It’s a misty morning in Berlin—you can feel the rain in the air, but it’s not falling yet. We’re playing tour guide—showing some family members who have come to visit around Berlin.
Berlin is a vibrant city, full of life. But tourist Berlin is dark, full of horrors.
My daughters, 2 and 3 years old, are giggling as they try to balance along a line of red bricks that runs down the middle of the street. The bricks are set into the cobble stone in places, in other places they are set into black asphalt.
But anyone who has ever visited Berlin knows what this line of bricks means.
It’s the line that marks where the wall used to be. Most of the Berlin wall is gone now, the high concrete barrier that once marked oppression, division, and fear was dismantled in the 90s.
All that’s left is a line of bricks in the road—bricks that my daughters think are fun to balance on.
They don’t know the horrors of the past. They only know that there’s a fun line of bricks to walk on, and that store near Potsdamer Platz that sells the best chocolates you’ve ever tasted.
We take the metro out of the city to Potsdam, where we rent bikes and whiz by dozens of palaces belonging to Prussian nobles. The girls hold my hands and stare into the shriveled face of a mummy at the Altes Museum…
“Daddy, is it real?” my daughter whispers.
They run and play among the ruins of the horrors of the 20th Century, and they don’t know any better.
Because that’s not Berlin. When tourists come and spend a weekend walking in the darkness of Berlin, they could be forgiven for thinking that this is all Berlin is. But those of us who’ve lived there know that it’s actually a city pulsing with life and creativity.
Berlin is not the sadness. Berlin is joy mixed with an edgy undercurrent.
Berlin is a city of reinvention.
It taught me about reinvention, and any time I write on this subject I always think about Berlin.
And about how to start over.
Autopilot is easy.
Why is starting over so damned hard?
Probably because we’re obsessed with our pasts. We love to dwell on them. We race them around in our minds. We tuck our pasts into bed and cradle them like a baby. When our pasts start to fade from our mind, we bring them back.
And the things that make up our past become the things that constitute our identity today.
Our past experiences and actions shape our present reality.
And there’s nothing easier than letting your past dictate your future. It’s easy to live life on auto-pilot.
It’s easy for this blog post to tell you that, no matter where you’ve been or who you are, you are not your past. It doesn’t have to define you. Even though your past feels incredibly real, and it feels like your fate is already decided, it’s not. You get to choose how you move forward in this world and what you want to be.
But you’re the one who has to adapt it as a central core of who you are. You’re the one who will have to do the work to change everyday.
It’s one thing to say out loud that you want to change. It’s another to repeat it to yourself for days and months, until those words worm their way into your psyche and actually begin to change not just how you think, but who you are.
I am not my past.
I am not my past.
Lisa Nichols tells the story of not having enough money to buy her son diapers. She wrapped him in an old towel, and promised him: “Jelani, Mommy will never be this broke or broken again.” She tells how that moment changed her. But she also put in the work, every day, to create a new reality.
Her moment of revelation began a journey of transformation.
Not everyone has a come-to-Jesus moment about their past life. Most humans will never escape their past. Most of us will let our past define us, tying us to a predetermined vision of what our life can be and what we can accomplish in this world.
If you want to be the one who doesn’t live life on autopilot, who isn’t defined anymore by the past, my advice to you is to develop a plan for escaping your past.
I don’t mean a one-time resolution. I mean a bed-sheet-out-the-window plan to get away from that shit.
It’s easy to avoid that friend who drags you down on Monday. It’s another thing to avoid them for the rest of your life—to break up with them.
Some people go for drastic- move to a new town, that might give you the feeling of a fresh start.
But your mental models of the world and your inner state will not change in an afternoon. They will take months, and years to change. Changing yourself and breaking the autopilot cycle will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done—fundamentally it’s a battle with your mind. And you’ve got to show up every day.
In fact, perhaps the only thing that will change that ingrained state is to adopt radical new one that you work on building every day, with new rituals, mindsets, and routines.
Changing behavior is super hard.
What if you knew your behaviour was going to kill you? Could you change?
In his book Change or Die, Alan Deutschman describes what happens when you follow patients who have been told by a doctor that they must change their ways or die. 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle. They just couldn’t, even though they knew it would kill them.
If you love someone who’s an addict, you know this reality all too well. No matter how many tearful confessions, no matter how many interventions or heart-to-hearts or stints in rehab, change is almost impossible. Almost.
The first time an addict tells you they’ll never drink or use again, it’s a wonderful relief. By the fifth time, you fight the urge to roll your eyes.
We’re all like that addict when it comes to our behaviors and habits.
New Years’ resolutions are easy. Real change is hard.
I’ve never been one of those “turning-point” people. I’ve never been able to dramatically change my behavior overnight.
