Though very short in comparison to most other countries, the United States has a proud history. Just as any nation-state, organization, idea, or living being does, each of us has our own history; mine happens to be 44 years short. A short history in the minds of my elders and ancient in the mind of my son. The length of our history means little; the sum total of the experiences accumulated during our history defines who we are today and inform who we become tomorrow. Regardless, our history is just that, history. History as defined as a continuous, systematic narrative of past events that often tell the story of why things are the way they are today. 

Our most celebrated successes and our most disappointing failures share at least one attribute, they are frozen in history. Try as we may, there is nothing we can do to change that which has already happened. For those who live in the past, that can be problematic, as we cannot alter what is frozen in history by focusing on yesterday. Those who are truly focused on the future understand that we most certainly can, and have a responsibility to ensure that our history informs our decisions today and tomorrow, acknowledging we can’t rewrite our past. But even those of us who are future-oriented and write off our past experiences as learning opportunities can’t ignore the fact that many others refuse to let go of our past. If they see us in a positive light because of our previous actions, great. If they have a negative perception of us because of who they believe we were, that’s another challenge. Regardless of the lens through which we are seen, the reputation we’ve “earned” is merely a starting point for the future. The saying that you are only as good as your last performance is partially true. I know I have enjoyed some lucky successes that might give people reason to think that I am better than I am, while I clearly have had some uncharacteristic missteps that I’d like to think are statistically irrelevant. The reality is that what we have done in the past does not necessarily dictate what we will do in the future. And what we have yet to prove we are capable of doing need not prevent us from attempting to do it. After all, there is a first time for everything.

I’ve been traveling quite a bit of late and thinking a great deal about what it means to be a partner; what it takes to strengthen relationships; the role time plays in forging bonds; the importance of focusing on the future. It is obvious that partnerships are developed and strengthened over time. Repeatedly proving yourself trustworthy and dependable is the path to a meaningful partnership. Think about your best friends, your most valued teammates, and your loved ones. No doubt that you have a strong history with them, but it wasn’t always that way. You allowed that to happen. You let them prove themselves worthy of your partnership and you proved yourself worthy of theirs. There was a time when you knew nothing about them, you may have questioned their motives, and there may have been an instance where they violated your trust. Yet, you remain partners. Over time you have built a shared history that is now frozen in time. As strong as it may be, the relationship is really defined by the commitment to a shared future. One that is fluid, but will undoubtedly soon become frozen in history as you build it. 

We have reasons for seeking out partners. It could be the shared geography of neighbors, complementary strengths that define a team, mutual interests, or even a common enemy/rival. Partnerships are informed by the past, but they are shaped by the future. We must be able to look beyond that which is frozen in history today if we want “us” to be more than we currently are.

  • Are you past or future oriented?
  • Do you see people more for what they have done or for what you believe they are capable of becoming?
  • What are you doing to shape future partnerships?