What Lies Behind Points to What Lies Ahead

The road ahead looked narrow, but when I looked back I saw the future.

Kierkegaard wrote in his journal, “Philosophy is perfectly right in saying that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other clause—that it must be lived forwards.”

“We’re not prisoners of the past.” Martin Seligman

What I see while looking back: Disadvantage is advantage.

Pushing away a painful past limits joy and hamstrings potential. Accepting and integrating what lies behind informs and enriches leadership.

“Approving” of disadvantage and “accepting” disadvantage are different things. Life brings experiences that shouldn’t be approved – back-stabbing co-workers, self-centered bosses, even abusive parents.

Accept disadvantage, even if you don’t approve.


*John Irving, author of, The World According to Garp, and many other novels, was labeled “stupid” and “lazy” by his teachers. He was below average in English. Turns out his disadvantage was dyslexia.

Irving says, “I wasn’t diagnosed as dyslexic at Exeter; I was seen as just plain stupid.  I failed a spelling test and was put in a remedial spelling class…. I simply accepted the conventional wisdom of the day—I was a struggling student; therefore, I was stupid.”

“I needed five years to pass the three-year foreign language requirement…” John Irving

Ted Seabrooke, Irving’s wrestling coach kept him in school.

“He gave me enough confidence in myself—through wrestling—that I was able to take a daily beating in my classes and keep coming back for more…”


“… I have confidence in my stamina to go over something again and again no matter how difficult it is—whether it is for the fourth or fifth or eighth time.  It’s an ability to push myself and not be lazy.  This is something that I would ascribe to the difficulties I had to overcome at an early age.” John Irving

How is your leadership informed or expanded by disadvantage in your past?

Added resources:

10 Ways to Maximize Bad Experiences (Leadership Freak)

5 Ways Your Worst Experiences Can Bring Out the Best in You (Psychology Today)

*John Irving, Award-Winning Author & Screenwriter (Yale)