Your Past Doesn’t Own You (How To Rewrite Your Future Like Jay Gatsby)

Your Past Doesn't Own You copy

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Your past doesn’t own you.

Sure, you can learn from it, but it needn’t have a hold over you.

Like Fitzgerald’s iconic protagonist Jay Gatsby who was never accepted by the establishment he sought to join, imposter syndrome founded on past experience can also plague writers and content creators.

Myself included.

And while what doesn’t kill you (literally in Gatsby’s case), will surely make you stronger – you have to change your mindset to succeed.

To put a positive spin on the traditional investment advice of The Great Gatsby’s 1920’s America, ‘past bad performance is no impediment to future success.’

So it’s time to invest in yourself – or you’ll regret it later.

I should know.

Years ago when still running my podcast, I was invited to be an expert on a podcast panel at a big event in London.

My inner voice and fixed mindset said ‘That’s not the sort of thing a person like you would do, you don’t have enough experience’ – so I politely declined.

I’ve regretted it ever since and will never pass up such opportunities again.

The event organizers saw an accomplished podcaster who had hosted nearly 100 shows, and all I saw was self-doubt.

What a shame.

Self-doubt and imposter syndrome can become baked into a fixed mindset, which cripples you with limiting beliefs leading to a vicious cycle of poor performance.

Other people then pick up on this and put you in a box. A box where the lack of confidence you project negatively influences what they think you can do.

So your limiting beliefs feed their limiting beliefs of you, and the cycle continues.

That’s why you need to become a resident of West Egg…

Self doubt quote

West Egg Vs East Egg

In Fitzgerald’s literary classic, the inhabitants of East Egg are the old money rich of roaring 20’s America, with huge houses and seemingly endless wealth (and the snobbery that goes with it).

Across the bay in West Egg live the new money entrepreneurs, the less wealthy but up-and-coming rich like Jay Gatsby (formerly James Gatz) who has literally scrapped his way to the top – and a lot else worse besides.

However, there’s a problem, (which provides a lesson for all of us who want to write and create for a living).

The snobbish old rich of East Egg won’t accept the brash and vulgar new money residents of West Egg, no matter how hard the latter try to ingratiate themselves with establishment high society.

This is especially the case with relationships between the two sides, with traditionalists frowning upon Gatsby’s previous romance with old money golden girl Daisy Buchanan.

So when Jay Gatsby looks out across the bay from his new West Egg mansion, seeking a glimpse of his former lover’s house in East Egg, narrator Nick Carraway notes “Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.”

Gatsby is still desperately seeking acceptance from a group of people who will never let him in, and never let him grow – due primarily to his past and the inferior current status this bestows upon him.

In this sense – and in the context of personal growth – we can view East Egg as an old, staid, fixed mindset, and West Egg as a new, expansive growth mindset.

So like your own limiting beliefs, and those of others imposed upon you, Gatsby’s own past and the residents of East Egg would never let him become the person he wanted to be – with fatal consequences.

The point is that none of us want to become casualties of our own limiting beliefs and feelings of imposter syndrome.

That’s why if you want to succeed as a writer and content creator, you must always keep searching for the green light…

Follow The Green Light & Become a Lighthouse of Learning

It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror and be prepared to change your mindset so you can grow as a writer and person.

Yet it’s essential if you want to create better work and make more money from your craft.

That’s why the hope of a better self represented by Gatsby’s search for the green light across the bay, should become a clarion call for all of us who hope to acknowledge the past but open our minds to a future of learning, looking for new experiences, meeting new people, and consuming more ideas and worldviews from multiple different sources.

And all of this requires a growth mindset.

If you always scan the horizon for that green light of self-improvement – not only will you overcome your limiting past beliefs but you’ll also become a beacon of light for others who become inspired to do the same.

Unlike the negative cycle of a limiting mindset, your new growth mindset will then effectively make you a lighthouse of learning – helping both yourself and others to grow in a new and virtuous cycle.

So in practical terms, how can you change your mindset in order to grow as both a writer and person?

Firstly, let’s understand what a growth mindset is, and then we can cover some practical ways to start developing one…

What Is a Growth Mindset?

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck outlines the two types of mindset: fixed and growth.

Her research has found that with a fixed mindset intelligence is static, whereas it can be developed with a growth mindset.

In other words, limiting beliefs literally stop you from learning, and a host of other negative outcomes.

Let’s compare the two mindsets according to Dweck’s research:

Fixed Mindset

  • Avoids challenges
  • Has static intelligence
  • Wants to appear clever
  • Sees making an effort as pointless
  • Ignores constructive negative feedback
  • Feels threatened by the success of others
  • Gives up easily when faced with obstacles

Growth Mindset

  • Embraces challenges
  • Wants to learn from criticism
  • Sees effort as a way of improving
  • Persists when faced with obstacles
  • Gets inspired by the success of others
  • Believes intelligence can be developed

To summarise the difference between the two mindsets, Dweck says that with a fixed mindset you’re, “always trying to convince yourself and others that you have a royal flush when you’re secretly worried it’s a pair of tens. In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. (Whereas a) growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”

Dweck concludes, “Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look for friends or partners who will just shore up your self-esteem instead of ones who will also challenge you to grow? And why seek out the tried and true, instead of experiences that will stretch you?”

