Rewrite Your Story, Design Your Future Life


Excellent historians do not simply report that something happened in the past. Rather, they interpret what happened from their own unique perspective, pointing out previously unknown historical contexts and providing a basis for action by those who live today. Great historians predict future currents and help us design a better future. We need to reflect on and interpret our lives in this same way.

Don’t just say, “This thing happened in the past, so I was happy or sad, so I succeeded or failed.” Instead, ask, “What meaning does that have for me, and what meaning does it provide for my future life?” If we’re going to do that, we have to be able to view our stories dispassionately and objectively. We shouldn’t be bound by or attached to stories from the past. And we must not get mired in selfishness or victim consciousness, either. When we do that, we’re stuck as the protagonists of unsatisfactory, chaotic stories, or we turn away from reality and remain immersed in stories of past glories and successes.


The people who deeply move and inspire us, who give us courage, have reinterpreted and rewritten the stories of their lives. These are not people who have lived without failure or hopelessness. But standing before their own histories, instead of simply saying, “This happened to me,” they said, “I achieved this despite it all,” or “I learned this and moved forward based on what I learned.” They are people who got themselves back on their feet through those stories. They became the masters of their own destinies.

Let me introduce an example of this. A distinguished Jewish psychologist in Vienna, 37-year-old Viktor Frankl, was dragged during World War II into the Nazis’ Auschwitz concentration camp with his wife and parents. When the camp was liberated three years later at the end of the war, his pregnant wife, his parents, and most of his family had been killed by the Nazis.

Frankl struggled with the fear of death and was deprived of everything he had, the people he loved, and his dignity and freedom as a human being. Yet a single question captivated Frankl while he was living in the concentration camp: is there some reason for a human being to continue to live with constant suffering in an environment completely beyond his control?

“Yes,” he concluded. Frankl endured the miseries of life in a concentration camp and decided that there was only one difference between those who died and those who survived: meaning. People who found meaning in something great or small, like a loved one or a sense of responsibility, made it to the end. “Those who have a ‘why’ to live for,” he wrote, “can bear almost any ‘how.’ ”

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote in his “Man’s Search for Meaning,” “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Although he experienced brutal suffering in extreme circumstances, Frankl never despaired of humanity or life itself. He pledged to endure unavoidable suffering, and he proved that our lives can be full of meaning and value in even the most trying circumstances. Based on his experience, he established new psychological techniques that help people find meaning when they are experiencing anxiety, compulsion, and helplessness. The story of the life that Viktor Frankl rewrote still gives hope and courage to many people.

As you’ve lived your life until now, there have probably been many crucial moments and events that were turning points for you. If you’ve had proud moments, you’ve probably also had things you regret. Whatever life you’ve lived so far, all the stages of your past life have come together to make you who you are now. What’s important is to realize that you have created all your life so far. Those who think that way can also create their present and their future. Some, though, think, “I didn’t make my current condition; it was created by my environment and situation. I had no choice at all, and I was merely a victim.” Those who think that way can’t choose and take responsibility for their own future.

Whatever life you’ve lived, it has been yours. All the moments of your life have come together to make you who you are now. It is your unique history and no one else’s. With this in mind, have sincere gratitude for your life’s story, and for all the times, places, and people who have appeared as characters in it. More than anything else, love and be grateful to yourself for making it through all those moments to arrive where you are now. Humbly accept all the lessons life has taught you — and turn the story of the first half of your life into fertilizer that will allow the second half to blossom beautifully.

We should live as the masters of our destinies at every moment of our lives choosing, planning, and acting out our lives for ourselves — but this doesn’t mean that everything will work out the way we want it to. Often things go differently than we hoped and planned. That’s why everyone is bound to have times when they have regrets: “If I had only chosen differently then … ” But it doesn’t help at all to sit there regretting the past, for we can never turn back the clock. All we have to do is gratefully accept the things that have worked out well and honestly acknowledge and learn from our foolish mistakes. We can’t go forward if we are clinging to the past.

We must never be discouraged or hold ourselves in contempt, saying, “My life so far has been totally wrong. There hasn’t been anything of value in my life.” We can’t exert the energy to start over in the second half of our lives if we blame ourselves this way. If we assess our lives negatively, we come to hate ourselves and to completely close ourselves off from others and the world. Calmly write the tale of your life thus far — but draw hope and enthusiasm from it. Let it be the source of new energy for the story of the life that you will create in the future.

This article is excerpted from “I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation” by Ilchi Lee.

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