This month we’re talking about struggles. I’ve got them, you’ve got them: Everyone’s got them. How we relate to our struggles, though, is where people can differ. There’s a church in my community that I drive by every time I go to my sister’s place. This church has a sign out front: They use one side for church-related events and messages, and the other side for inspirational messages. I love what they put up there. I’ve found lots of their messages to be really meaningful and relevant, giving me pause for thought.

A few months ago, I drove by and saw this message on their sign: “Don’t let your struggle become your identity.”

It really made me think. Struck a chord, you could say. In coaching training, I’d been confronting the idea that the way I held my story (with fingers clinging onto the edges of it for dear life) about my past was not helping me.

Did some stuff happen? Sure. Was it good? Not all of it. But it wasn’t all bad, either. My story was that I’d had it rough. There had been trauma. There had been loss and heartache and no one else I knew had experienced a childhood like mine. This is true, and even more so to me, because it is my story. You might feel the same about yours. In fact, you do.

I’ve let my struggles, my hardships and the things that should not have been, define who I am, or at least who I think I am. I let circumstances become my identity. This is unfortunate, because the product of those circumstances (because the negative ones overrule the positives in this game) is not my ideal self. The identity of my struggles could be: broken, distrustful, hurt. A victim. Powerless. Unfortunate. Poor little thing. I heard these things and I believed them.

Know what? That sucks. It’s not good enough. It’s not all of me. I realized this a couple of months ago while talking to my coach: Stuff that happened is just stuff that happened. Stuff happens to everyone. If nothing is happening, then you’re probably dead. Sometimes bad things do happen to good people and sometimes good things happen to bad people. Really, it boils down to this: things happen to people. That’s life. What happens is just circumstances. Past history. You can’t change it, and holding onto it only makes it impossible to move on and embrace anything new.

My story was a choice. A subconscious one, and far from an empowering one, sure, but a choice all the same. I’m awake now, and I choose something different. You can’t always choose what happens to you, but you sure as heck can choose what you decide to make of it, and what you decide to let it make of you.

If I’m going to be defined by my story about myself, I want it to be current (who I am) and future-focussed (who I will become and my possibility in the future). People who are defined by their pasts are called have-beens. Fallen stars. That’s not a great story to which I wish to aspire. The dénouement is predictable and disappointing. So I’m writing a new story. It starts NOW. Every moment.

Possibility does not reside in the past. It can’t, because the past has already been written. No, possibility lives in the future; in the edges of the present as they curl into the next moment. Possibility lies ahead of you, not behind you.

Who I am is who I am being, here and now (and really, all along, too—I just couldn’t see past my story): Joy. Humour. Heart. Brilliance. Dedication. Imagine that story. I do.

What’s your story? If you stop letting your struggles become your identity, who are you free to become? What is possible? Write your story with your life, not with your past