends who took me in and supported me when I needed them.

Honestly, along the way, I was constantly bombarded with thoughts of self-doubt and insecurity. I also felt some regret because, while I was a good student, I too didn’t make the most of high school and the opportunities afforded me. That was partly because at the time I wasn’t aware of the opportunities (with regard to college) and I didn’t know who to ask to inform me of them.

At the 2-year college in L.A., I felt insecure about the fact that I was an “older” student attending college, and I struggled with working full-time and maintaining my grades. I didn’t have a car so I was relegated to relying on L.A. public transportation (and some of you may know first-hand how frustrating and unreliable the L.A. transportation system can be). And if that wasn’t enough, for almost an entire year I didn’t even carry a cell phone. How sad is that?

Despite these things, I pushed through. I excelled in school and received awards and opportunities because of my academic performance. In short, I eventually transferred to Howard University graduating cum laude with a degree in journalism. It was my highest achievement and I certainly never imagined graduating with such honors. Again, reinforcing the power of belief coupled with action.

Through the years, I’ve observed in my life and in others several things that we often ALLOW to hold us back.

  1. Fear (of failure/ success): The key thing to remember about fear is that it almost always isn’t true or reality. It’s something we perceive might happen in the future, but that generally never materializes into anything more than just a thought.  Other words for fear are worry, anxiety, dread, and panic. We can calm our fears by imagining the greatest outcome rather than the worst. By doing so, we are also planting the proper seeds in our mind and tapping into the power of thinking.
  2. Finances: Who is NOT living paycheck-to-paycheck these days? Our struggling economy certainly doesn’t support a community of Career Pioneers and dreamers. (Unless you’re a part of Obama’s bailout strategy.) On the other hand, when times get tough sometimes some of our best ideas and most creative solutions to generate more income rise to the surface. Tap into your talents, interests, hobbies, network and find creative ways to raise funds to support your dreams. Maybe your solution will be to simply live on less.
  3. The Haters: When you start to live your dreams, the wolves come out of the woods. There are people around every corner ready to bring you down and tell you that your dream is impossible. And beware, these people might even be someone you know well and who seemingly has your best interests in mind. It could be a family member, a best friend, a religious leader, or a co-worker. Keep in mind that while they might not intend to discourage you, they also might not want to see you succeed. It’s a hard truth, but one that must be recognized. Don’t let the naysayers deter you from accomplishing your goals. If you believe in yourself and your ability to rise above your circumstances, in the end there will be more people cheering you on, than the so-called haters.
  4. Self-doubt: What does your inner voice tell you when you’re about to launch a new project, or go out on a limb to try something new, or decide to be courageous? “You can’t do that.” “No one’s going to believe in you.” “You’re not educated enough.” “Your nose is too big.” “They won’t understand where you’re coming from.” “You can’t even speak well.” “They’ll support you in the beginning, but as time goes on the loyal followers will start to drop off.” And the list goes on and on. Why not change the channel for once and start listening to more positive, affirming voices? You have the choice. All it takes is a little willpower and faith! The truth is, is that anything is possible! There are people who have come out of the depths of poverty and have exceeded their wildest dreams. If they can do it, so can you!
  5. Lack of planning/information: There are many projects that I’ve started with a lack of information or without a plan (and a plan b. and plan c.) in mind. Sometimes, these are necessary not because you might fail, but to set yourself up for a more successful outcome. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple one paragraph plan or vision statement. These can take you a long way on the road to fulfilling your destiny. And will keep you on the right track when times get tough.

Keep the Discussion Going

Have you let your past dictate your future? Maybe you’ve started on roads and got off too soon because it got too tough, or you started to listen to the inner voice of self-doubt. Commit to listening to more positive, affirming voices. Instead of “I can’t do this” say “I CAN do this and I will do it best!”

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to share this blog with family and friends. I’ll talk to ya’ll soon!



  • Tasheka Cox

    After reading this blog, I realize that I have let my past dictate my future. I was one of those students in high school who excelled and graduated at the top of my class, went to a four year college, got a masters degree, and is now pursuing a doctoral degree. But with all of those education accomplishments, I still feel LOST! Like I don’t have a set career plan, goal, direction. I feel like i’m just going through the motions and not really committed to any clear path. I think that I let self-doubt stop me from using all that i have gained academically to propel me forward in my career. I know that what i’m currently doing is not what I want to do for much longer, but I feel like i’m in a rut and I can’t get out. I have all of these ideas and thoughts about what I can do, but for some reason I become paralyzed by my own fears and doubts. I want to break that which is bonding me, but don’t know how. I’m glad that you have started this blog because it is really helping me to explore myself and my career options!

    • Emily Brown

      I know exactly how you feel Tasheka! I too felt I wasn’t committed to a clear path, and it showed cause I was all over the place at one point. There’s a great book that I’ve read that help me put things in perspective, called <a href="“>I Don’t Know What I Want to Do, But I Know It’s Not This by Julie Jansen. It was a great read. But from previous conversations it sounds like you already know what you want to do. Like you said, it’s the fear and doubt holding you back. It’s time to break the strongholds girlfriend! I’m sure you’ll muster the courage to take that leap of faith really soon. :-)

  • Shala

    Great post! I’ve somehow managed to put off grad school for 5 years now. Every year, I have deferred enrollment and have had to apply twice because the first acceptance expired! It never seemed to be the right timing, or enough money, or even feeling like I wouldn’t do well even though I graduated top of my class in undergrad. So many fears and concerns, some real and some all in my mind. But Lord willing, I will take the plunge this fall. I’m not really sure where the money is coming from (hopefully Uncle Sam won’t be stingy) or even how I will manage family, work and school, but all I know is I just have to do it and God will work out the rest of the details (or stop me dead in my tracks if necessary). Thanks for being a positive and encouraging part of my day! Keep blogging!

    • Emily Brown

      Shala, I remember how your high academic honors and intense work ethic at such a young age really inspired me when we first met several years ago. Plus, you’ve founded a very successful graphic design company in the Washington area. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but of all the people I know personally if anyone can juggle school, family life, and a successful career it’d be you. I just can’t wait to get an invitation to the graduation! Thanks for sharing your story. As I’m sure so many others will be able to relate! :-)