Shift Your Story
Buzz Aldrin was the Apollo Lunar Module pilot on the Apollo 11 mission. He stepped down onto the dusty surface of the moon just a few seconds after Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon and utter those historic words, “One small step for man.” But what should have been an incredible, positive experience for Aldrin nearly ruined his life. During the three-week quarantine then required of astronauts upon returning from space, Aldrin immediately began an alcohol bender that didn’t end for over nine years. His marriage of twentyone years quickly decayed and ended, and his prestigious military career concluded on bad terms. At his lowest point, he was working at a Cadillac dealership in Beverly Hills and didn’t make a single sale in six months. One night, Aldrin was drunk and his girlfriend locked him out of her house. In his rage, he pounded her door down and broke into her home. Terrified and in shock, she called the police. Aldrin was arrested. How did this all happen? How could someone as successful and brilliant as Buzz Aldrin experience such a negative shift? Aldrin himself gave the answer in his 2009 autobiography, Magnificent Desolation: “The transition from ‘astronaut preparing to accomplish the next big thing’ to ‘astronaut telling about the last big thing’ did not come easily to me. . . . What does a man do for an encore?” During the return flight from the moon, Aldrin became absorbed in negative thinking and emotions. Staring down at Earth, he lost his imagination. Nothing could top what he had just done. His future was over. I will never outlive this, he thought. He had peaked at thirty-nine years old. Such thinking terrified him, so he tried to drink away his pain. Compare Buzz Aldrin’s story with that of basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo grew up poor in Greece. He and his brother actually had to share the single pair of basketball shoes their family could afford. His brother would wear the shoes during the early game and Antetokounmpo would wear the same shoes during the late game. Antetokounmpo recently signed a major deal with Nike, and now his signature shoes are being worn by tens of thousands of kids throughout the world. During the 2018–2019 season, he was awarded the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. In an interview, ESPN commentator Rachel Nichols asked Antetokounmpo if it had sunk in that he was the MVP. “I’m really happy about it, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “But I don’t ever want to hear about it again for the rest of my life. It’s a great accomplishment and great honor. But, you know, that’s in the past now.” “Wait, you mean you don’t ever want to hear the words ‘MVP’ again?” Nichols asked, surprised. “No, I think it’s gotten too much. Usually, when you share that, you tend to relax. If I keep thinking, ‘I’m the MVP of this league,’ then what’s going to happen? I’m just going to relax. And I do not want to do that. I’m proud of it. But let’s go for the next goal.” Antetokounmpo is defined by his goals, not his previous accomplishments or failures. He’s defined by what he’s going to do next. He’s chasing his future self, and that’s why he’s continually successful. According to Dan Sullivan, the founder of Strategic Coach, when your “status” becomes more important than your “growth,” you usually stop growing. However, when growth is your genuine motive, then you usually end up getting lots of status. But you won’t be attached to it. And you’ll definitely be willing to destroy a former status to create a new one. As Sullivan says, “Always make your future bigger than your past.” If you’re honest with yourself, you may find that you are primarily motivated by a particular status. Once you obtain that status — such as a particular job title, income level, or relationship — your motivation shifts from approach-oriented to avoid-oriented. Rather than approaching a new and expansive future self, your primary concern becomes to maintain or protect your current status or identity by avoiding failure. You’ll stop being courageous. You’ll plateau, and the energy and zest that was your growing personality fizzles out into something far less inspiring. Without a future self that has outgrown and outdone your current self, life starts to lose its meaning. Condoleezza Rice served as the sixty-sixth US secretary of state. She was also the first female African American secretary of state and the second female secretary of state. She has continually defied the odds throughout her life and career. One of the reasons she’s been so successful and innovative is due to a philosophy she holds. In her own words, “I firmly believe you should never spend any of your time being the ‘former’ anything.” The idea that you should “never be the ‘former’ anything” conveys in one phrase the entire premise of this article. Whether you were an astronaut or a drug addict, you should never be the former anything. Both trauma and achievement can have a powerful impact on your personality. But whichever you experience, you should never get stuck in the past, nor let your past define you. Your authentic self is your future self. Who you aspire to be. For so long, Buzz Aldrin’s “mission” was to stand on the moon. It was the purpose or goal he built his identity, choices, and environment around. But then he got stuck in his status after “fulfilling his purpose.” From his perspective, there was no way he was going to outdo his former self, so he threw in the towel on his future. Without a meaningful purpose, his life went into a tailspin. Aldrin, someone whose goals and imagination pushed him to the moon, went totally blank on his future self. Giannis Antetokounmpo took the opposite path. Within weeks of being named MVP, he emotionally detached from the status and put his focus on the next goal. This doesn’t mean he isn’t happy or grateful. What it means is that he hasn’t become emotionally attached to an outcome or an identity. His vision of himself remains in the future, not the past. And as a result, while others around him will plateau, he will not. He continues living, rather than existing. For the rest of this chapter, you’ll learn why we formulate narratives and stories to shape the meaning of our experiences. You’ll learn to reframe your narrative to be future-focused — on who you intend to be — as Giannis and others, like Elon Musk, do. This is a rare skill, and part of why they are so successful. With these new skills in place, you’ll be challenged to reframe your narrative so that your past isn’t keeping you stuck but pushing you forward. Your past is happening for you, not to you. After reading this chapter, you’ll be challenged to have your future self be the story you tell others in explaining yourself, not your former self. Who are you?