For me it happens in tiny, incremental changes that will lead to you putting your past behind you and actually adopting a new attitude and mindset. If you can do this, you will be one of the small percentage of humans who can.
Even a 1% change over time equals a complete transformation.
Start by changing one thing. Change it today. A small thing.
Sit and journal for five minutes.
-Put your cellphone away from the bed at night so you don’t scroll in the morning.
-Take a 5 minute walk.
Learn how change happens for you. Understand what it actually means. You’ll slowly start building the power to change your future.
If you want to know how to start over, you’ll need to leverage the skill of creativity. Some people are more creative than others. In the twenty-first century, only the creative will survive and thrive.
A recent report from LinkedIn Learning found that the average shelf life of a hard skill is five years. FIVE YEARS! Some hard skills take nearly that long to learn.
The future doesn’t belong to the coders (although taking a coding course doesn’t hurt). The future belongs to people who can constantly reinvent themselves and become something new. It belongs to those who adopt growth as a way of life.
Starting over is something you might have to do more than once, so you might as well get good at it.
Be ready to grow
In 2006, Carol Dweck published a book that transformed how we think about success—she attributed it to mindset: growth or fixed.
Growth mindset is a beautiful thing.
But you know what? I talk with some of the smartest people in the world all day long and many of them don’t have a growth mindset.
They’ve trained for so long to become experts in their fields, a lot of people have too much pride to suck at something new. They’ve sunk too much time in and refuse to figure out how to start over. They’re mad at the world and waiting for it to recognize them as the shining star.
Guess what? It’s not the skill you possess or the knowledge you have that will make you great. It’s your propensity to constantly expand and learn, both in existing fields and new ones.
One guy I talked to had spent 8 years training to be an expert in his scientific field. He wanted to go into consulting, and couldn’t be bothered to take a one month business course to learn how to run his gig.
What’s that? Fear? Laziness? Arrogance?
I don’t know.
But I do know that it’s easy to throw around the buzzword “growth mindset,” but it’s really hard step out of our comfort zones and have that growth.
Graduation is a starting line for your life-long race to expand and grow yourself.
Be willing to learn from everyone. Anyone can teach you something great you don’t know.
Starting over means understanding and accepting that you need to transform and become someone you haven’t been before, growing that person, and being creative about applying yourself to whatever new world you create.
Find a model
If you’re starting over, you get to decide who you want to be. And there’s no better way than to model someone who’s already taken the journey.
When I started this blog, I didn’t make up what I thought it should be. I’d spent years listening to podcasts and reading blogs about the sacred art of writing shit on the internet.
You laugh, but there are 600 million blogs out there. That means there are a few successful ones and 599,999,000 grandmas lovingly reading about what their grandkid had for breakfast or thought of the new Marvel movie.
Don’t just guess about what your new life should be. Pick someone who’s done it and learn from them.
This might mean an in-person role model. That’s great if you can get it, but it can be hard to come by.
The beauty of the internet is that it gives us access to thousands of people to model ourselves after. Go google your thing and find out who’s doing it well. Study their life story. Read their book. Learn what they know.
Pick your story
You know your story isn’t real, right?
You made it up. You keep it alive.
You know, the one that says, “I’m a failure and nobody thinks I can succeed.”
Or the one that says, “Nobody will hire me because I’m too X.”
That’s your story. You water it and nourish it and make sure it stays there. When people tell you you’re amazing and have a lot to offer the world, you reassure yourself on your pillow at night that you’re total crap.
And you believe yourself more than those other people. After all, what the hell do they know? They don’t know you like you do.
There’s a lot of people talking about the value of your story, from narrative psychology, a field that identifies how our stories shape our reality, to self-help gurus. I wrote about my own experience with learning to change my story here.
The bottom line is that you get to pick the story you tell yourself. Whether you tell yourself you’re a loser or that you’re unstoppable, it’s your story. And it will dictate how you interact with the world.
If you want to know how to start over, learn to tell yourself a better story. Find a more empowering story about your past and build yourself a better story about the future. And believe it’s true.
Because you get to define your own story.
Put one foot in front of the other
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough. Just put one foot in front of the other. If you are trying to learn how to start over, there’s no one way.
There’s no 5 easy steps.
There is just picking your head up off the floor and standing back up. There’s just putting one foot in front of the other and moving… as best as you can.
I don’t know what you’ve been through, so it’s pretty hard for this dipshit on the internet to tell you what starting over is going to look like for you.
But let me tell you what I believe about human beings.
Our propensity for reinvention is endless. Our ability to withstand and thrive, even after terrible things happen, is powerful.
No matter who you are, if you want to know how to start over, you need to get up and put one foot in front of the other. And start moving.
I’m excited to see where it takes you.