So how do we take this advice onboard and start to develop a growth mindset? (Instead of being swept back to our past limiting beliefs).

Let’s look at some action steps…

How To Develop a Growth Mindset (In 7 Steps)

To develop a growth mindset you need to challenge your existing fixed way of thinking about key aspects of your life, work, and relationships.

This can be achieved in several key ways:

1. Audit Your Mindset

Think honestly about how to react in certain circumstances, and to different people and challenges. What do you notice about yourself in those situations?

Compare your reactions to the fixed and growth mindset definitions above and ask yourself what past experience has made you behave or think in that way.

Takeaway: it’s only by being honest with yourself and first identifying any traits of a fixed mindset, that you can start to build a foundation for change.

Often the negative reactions associated with a fixed mindset come when you are out of your comfort zone, so you’ll often feel uncomfortable when challenging this status quo. Take this discomfort as a sign to ask yourself some searching questions.

2. Set Higher Standards

Our fixed beliefs and past experiences largely govern how we think we’ll perform when presented with any given challenge. In short, we can often underestimate our own limits.

In a study, participants were asked to cycle 4000m as fast as they could, then in a second study keep pace with the previous time trial.

What they didn’t know was that in the second trial, the pace was actually faster, yet all participants managed to keep up and ride further despite thinking they had previously maximized their effort.

Takeaway: think about what you’d normally do when faced with a specific challenge, then push yourself to go that little bit further than you believe you ever could before.

3. Value Effort

Studies with children have found that when you focus on the act of making an effort in itself and not the results achieved, the tasks undertaken are always carried out more successfully.

Praising effort was also found to be a great way of developing a growth mindset, as it gave participants in the study a process template by which to succeed again in future tasks.

Takeaway: increase your effort in specific tasks and try to gain satisfaction from the process of doing the task itself, rather than just focusing on the results of completing it. This means you can also learn to not fear failure.

4. Cultivate Persistence

When faced with obstacles, people with fixed mindsets can often self-sabotage themselves and give up easily without trying.

Research into Olympic gold medal winners showed that developing a persistent mindset and an ability to overcome setbacks was a key part of their success.

Takeaway: the report concluded that “adversity-related experiences offer potential developmental opportunities if they are carefully and purposely harnessed.”

In short, don’t shy away from getting out of your comfort zone by seeking difficult challenges that test your resolve, then persist in completing them even if you face adversity.

5. Embrace Learning

As mentioned previously, become a lighthouse of learning and delight in the pleasure of discovering new stories, books, videos, podcasts, and people – then inspire others to do the same.

Adopt a growth mindset that embraces lifelong learning and your future enlightened self with thank you.

Takeaway: Keep an open mind so you not only remain constantly open to learning new things but actively encourage others to do the same. Commit to learning something new every day by constantly reading, listening, watching, and discussing.

6. Seek Feedback

In line with the constant learning outlined above, it’s important to seek constructive negative feedback as part of developing a growth mindset.

People with fixed mindsets and self-limiting beliefs are often not good at receiving negative feedback and will take it personally and choose to ignore it. They would rather seek positive reinforcement from people who never challenge their existing beliefs, which can often go hand in hand with personalities who are threatened by other people’s success.

Takeaway: Learn to welcome constructive negative criticism and view it as a way to improve. Try to never take it personally, but choose to embrace it as a necessary part of the learning process.

7: Associate With Growth Minded People

Unlike Jay Gatsby and the fixed mindset snobs at East Egg, if you seek out and surround yourself with growth-minded people, then their positive attitude to life, work, and learning will rub off on you.

Takeaway: now you know how to identify the traits of a growth-minded personality, try to notice these characteristics in other people and actively get to know them.

Equally, if existing friends or family members have put you in a box of their own self-limiting beliefs – then perhaps you should spend more time with your new West Egg buddies.

Statue of Liberty

Embrace The Promise of Something Better In Your Writing & Life

There’s a real-world version of Gatsby’s green light burning brightly right now in New York. It used to be brown but the copper turned bright green over the years.

The Statue of Liberty holds aloft a blazing green torch of freedom and the promise of a better future that we can all aspire to and be inspired by – on both a personal and societal level.

It’s a potent symbol of hope for people all over the world – and can definitely inspire creators like us.

At the end of The Great Gatsby, narrator Nick Carraway reflects on Gatsby’s demise, and says our hero always “believed in the green light” that “eluded” him, and that “tomorrow we will run faster (and) stretch out our arms farther.”

It’s only after this and in the final lines of the book that Carraway – and Fitzgerald – then succumb to the more sobering assessment of what being trapped by your past can mean:

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

There’s truth in that, but almost no hope.

From a literary and real-life perspective, I’ve always resented what happened to Jay Gatsby as a result of his past and the limiting beliefs of others.

So in terms of my own personal growth as both a writer and a person, one thing is clear…

I will never stop looking for that green light.

Loz James
Loz James

I've been a writer, content strategist and creator since 1999. I now help other creators master their mindset, motivation and method to start a writing lifestyle business they love.

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