I believe you can change the future, regardless of our history, if you’re not a prisoner of the past.
In a way, it’s how people think about the classic American Dream—a person who comes from an unlikely background making it big. That would be considered ahistorical. People who are ahistorical are not prisoners of their past
The alternative is to be constantly and utterly shaped by your past without relief—to be, in a sense, a victim of your past. My father did such and such; therefore, I’ll do such and such because it’s all I know. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with following in your family’s footsteps, but do it intentionally, not by default.
You are in control of your past.
You can’t escape your past, and you will inevitably be shaped by your past, but you are in control of whether your past is forcing you down a certain path or whether you have chosen it.
To be ahistorical is a way of approaching the world. It describes how you are in the world, your way of being.
A whole new way of being.
Apolo Anton Ohno is a two-time Olympic Gold medal winner for short-track speed skating. Apolo reached the pinnacle of a sport based on tucking yourself into the smallest, most aerodynamic ball and skating as fast as possible around an oval. Now that takes a certain kind of focus inside a very specific “world.” So, it was all the more amazing when Apolo competed in an entirely different field on the TV show Dancing with the Stars and won.
When he was asked after the competition what he’d learned, other than how to do the paso doble, jive, and samba, he said, “I’ve seen a whole new way of being.” Wow! Now that’s someone who is open to new things.
Acting out against the past.
The rebellious son, for example, is not ahistorical. Rebellion is essentially acting out in the present against the past. The rebellious son doesn’t appreciate himself or his future. Rather his future is an expression of the loathing he has for his past. He is not ahistorical.
Imagine, by contrast, a story my friend, Hal, told me about a farmer’s daughter who goes off to study advertising at a big university in the city. She meets a city doctor, falls in love, and convinces him to come back and live on the farm with her. Back on the farm, the daughter reconfigures the operations of the farm, cross-appropriating practices and concepts she learned while she was away. She is ahistorical, shaped by her past, but not imprisoned by her past. She chooses to come back to the farm, but she brings with her new ideas from other “worlds.” She is ahistorical. She might just as well have stayed in the city with her doctor husband, so long as her decision was a choice for a different future and not a choice against her past. We can all be ahistorical. It’s a matter of creating new history that is not governed by our past.
Escape the confines of history.
To make history, to live our American Dream, we need to escape the confines of history and be history makers.
So what exactly is it that history makers do that is ahistorical?
- They articulate. They give language to something that hasn’t been said before. Naming something is an innovation in itself. Luke Howard, a British Quaker in the nineteenth century, was the first person to name the cloud types—cumulus, stratus, and cirrus. Articulation is innovation, and it is the necessary precursor to further innovation. Our farmer’s daughter articulated her desire to return to the farm on her own terms. Because she did, the doctor followed her there. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, articulated the idea of an online bookstore. Venture capitalists offered him money to create it.
- They reconfigure. They take what they already have and do something different and new with it. The farmer’s daughter was a master reconfigurer. Bezos reconfigured the concept of a bricks-and-mortar bookstore into a virtual bookstore to serve his, and his new customer’s, needs and desires.
- They cross-appropriate. They take ideas, concepts, mechanisms, models, and so on from one industry/society/community/ or other source outside their “world” and use the new ideas to create a “new world” for themselves and the people around them. It wasn’t the same old farm when the daughter got done with it. And it certainly wasn’t the same old bookstore (or Internet, for that matter) when Bezos got done. Actually, Bezos isn’t done yet. Amazon.com keeps creating new “worlds.”
Being a conscious history maker and understanding its implications will help you to act more intentionally—to open up bigger and bigger worlds. Intentionality is one of the hallmarks of success.
You’re American Dream is waiting for you to create it. Be a history maker.